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13 Movies That Provide A Needed Christmas-Time Escape

13 Movies That Provide A Needed Christmas-Time Escape

For better or for worse, your holiday plans are made.

The bags are mostly packed, the presents mostly bought and wrapped (unless you’re my husband, who probably hasn’t started his shopping yet), the itinerary for driving, flying or just staying home is set.

After the holiday travel is over, it’s time to enjoy some family movies about holiday travel. Whether you’re home or on the road, declare a pajama day over the next week and stream a movie or two that the family to watch together.

In case you need some suggestions, here are my 13 Days of Christmas movies that are all about travel.  

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The Road to Utopia

Technically it’s not a holiday movie, but it takes place in Alaska where there’s a lot of snow. You’ll appreciate that you don’t have to travel via dog sled.

Plus, Bob Hope utters one of my favorite movie lines ever when he asks for lemonade in a dirty glass at a Yukon rest stop.

Best Age: Any. Younger kids will like the silly humor. Older kids might roll their eyes at the old-school production value.

Holiday Inn

holiday inn; classic holiday movies

Most of the travel is between New York and “Connect-Ticut.”  But who wouldn’t want to spend time at a New England inn where the snow is always ankle deep, Fred Astaire is hoofing it and Bing Crosby croons “White Christmas?”

Best Age: Tween Traveler has like this movie since about age 7. Before that she liked the music but the movie was too long.

Polar Express

Tom Hanks, a wide-eyed boy and a magical train journey that’s infinitely better than Amtrak.

Best Age*: 5 or 6+

You can ride the Polar Express from St. Louis’ classic Union Station in December. Read about it!


I didn’t expect to like this movie, which starts with a journey from the North Pole to midtown Manhattan. But it’s one of the few modern holiday movies I find really entertaining.

Will Farrell is very good as a wide-eyed and guileless human who has to cope with New York City after being raised by North Pole elves.

Plus, Zooey Deschanel sings “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in a way that makes you wish you had a Manhattan in you hand while you’re watching. (Maybe make one before you get comfy on the couch.)

Best Age*: 7 or 8+

Home Alone

If you had the bad luck to wind up on a flight that’s been rerouted or cancelled, or you’ve ever traveled with a large family group, you’ll relate to this movie.

Spend time with the family that can’t get through the holidays without a major detour.

The moral of Kevin’s adventures: No matter where you are, the holidays are what you make of them.

The moral of the mom’s adventure: Always do a headcount when you’re traveling with a group.

Best Age*: 8 to 10+. We tried this movie when tween traveler was about 8 and she didn’t even make it through; she found the whole premise disturbing.

A few years later she was able to appreciate Kevin’s adventure of being home alone and love the idea of him defending his house, however implausible.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

john cand and steve martin walking home for the holidays.

Oh how I miss John Candy. How I love Steve Martin’s tirade on the hapless rental counter guy that we’ve all done in our head.

If you had a rough trip back home this holiday season, pour the family some eggnog (add a good shot of rum to yours), queue this up for streaming and you’ll soon appreciate that it could have been worse.

Best Age*: Steve Martin’s rental car tirade has a litany of F— bombs. If that bothers you, 15+. Otherwise 11 or 12+.

Remember the Night

This lesser known black & white movie features Fred MacMurray as a district attorney. Barbara Stanwyck as a petty thief he is prosecuting right before the holidays.

But it’s Christmas, and she’s a fellow Hoosier. So he pays her bail and drives her home to Indiana. 

It has two great stars, a road trip and an opposites-attract romance. It’s worth seeking out.

Best age:* It’s best for tweens and teens.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

in the lion witch & the wardrobe, 4 children bring christmas and peace back to narnia

I wish I could travel by wardrobe this season.  I’d much rather face down the White Witch than the TSA line at JFK airport.

Plus there’s tea with fauns, dinner with beavers and Christmas with a kingly giant lion. My whole family loves this trip to the English countryside and Narnia.

Best Age*: 8 or 9+. The first time we watched this I fast-forwarded through the part where Aslan is sacrificed. It’s pretty scary and upsetting for the under-10 set if they haven’t read the book.

Once she’d read the books and knew what was coming she still found it upsetting but could deal with it.

Love, Actually

Send the kids to bed, open the good wine and send the guys out of the room.

I didn’t like this chick flick when I first saw it. But it makes this list because it’s hugely popular and everyone you have ever heard of is in it.

It’s a “holiday movie” because of its icononic airport scene.

Best Age*: 16 to 18+. Two characters fall meet while being porn movie stand-ins. And there’s quite a bit of sex.

Catch Me If You Can

Take a voyeuristic trip to the days when flying was exotic and posh.  Plus, the movie culminates in a snowy French hamlet on Christmas Eve.

The final scenes were actually filmed in Montreal, but who cares. That’s French enough for me.

Best Age*: 12 or 13+

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skelington takes a joyous vacation to Christmas Town, then tries to return the favor to Santa Clause.

A disastrous Christmas Eve journey results, but there’s a happy ending. We love the music and the animation and consider this one of Tim Burton’s best movies.

Best Age*: 7 or 8+

The Holiday

cameron diaz heads to a quaint english village for the christmas holiday

Yes, it’s another chick flick, but it’s romantic, funny and way more kid-friendly than Love, Actually.

Jack Black is really likable as the guy who woos Kate Winslet. Their quick friendship with Eli Wallach’s aging actor is really endearing.

My ideal holiday would be to spend Christmas in Kate Winslet’s little English cottage and New Years Eve at Cameron Diaz’s sprawling L.A. pad.

Best Age*: Common Sense says 13 or 14+. But tween traveler saw it when she was barely 12. She really enjoyed it and didn’t find any of it embarasshing or shocking.

But we did emphasize that Cameron Diaz and Jude Law fooled around waaaaaay too quickly, which wasn’t good judgement.

The Wizard of Oz

The only thing that makes it a holiday movie is that when I was a kid they always ran it on television Thanksgiving weekend.

But the big production numbers have a festive quality and it does feature several innovative ways to travel.

Best Age: 5 or 6+. Though Tween Traveler and I both found the witch terrifying when we were each that age.

Pin these holiday movies for later

* These age recommendations from Common Sense Media.
Photos courtesy of the studios.