Films on TV: A Christmas Viewing Guide

sifts through the films on television this holiday season, picking out some festive classics along the way

Image: 20th Century Fox

‘Tis the season for festive television. Sifting through the TV guide at Christmas is, for some, a special honour – working one’s methodical way through pages and pages of tiny font, circling the best bits for the whole family to enjoy. For most of us, however, it’s a bit of a faff that we could do without. Never fear, here’s a quick day-by-day guide to some of the best films on television this Christmas season.

Wednesday 20th – Friday 22nd December

Image: Paramount Pictures

Christmas comes early for any Indiana Jones fans; all three of the 80s trilogy are showing on consecutive days at 1.45pm on BBC1. Aardman also get to show-off some of their best on the Beeb; Chicken Run (Wed 3.35pm BBC1) and Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Thu 3.35pm BBC1) are both still as fun and charming as they were on release. Also look out for classic slapstick comedy Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (Fri 10.00am BBC2).

Saturday 23rd December

Image: Focus Features

From the stop-motion masters behind Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, The Boxtrolls (9.00am C4) airs today; it is definitely worth a watch for the craft alone. Expanding the animated representation is The Book of Life (1.05pm Film4), an excellent primer and comparison piece for the upcoming Pixar instalment Coco (released 19 Jan). The now traditional Harry Potter (1.35pm itv1) season begins today if that’s more your style. Here’s to 20 hours 40 minutes (including breaks) of Hogwarts fun ending on New Year’s Eve. Also, for the night owls we have the cult classic The Big Lebowski (1.35am Film4). Though not the Coens’ best it features an iconic performance from Jeff Bridges and is the perfect way to see in Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve

Image: Channel 4

What festive season would be complete without a screening of The Snowman (5.20pm C4)? Skip the sequel straight after and instead wait for The Muppet Christmas Carol (6.30pm C4), for many their favourite adaptation of the Dickens classic. If you’re feeling brave (and have 4 hours to spare in the morning), Gone with the Wind (9.20am C5) will help you fill that gap. More realistically, however, why not enjoy the western comedy classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (4.30pm 5Spike), much less of a commitment at a (relatively) tight 2 hours 10 minutes.

Christmas Day

Image: Disney

Quite a few Disney reimaginings today: Kenneth Brannagh’s Cinderella (3.10pm BBC1), Snow White and the Huntsman (7.30pm E4) and the underrated live-action Peter Pan (11.25am itv2). Pick of the day, however, goes to Disney animated classic Dumbo (4.30pm C4), a film of beautifully sad and funny moments with a good dose of pink elephants; this family favourite is soon to be remade by none other than Tim Burton – make of that what you will. Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (6.00pm More4) makes its first seasonal appearance and The Warriors (1.20am Film4) provides for those looking for some non-Christmassy entertainment.

Boxing Day

Image: Paramount Pictures

If you’re up early, check out animated gem Song of the Sea (6.40am C4). Sports biopic Chariots of Fire (11.50am C5) vies with the Beatles comedy A Hard Day’s Night (11.55am BBC2) for your lunchtime viewing. Skip box-office smash Jurassic World (6.40pm itv1) and instead sing along with Jack Black in 2003’s feel-good comedy The School of Rock (6.50pm Film4). To finish the day, sit on the edge of your seat for A.I. thriller Ex Machina (9.00pm Film4) from the brilliant writer Alex Garland (Sunshine, The Beach, and Never Let Me Go).

Wednesday 27th December

Image: Rank Organisation/General Film Distributors

Many films work well with advert breaks but Jaws (10.05pm itv4) is not one of them. Especially if you’ve never seen it before, please don’t watch it this way! Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (12.10pm BBC2) is worth a look, as is stop-motion fun time ParaNorman (11.00am Film4). If you’re looking for another A.I. story, then I, Robot (7.30pm E4) is an excellent addition starring Will Smith and Alan Tudyk. Battling the Isaac Asimov adaptation for sci-fi supremacy is the Spielberg-nostalgia piece Super 8 (6.45pm Film4), or if you’re thirsting for some Tarantino OTT violence and great writing, do check out Django Unchained (10.00pm 5Star).

Thursday 28th December

Image: Columbia Pictures

A bit thin on the ground today. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (9.00am BBC1) is worth a punt, as is Enter the Dragon (9.00am 5Spike) starring Bruce Lee. Don’t waste your time with Clash of the Titans, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, or Terminator Genisys. The quirky sort-of western Slow West (11.25pm Film4) won’t be for everyone, but is thoroughly enjoyable in its oddity.

Friday 29th December

Image: Carolco Pictures/Sony Pictures

Rango (11.00am Film4) is a breath of fresh air in a day crammed with the usual Pixar and Dreamworks animated fare. Both Labyrinth (1.20pm C5) and Total Recall (11.20pm itv4) are excellent genre picks for the day; one is a bizarre fantasy starring David Bowie, the other a Schwarzenegger-led sci-fi romp. David Fincher’s 2014 entry Gone Girl (9.15pm BBC1) is an uncomfortable crime thriller and rounding out genre day is Fury (9.00pm 5Spike) a war film that deserves greater respect.

Saturday 30th December

Image: MGM/Loews Cineplex Entertainment

Two excellent Bette Davis-starring films; the famous All About Eve (3.20pm BBC2) and the lesser known horror flick Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (10.30pm BBC2) are absolutely worth your time. Christmas staple The Wizard of Oz (3.45pm itv3) continues to delight audiences today. You may, however, want to nap in the afternoon so you can enjoy the fantastically scheduled double-feature of The Guest (11.10pm Film4) and Taxi Driver (1.15am Film4) – truly wonderful programming.

New Year’s Eve

Image: 20th Century Fox

Charming drama 84 Charing Cross Road (3.40pm BBC2) stars Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. Other ‘light’ offerings include Groundhog Day (2.55pm C5), Home Alone (6.55pm Film4), and the ‘I-still-can’t-believe-it-worked’ The Lego Movie (5.00pm C5). Seeing in the New Year with An American Werewolf in London (11.35pm Film4) is a tantalising alternative to the inevitably disappointing party you could go to, as is 1979’s Quadrophenia (1.30am Film4) showing straight after.

New Year’s Day

Image: 20th Century Fox

Lots of chaff for the New Year. Avoid Iron Man 2, Spectre, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cars 2, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Now You See Me and Pitch Perfect 2...instead enjoy Frankenweenie (6.55am BBC2), Hugo (1.10pm C4), Dances with Wolves (1.35pm BBC2), and Mrs Doubtfire (5.30pm C4). If you’re planning on staying up late for the second day in a row, why not try Gemma Arterton-starring horror Byzantium (1.30am Film4).

Tuesday 2nd – Friday 5th January

Image: Warner Bros.

Final picks to round-out the festive television season are moody post-apocalyptic thriller The Book of Eli (Tue 9.00pm itv4), zombie comedy Warm Bodies (Wed 1.25am Film4), thriller/horror flick Stoker (Thu 11.10pm Film4), Scorsese favourite Goodfellas (Fri 10.00pm itv4), and finally Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (9.00pm C4).

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