Adorned in striped tights and all, Will Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf in the hilariously outrageous New York-based Christmas comedy, Elf, in which Buddy must navigate the Big Apple in search of his real father.
A Christmas tale for all, Elf follows Buddy, a human man, who, as an orphaned baby, accidentally wound up in Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve and was brought back to the North Pole. Unsure of what to do, the community agrees that one elf known as Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) can raise the boy as his own. Though Buddy is just as spirited as any other elf in the North Pole, he is unable to deny his human nature (i.e. being too tall for showers, too slow at making presents, etc.). Once Papa Elf reveals the truth to Buddy, the man-elf sets off to find his real parents — only to discover that his father Walter Hobbs (James Caan) is a cynical workaholic at a publishing company that sells children's stories.
The heart of the film lies in the comical juxtaposition of Buddy's innocent nature in a city as steely as New York. From cheering with children at the sight of a department store Santa Claus to eating pieces of chewed up gum found around the city thinking it's free candy, Buddy is a capsule of the child-like joy of Christmastime. Despite being young at heart and having a lot to learn, it turns out that Buddy has a thing or two that he is able to teach his own real-world family, and he is integral in restoring enough Christmas spirit to save the holiday. The film also stars Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Edward Asner, and Daniel Tay.
If you're looking for more outrageous Christmas movies, here are 10 movies to watch after Elf, ranked by Metascore.
Best for: Fans of Kris Kringle and department stores
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An American Christmas classic that got a reboot later in the century, Miracle on 34th Street tells the story of a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) who works as a department store Santa Claus and claims to be the real deal. Despite there being misgivings about such a claim, Kris only becomes more and more popular amongst the department store's customers to the dismay of the dissenting administration. As tensions rise, New York City is confronted with the dilemma as to whether or not they believe in miracles. This film maintains the same heart of Elf, challenging a city that is reluctant to believe in Christmas magic to open their minds and possibly change their ways.
"A Christmas season evergreen." — Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
Best for: Fans of Tom Hanks and boyish charm
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Critically acclaimed when it was released in 1988, Big follows 12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) who's tired of being too short to ride carnival rides — and too short to impress girls. When he makes a wish at a fortune teller machine to be "big," the next morning he wakes up to find that he's transformed into a full grown man, played by Hanks. With the help of his friend Billy (Jared Rushton) — the only person who recognizes Josh despite his adult form — Josh sets off on a machine to find the fortune teller machine and reverse his wish. Much like Elf, this film plays with the fun of seeing a grown man act like a child; it's wholesome, heartwarming, and undeniably relatable to the child within all of us.
"Big moves with polish and assurance, and is proof that [director Penny] Marshall can handle the Hollywood machine, and that is no small thing." — Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune
Best for: Fans of black comedies and shopping malls
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This 2003 Christmas comedy film tells the story of Willie T. Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox), two professional thieves who heist shopping malls at night by arranging every year to be hired as a department store Santa Claus and elf, respectively. This year when they are hired at the Saguaro Square Mall in Phoenix, Willie's inappropriate behavior raises a red flag for the mall's manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter), who brings them to the attention of security. As the events that follow devolve into R-rated territory and therefore are not suitable for all audiences the way Elf is, like Elf, the film spotlights the mischievous side of the holiday season.
"If you've had it with all that feel-good holiday sludge, hook up with the combustible nasty Bad Santa. It could become a Christmas perennial for Scrooges of all ages." — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Best for: Fans of booby traps and John Hughes
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The McCallister family is preparing to leave for their Christmas trip to Paris in this 1990 kid-friendly film, but when none of their alarms go off the morning of their flight, amid the mad rush they accidentally leave young Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) alone in their Chicago home. Finally rid of his siblings who bully him, Kevin believes his wish for his family to disappear has come true and couldn't be happier. However, as he's enjoying the freedom of living alone with no rules to follow, he soon discovers that he's being stalked by a pair of burglars who break into empty homes during the holidays. As his family races to get back to Kevin, the young protagonist must defend his home using the wit and tools best available to him: booby traps.
"All plausibility is gone, we sit back, detached, to watch stunt men and special effects guys take over a movie that promised to be the kind of story audiences could identify with." — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Best for: Fans of Tim Allen and making Santa the star
Where to watch: Amazon, Disney +, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 97 minutes
After an uneventful and unsuccessful Christmas Eve with his son, toy salesman Scott Calvin (Allen) wakes up in the middle of the night to a noise on his roof. He goes out only to find a man in a Santa suit that he startles and causes to fall to the ground. The man's body disappears only to leave behind the red suit and a card that instructs Scott to put the suit on should something happen to him. Despite not believing in Santa, per the request of his son, Scott dons the uniform and is taken to the North Pole where he learns that due to a law known as "The Santa Clause," he must now carry out Santa's duties. Similar to Elf, 1994's The Santa Clause plays with the joys of Christmas spirit and turning nonbelievers into believers.
"This souped-up sled is a perfect vehicle for TV star/comedian Allen and, despite its formulaic chassis, he takes us through a few interesting twists and turns." — Hollis Chacona, The Austin Chronicle
Best for: Fans of Chicago, sibling stories, and sleigh rides
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 104 minutes
This 2018 Christmas comedy film follows siblings Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) who have differing views on the holiday season: Kate wants to keep the Christmas spirit alive and believes in Santa Claus, while Teddy is more cynical and lives a reckless life. On Christmas Eve, when they see someone they believe to be an intruder in their chimney, they decide to scope it out only to find Santa (Kurt Russell) and his sleigh. Unbeknownst to Santa, the kids board the sleigh and inadvertently cause them all to crash in Chicago, leaving the three of them to recover the presents lost along the way and save Christmas.
"A passable enough lark, and may well be on the upper end of the spectrum when it comes to modern cinematic Christmas fare." — Clint Worthington, Consequence
Best for: Fans of Anna Kendrick and progressive Santa stories
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Noelle tells the story of Noelle (Kendrick) and Nick Kringle (Bill Hader), Santa's children, as they navigate the death of their father while preparing for the quickly approaching Christmas season. Nick, left with the duties of his father and struggling to complete his training to become the new Santa Clause, chooses to run away, leaving Noelle no choice but to also leave the North Pole in an attempt to find him and save Christmas. The 2019 film deals with concepts of family, trust, and ultimately, the belief in the spirit of Christmas — much like Elf — in its lighthearted and comedic tone.
"Marc Lawrence's story about Santa's daughter, despite its solid cast, aims squarely at not-too-picky kids and mostly ignores parents' desires to be entertained as well." — John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
Based on the Dr. Seuss novel of the same name, How the Grinch Stole Christmas chronicles the ongoings of the mean-spirited Grinch (Carrey), a green creature who lives in a cave on the outskirts of the Christmas-loving town of Whoville. Having been bullied out of the town in his youth, the Grinch famously hates Christmas. However, when he is invited back to be the town's "Cheermeister" and even begins to give in to the joys of the holiday, he is bullied yet again and sets out to ruin Christmas by stealing all of their presents. In a way, this film is an inverse of Elf, outlining the harmful actions of a single jaded individual in a world abundant with Christmas spirit, but it still showcases the power of community and empathy amid the holiday season.
"Overall, the film sparkles. But it's a curiously unaffecting sparkle, an example, almost, of how the special effects stole Christmas." — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle
Best for: Fans of mayhem and Tyler James Williams
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Based on a true story first told on This American Life, this 2006 Christmas comedy follows the escapades of six rowdy youngsters who get stuck in an airport in between connecting flights due to a massive blizzard. Sent to the unaccompanied minor room while waiting, they band together to sneak out and enjoy themselves around the airport, determined to deliver a proper Christmas to the youngest of the children despite their circumstances. The film is chaotic and fun-loving, and at the heart of it is the power of child-like fun during the holidays, much like Elf — despite the notable age difference in its protagonists.
"Anyone who has ever actually been stuck in a terminal with rowdy youngsters will not likely choose to pay money to revisit that experience on-screen." — Luke Y. Thompson, The Village Voice
Best for: Fans of Vince Vaughn and sibling rivalry
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This 2007 Christmas comedy follows Fred Claus (Vaughn), Santa's son who has always been overshadowed by his younger brother Nick (Paul Giamatti) due to his saint-like nature and good-willed Christmas spirit. In present day, Nick is now the new Santa Claus while Fred is a repossession agent in Chicago. After being arrested for impersonating a Salvation Army employee, Fred must travel to the North Pole to work and earn back the money he now owes his brother for bail. Like Elf, this film plays with the behind-the-scenes of what makes Christmas tick while also spreading the joy of selflessness and giving to others.
"It creates a seasonal glow, but inconsistencies keep Fred Claus off the 'Nice' list this Christmas." — William Thomas, Empire