20 Great Christmas posters for the holidays

Santa with Muscles (1996) poster - Hulk Hogan

With Christmas just around the corner, we take a look back at some of the best Christmas movie posters of the the last few decades of festive films. There are so many great posters that we’ve left off, of course, but we had to draw the line somewhere. So below is a random sampling of posters that we’ve always liked, have been sent to us recently and we dug or are just kind of cool.

One interesting aspect of these posters is to see how they’ve changed over time, from virtually non-existent Christmas trappings in the earlier posters, to the more overtly Santa-centric displays of the more recent posters. This reflects the content of the films as well, moving the audience from subtle sentimentality to outright Yuletides of joy.

Got any more favourites? Be sure to leave them in the comments below of let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Happy Holidays everybody!

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

What better way to kick off the list than with one of the most famous and enduring Christmas movies of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, and starring the one and only Jimmy Stewart as the man who finds out what the world would be like if he never existed, it serves as the model for virtually every Christmas film and television special that has followed it. Thanks to the film lapsing into the public domain, it became  a perennial Christmas favourite in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to repeated television viewings. The fascinating thing about this original theatrical poster is that it is completely devoid of any Christmas imagery!

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) poster

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Perhaps the only film that can claim to be even more influential on Christmas movies than It’s A Wonderful Life. Winner of  Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay, it has been remade no less than three times for television (1955, 1959 and 1973), once for the big screen (in 1994 starring Richard Attenborough) and there’s even been a Broadway musical and a stage play. It still has the very modern idea of questioning whether or not a department store Santa is the real thing or not, but once again the original poster has barely any Christmas goodness on it – unless you count the old bearded man inappropriately touching a child that is not his own way in the background there.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) poster

Santa Claus (1959)

The poster for this Mexican film looks fairly typical on first glance. All the trimmings are there. Santa. Reindeer. Sleigh. Children. A demon whispering in a child’s ear. A roast dinner. Wait, back up a minute, a demon? Yup, in this Spanish-language film, later lampooned by Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a demon is sent to Earth to ruin Christmas by killing Santa and making all the children of the world do evil. Santa, who works from space, must battle the demon to help save Christmas and return happiness to the hearts of the kiddies. Santa in space? That’s just silly. Oh, wait, there’s always our next film…

Santa Claus (1959) movie poster

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

This by-no-means-classic film has taken on a second life in the Internet age, not only appearing regularly in IMDB’s Bottom 100, but by being the subject of one of the fan favourite episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Worried that the children of Mars have become distracted in their rigid society, the Martians abduct Earth’s Santa as a papa figure for the young aliens. All of this is documented in detail on the poster under “SEE”, in case there was any doubt. Believe

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) poster

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

…a complete sentence? The questionable grammar issues continue onto the poster (“More musical entertainment than this-there just isn’t!”), but this doesn’t make it any less fun. An Italian/US film (known as Natale che quasi non fu in Italy) sees an old man with the deeds to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole try to evict Santa, with only one family able to help Mr. Claus out of a sticky situation. Paul Tripp, who wrote the novel that the film is based on, also penned the adapted screenplay along with playing one of the leading roles, Sam Whipple. We really chose this movie for the list because of all the bright colours, man. That’s a real trip!

The Christmas That Almost Wasn't (1966) poster

A Christmas Story (1983)

Taken from the semi-fictional anecdotal stories of Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story is a rare kind of gem. Sort of a proto version of TV’s The Wonder Years, Shepherd narrates the memories of the 9-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) who has the dream of owning a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Yet the film is also filled with numerous subplots involving Ralphie and the rest of the family, with non sequiturs and wry asides that make this one of the most simultaneously heartwarming and cynical films of the season.

A Christmas Story (1983) poster

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Santa Claus is real! From the director of cinematic greats Jaws II and Supergirl, Jeannot Szwarc brings us the biography of Santa. The tale is actually a film divided. The first half tells the story of how a peasant woodcutter in the 14th century, Claus ( David Huddleston), and his wife are rescued from a blizzard, only to find themselves knee-deep in elves at the top of the world. Thus begins the legend of the Santa Claus. In the 20th century, elf Patch (Dudley Moore) begins marketing some of Santa’s magic, not realising that he may be inadvertently destroying Christmas. The film is, like its elf, a little patchy, but the poster is purely classic Christmas, complete with a cigar-chomping John Lithgow.

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) poster

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

An obvious choice for the long-time followers of the ‘Bits, and we even used the first film on our list of Halloween movies, but this is one of our favourite “bad movies” ever. The original film’s worst crime was that it was trying to be shocking and offensive. The second film can just be accused of being cheap. Ever get the feeling that the sequel is just like the first film? In the case of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, this is the literal truth. Taking well over half the footage from the first film, and intercutting it with the little new footage that was shot, the creators of this “sequel” have created something even more amusing that the original. A clip-show “best of” of the first film, with the occasional bit of new footage, and the best eye-brow acting ever from Eric Freeman. The “Garbage Day” scene is just priceless.

Poster source: IMPAwards

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) poster

Scrooged (1988)

The umpteenth version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this one came at the height of 1980s greed but after the Wall Street Crash, when there was a move once again against unfettered corporate greed. Starring the incomparable Bill Murray, riding a wave of success in the 1980s that included Stripes, Tootsie and Ghostbusters, took on the Scrooge role in a very modern spin on the tale. Scrooge is now a TV executive, and his ghosts include a cab driver, a life-sized pixie and a seven-foot entity with a TV screen for a face. The tagline in the US was “Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it’s three against one.” Except for the title of the film, there is nothing overtly Christmassy about this poster either, and is one of the reasons it was accused of being mean-spirited at the time.

Scrooged (1988) poster - Bill Murray

Prancer (1989)

The simple tale of a young girl who nurses what she believes to be one of Santa’s reindeer back to health. The film may not have entered the pantheon of great Christmas films, but the poster has a unique simplicity to it that says all it needs to in simple silhouette. The tagline “Something magical is about to happen” promises great things inside.

Prancer (1989) poster

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Following the success of the National Lampoon’s magazine and Vacation series, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family return for the best Christmas ever. Of course, everything goes wrong, as indicated by this perfect poster. Chase in a Santa suit being electrocuted by his own Christmas lights. It’s eye-catching, and indicative of the fun to be had. The film may now be a little dated, and the humour falls short of the mark by today’s standards, but this poster remains timeless.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) poster

A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppets are so hot right now, with the latest film being one of the best examples of pure cinematic joy around. Another take on the Dickens tale, with Michael Caine in the Scrooge role, was one of the last great film outings until the most recent one. The painted poster is gorgeous, with art by Drew Struzan, who is perhaps best known for his iconic artwork on the Indiana JonesBack to the Future and Star Wars one-sheets It is unlikely other artists could pull off such a beautiful poster showing Dickensian London with the lone figure of Caine, surrounded by disembodied Muppets. Bliss.

The Muppet Christmas Carol poster

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Is this a Halloween or Christmas movie? We say the latter, although that is just one of the beautiful things about producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick’s stop-motion marvel. Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, grows tired of celebrating spooks and scares every year, until one day he is whisked to Christmas Town. Enamored with what he sees,  he tries to bring his own brand of the holiday to the world. With a score by Danny Elfman, who also provides the voice of Jack, it is as magical as it is twisted. The minimalist poster can barely cover the complexity of this film, which has become beloved by film fans and Emos alike. If you have never checked out the film, do it now!

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) poster

Jingle All the Way (1996)

In the time between his stint as an action star and being an disgraced ex-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest stars of children’s movies in the world. A pioneer who paved a path for Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to follow. We don’t like this film terribly, but included this poster for the expression on Arnie’s face.

Jingle All the Way (1996) poster - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Santa with Muscles (1996)

No, this is real. Seriously. Starring the suddenly-popular-again Hulk Hogan, this film didn’t even come at the height of “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan’s career. The basic story is something about a mean self-made millionaire (Hogan) who loses his memory as the result of an accident, and starts to believe that he is Santa. It’s also one of the earliest appearances of Mila Kunis.

Santa with Muscles (1996) poster - Hulk Hogan

Elf (2003)

One of the vastly underrated Jon Favreau films, featuring Will Ferrell, James Caan and the beautiful Zooey Deschanel, the film follows a human raised as an elf in Santa’s workshop, only to find himself in New York City for the first time. The two posters below and gorgeous. There are several posters around for this, most of them featuring Ferrell as the letter ‘L’ in the word “Elf”, but this first poster is a little bit nicer. The eye-catching poster below from Shoolery Design is one of the film’s official theatrical posters, with Ferrell trapped inside a snow globe hovering over NYC.

The second BONUS poster comes from our good friends at Hopko Designs, with Scott Hopko being inspired by the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation. They even built the model of Buddy themselves for this. Gorgeous.

Elf poster - Will Ferrell

Elf poster - Hopko Designs

Bad Santa (2003)

This very dark comedy written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and director Terry Zwigoff (with uncredited contributions by the Coen Brothers), this is a brilliantly unforgiving take on Christmas, con men and fat kids with a penchant for making sandwiches. This is the antidote to the saccharine pap that infects the channels and the direct-to-DVD baskets at supermarkets every year. If this poster doesn’t convince you, you are not yet living.

Bad Santa poster

Love Actually (2003)

2003 was a big year for Christmas films, wasn’t it? Before the massively overcast films like Valentine’s Day and this year’s New Year’s Eve, the British gathered everybody that they’d ever seen on a screen (and Bill Nighy who is in everything anyway) and threw them into the mix. The title takes a leaf out of “Love Actually is All Around” in reference to “Love Is All Around”, the Wet Wet Wet song that became a smash off the back of director Richard Curtis’ Four Weddings and a Funeral. In fact, this borrows much from that formula, adding Yuletide for maximise feel-good vibes.

Love Actually poster

Rare Exports (2010) 

A poster than needs very little explanation, but by the same token it is filled with mystery. A group of armed men stand around a caged Santa Clause. Have they kidnapped him? Are they protecting him? Or are they protecting themselves?

Rare Exports poster

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (2011)

Last, but certainly not least, is this year’s entry in the irreverent stoner series. From shooting Santa in the face to kids on cocaine, we’ve come a long way since It’s A Wonderful Life! There are a ton of posters for this film, with over 13 by our last count, some of which show Santa pulling a bong, Neil Patrick Harris getting busy with naked angels and a desperate-to-be-loved Jesus. Yet there is something about this poster, showing Machete‘s Danny Trejo in a sweater that can only be described as awkward, that totally captures the zeitgeist of Christmas in the new millennium. Trejo’s expression is a mixture of frustration and growing anger at being place in one of Daryl Somers’ rejected pieces of clothing, as well as a warning to not bring it up in conversation. Only one question remains: when will we see this in Australia? Feliz Navidad, bitches.

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas poster - Danny Trejo