45 Amazing Facts About Game of Thrones

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

Those who have been missing Game of Thrones’s unique blend of sex, blood, and dragons still have a couple of weeks to wait for the show's highly anticipated—and final—return. To help the time pass, here are 45 facts about the bona fide cultural phenomenon. Valar morghulis.

*Spoiler alert for all aired episodes.*

1. There’s an unaired pilot.

The first pilot, directed by Spotlight writer-director Tom McCarthy, was so terrible that it had to be shelved and reshot. “We got everything wrong on a very basic level with the writing of it,” show co-creator David Benioff told Variety. One of the biggest problems? None of the friends he and Weiss invited to watch the pilot “realized that Jaime and Cersei were brother and sister, which is a major, major plot point that we had somehow failed to establish.” Earlier this year, a copy of the script was unearthed, which revealed a few other saucy details.

2. Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen were originally played by other actors.

In the original pilot, Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen were played by Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant, respectively; by the time the show aired, they had been replaced by Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke.

3. George R.R. Martin had a cameo in the original episode.

Novelist George R.R. Martin attends the Playboy and A&E “Bates Motel” Event During Comic-Con Weekend, on July 25, 2014 in San Diego, California
Charley Gallay, Getty Images for Playboy

George R.R. Martin had a cameo in the original pilot as a guest at Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding. When the role of Daenerys was recast, the scene had to be scrapped.

4. There were a bunch of other casting close calls.

Ehle and Merchant weren’t Game of Thrones’s only could-have-beens. Gillian Anderson turned down an unspecified role on the show, as did The Wire's Dominic West. (Judging by the fact that, per West, the role would have involved shooting “in Reykjavik for six months,” it was probably Mance Rayder, a role that eventually went to Ciarán Hinds.) The Hunger Games franchise’s Sam Claflin auditioned for Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen, and Outlander star Sam Heughan auditioned for a variety of roles, including Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell, seven times.

5. Peter Dinklage almost turned down the role of Tryion Lannister.

In a Reddit AMA, Peter Dinklage shared the reason why he wasn't immediately sold on Game of Thrones.

"I had one hesitation, because of the fantasy genre, I told [showrunner David Benioff] I didn't want a really long beard and pointy shoes," Dinklage said. "[Benioff and D.B. Weiss] assured me this character and this world wasn't that. They told me about his complexity, the fact that he wasn't a hero or a villain, that he was a womanizer and a drinker, and they painted a flawed and beautiful portrait of him, so I signed on."

6. Kit Harington showed up to his audition with a black eye.

The night before his Game of Thrones audition, Kit Harington ended up in a McDonald's late at night with a woman he was dating. Because it was crowded, they grabbed a seat at a table with another couple, whom they didn't know. Shortly thereafter, the man across from them began making rude comments to Harington's date. Unfortunately, it was only after Harington stood up and challenged the stranger that realized just how tall his would-be opponent was. "I got battered," Harington admitted, and ended up with a fresh shiner. On the bright side, he thinks that his damaged face is part of what landed him the role. "I think that man who punched me in the face may have helped me get the job," he said. "So if you're watching, thank you."

7. The show’s nudity wasn’t easy for Emilia Clarke.

Though Daenerys Targaryen turned out to be a career-changing role for Clarke, she admitted that it wasn't always easy. Between all of the nudity required of her character, and an infamous rape scene, Clarke's early days on the series could be trying. "Once, I had to take a little time out," she told Esquire of filming the first season. "I said I needed a cup of tea, had a bit of a cry, and was ready for the next scene."

8. Sophie Turner adopted Sansa Stark’s direwolf.

Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, adopted Zunni, the Northern Inuit dog that played her pet direwolf on the series’ first season. “Growing up I always wanted a dog, but my parents never wanted one,” Turner told Coventry Telegraph in 2013. “We kind of fell in love with my character’s direwolf, Lady, on set. We knew Lady died and they wanted to re-home her. My mum persuaded them to let us adopt her.” Sadly, Zunnie passed away in 2017.

9. The internet spoiled Robb Stark’s fate for Richard Madden.

Oona Chaplin, Richard Madden, and Michelle Fairley in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

While readers of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series knew that Robb Stark's days were probably numbered on Game of Thrones, Richard Madden—the actor who played him—decided to keep himself in the dark about the books as part of his preparation for the television role. But that didn't stop fans, or the internet, from telling the Golden Globe-winning actor that his reign as King in the North would be short-lived.

"A thousand people spoiled it for me before I had a chance to pick up the third book," Madden told Entertainment Weekly. "I read [the books] season-by-season. I don't want to preempt where Robb is going and that's what I've done since the show started. I also made the fatal flaw of Googling. So that kind of reinforced what people were hinting—saying that something terrible was going to happen and giggling."

10. Dothraki is a real language.

In 2014, Living Language released a conversational language course that will have you speaking like Khal Drogo in no time. The course was crafted by linguist David J. Peterson, who worked with HBO to create the Dothraki heard on the show. (If you want to impress your fellow Game of Thrones friends, try learning a few key phrases for that premiere watch party you'll be hosting.)

11. You can learn High Valryian via an app.

In addition to the “real” languages it teaches, Duolingo offers a class in High Valyrian to enhance your Game of Thrones-watching experience.

12. Peter Dinklage thought the show had been canceled.

Peter Dinklage in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

After the pilot was picked up, David Benioff pranked Peter Dinklage by calling him and telling him the show had been canceled. It was six hours before Dinklage learned the truth.

13. Several characters have changed actors.

A handful of characters have been played by more than one actor over the course of the show, notably Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein in season three, Michiel Huisman in seasons four, five, and six), Tommen Baratheon (Callum Wharry in seasons one and two, Dean-Charles Chapman in seasons three through six), and his sister Myrcella (Aimee Richardson in seasons one and two, Nell Tiger Free in season five), and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Conan Stevens in season one, Ian Whyte in season two, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in seasons four, five, and six.)

14. A lot of dead characters are alive in the books.

More than a handful of characters are alive in Martin’s books, but dead on the show. These include: Shireen and Stannis Baratheon, Night’s Watchmen Pyp and Grenn, Barristan Selmy, Myrcella Baratheon, and Mance Rayder.

15. Ser Pounce, King Tommen’s beloved cat, is dead.

Natalie Dormer, Dean-Charles Chapman, and 'Ser Pounce' in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

Ser Pounce—King Tommen's royal cat—was introduced in season four, and proved to be an excellent prop for Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) to win the heart of yet another king, the very young and very sweet Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman). It only took a single scene for the little fuzzball to find his way into the hearts of viewers and, for a little while, Ser Pounce become a bit of an internet sensation. But after Tommen’s suicide, the cat disappeared.

If the timing seemed suspicious, you've clearly been paying attention. "Cersei hated the name ‘Ser Pounce’ so much she could not allow him to survive," Benioff told Entertainment Weekly of the feline's untimely demise. "So she came up with her most diabolical [execution]. Ser Pounce’s death was so horrible we couldn’t even put it on the air."

16. There’s more than one Monty Python and the Holy Grail connection.

Part of Game of Thrones’s pilot was shot in one of the castles used for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Three seasons later, in “Breaker of Chains,” an unnamed Meereenese warrior shouts a series of taunts at Daenerys that include “Your mother was a hamster,” “Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person,” and “I blow my nose at you” … in Low Valyrian, of course.

17. Daenerys Targaryen originally had violet eyes.

In the books, the Targaryen family members are notable for their silver hair and violet eyes. During shooting, Daenerys and Viserys (Harry Lloyd) Targaryen originally wore violet contact lenses, but Benioff and Weiss decided they negatively impacted the actors’ ability to portray emotion.

18. The time period between seasons 5 and 6 was Kit Harington’s “darkest period.”

Kit Harington in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

“My darkest period was when the show seemed to become so much about Jon, when he died and came back,” Kit Harington told with Variety about his years on the show. “I really didn’t like the focus of the whole show coming onto Jon—even though it was invalidating my problem about being the weak link because things were about Jon.”

Even though Jon was dead in the show, Harington had been spotted on the set—and was still sporting his famous Jon Snow locks, which led fans to wonder whether he was really dead at all.

“It wasn’t a very good time in my life,” Harington said. “I felt I had to feel that I was the most fortunate person in the world, when actually, I felt very vulnerable. I had a shaky time in my life around there—like I think a lot of people do in their 20s. That was a time when I started therapy, and started talking to people. I had felt very unsafe, and I wasn’t talking to anyone. I had to feel very grateful for what I have, but I felt incredibly concerned about whether I could even f***ing act."

19. But that “dark” time did get Harington out of a speeding ticket.

After being sworn to secrecy about his fate in the sixth season, Harington was forced to give up the answer after being pulled over for speeding. The officer, a fan of the show, gave him two options: either deal with the punishment for speeding or tell him whether Jon Snow would live or die in the next season. Harington initially thought the man was joking, but after a second look he told him: “I am alive next season.” To which the officer responded, “On your way, Lord Commander."

20. Shooting the horse heart scene was an unpleasant experience for Emilia Clarke.

The horse heart Daenerys had to eat in season one was essentially a giant gummy candy—one that, per Clarke, tasted a little bit like bleach. To make the proceedings even grosser, all the fake blood made Clarke so sticky that she got stuck to a toilet.

21. Peter Dinklage won a Golden Globe for Game of Thrones in 2012, but his mom was betting on Guy Pearce.

Before Dinklage won the Golden Globe for Game of Thrones in 2012, he spoke with his mom back in New Jersey, who told him, “Have fun, but have you seen Mildred Pierce? Guy Pearce is so good. He’s gonna win.” He wryly noted how moms keep us all humble.

22. You’ve probably been mispronouncing Khaleesi.

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

While being interviewed for The Allusionist podcast, David Peterson—the linguist who creates the series' fictional languages—described the rampant mispronunciation of Khaleesi as "a real thorn in my side." So just how should we be saying the Dothraki word?

"I wanted to make sure if something was spelled differently, it was pronounced differently," Peterson explained of his process of transforming the handful of Dothraki words George R.R. Martin had created into a full language. "That worked pretty well for everything except the word Khaleesi ... There's no way it should be pronounced 'ka-LEE-see' based on the spelling. So I had to decide, 'Am I going to respell this thing because I know how people are going to pronounce this, or am I going to honor that spelling and pronounce it differently?' I made the latter decision and I think it was the wrong decision."

(That said, in his book Living Language Dothraki, Peterson writes that "many Dothraki words have multiple pronunciation variants, often depending on whether the speaker is native or non-native. Khaleesi, for example, has three separate pronunciations: khal-eh-si, khal-ee-si, and kal-ee-si," which at a later point in the book spelled is "ka-lee-si.")

23. Real people are naming their kids after Game of Thrones characters.

In the year 2014, per the Social Security Administration, “Khaleesi” was the United States’s 755th most popular baby name for girls, up from 1021th place in 2013. In England, Khaleesi, Arya, Tyrion, Brienne, Sansa, Bran, Sandor, and Theon also saw a rise in popularity after Game of Thrones began airing. (What, no Dagmer Cleftjaw?)

24. A lot of pets have been given Game of Thrones-related names, too.

Pat parents have not been immune to the Game of Thrones naming trend. Banfield Pet Hospital, the largest general veterinary practice in the U.S., analyzed its records database and found that Khaleesi and Arya have been popular pet names, too, but Lady and Ghost top the list in terms of popularity.

25. The Stark kids are different ages in the show than in the books.

When A Game of Thrones-the-book starts off, the Stark children are much younger than their on-screen counterparts. Bran was supposed to be seven, while the actor who played him (Isaac Hempstead Wright) was 12; Arya (played by Maisie Williams) went from nine to 13, while Sansa (Sophie Turner) went from 11 to 15 and Rickon (Art Parkinson) from three to six. In perhaps the most, ahem, stark difference, if Game of Thrones had stayed completely true to its source material, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would have been only 15 and 14 years old, respectively.

26. Starring in Game of Thrones has made it impossible for Isaac Hempstead Wright to be a “normal” college student.

Isaac Hempstead Wright in 'Game of Thrones' season 8
Helen Sloan, HBO

When he’s not playing Bran Stark, 19-year-old Isaac Hempstead Wright is a student at Birmingham University. But he’s admitted that balancing his roles as co-ed and star of one of television’s most popular series hasn’t been easy. "I couldn't walk out of my halls without having to take a selfie,” the actor told Esquire UK. "I had the nicest flatmates," he added, "But it made it quite difficult to make friends. I don't think I'll ever be able to have a normal university experience, which is kind of sad. I couldn't relax and go out and have a drink or get drunk or whatever, because if I did someone would be like: 'I saw Bran and he was all f***ed up.'"

27. Both Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey have played The Terminator’s Sarah Connor.

Clarke starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys, playing the role of Sarah Connor. The part was previously played by Cersei Lannister herself, Lena Headey, in the short-lived TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

28. The trees lining the Kingsroad might not be around much longer.

People have long flocked to Northern Ireland to explore the enchanting Dark Hedges, but the scenic location’s appearance in season 2 of Game of Thrones really put the tourist attraction on the map. Visitors who walk down the "Kingsroad" this week may notice something amiss, though. According to The Independent, powerful winds uprooted one of Ballymoney’s famous beech trees, which have been a prominent feature of the town since the 18th century. There were once 150 beech trees at the site, but only 60 to 90 trees are still standing today, according to different estimates. Some fell victim to past storms, while others suffer from rot.

29. George R.R. Martin made the showrunners guess who Jon Snow’s mother was.

Before he’d bestow his blessing on D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, George R.R. Martin asked the two wannabe showrunners the question that previoulsy spurred thousands upon thousands of words of fan speculation: “Who is Jon Snow’s real mother?” “It was very much like a test question,” Benioff told Vanity Fair in 2014. “Basically, it was like: ‘Guess. I want your guess to be intelligent and I want it to be based in the facts of the world,’” Weiss added. “We had already discussed it. We’d had like a two-hour conversation about it. It was pretty well-trammeled territory for us.”

30. Sean Bean never learned who Jon Snow’s parents were.

Sean Bean in Game of Thrones
Nick Briggs, HBO

Although Sean Bean knew from the beginning that his character, Ned Stark, would die early on, he wasn't told many other plot points—not even the fact that Jon Snow wasn’t actually Ned’s bastard.

When asked if he knew of Jon’s true parentage, the 59-year-old actor admitted, “No. Like with everything with Game of Thrones, it was kept very dark and secret ... I think that’s the kind of magic and the glory of Game of Thrones—that’s why it’s so stunning and breathtaking when these secrets are revealed.”

31. One actor has played four characters.

Welsh actor and stunt performer Ian Whyte has played a grand total of four roles on Game of Thrones. In seasons one and two he was a White Walker; also in season two, he played Gregor Clegane (one of three actors to play the role); season three saw him as an unnamed giant; in season five he played the Wildling giant Wun Wun.

32. Ramsay Bolton almost played Jon Snow.

Iwan Rheon was the runner-up to play Jon Snow. The role went to Kit Harington, and Rheon went on to play Roose Bolton’s sadistic bastard son, Ramsay, instead.

33. Kit Harington needed a safe word while filming “The Battle of the Bastards.”

In a behind-the-scenes featurette, longtime Game of Thrones camera operator Sean Savage shared that his very favorite scene to film over eight seasons was the moment during the Battle of the Bastards "when Jon Snow is forced to the ground and then trampled. And this seemingly immortal hero of ours looks like he's close to the end."

The scene wasn't entirely scripted, so when Harington fell to the ground, Savage stood over him and filmed from above as tons of stuntmen piled on top of the actor. In order to ensure that Harington wouldn't be injured, "we had a sort of safe word [so] that we could call it off at any point," Savage said.

34. It was the most pirated tv show for six consecutive years.

According to TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones was the most pirated show for six consecutive years—from 2012 to 2017. In 2015 it had more than twice the illegal downloads of the second most pirated show, The Walking Dead. In 2018, The Walking Dead finally took over the top spot ... but only because Game of Thrones hasn't released a new episode since 2017.

35. It has an official rap companion album.

In 2014, HBO put out an official Game of Thrones-themed rap album called “Catch the Throne,” which they released for free via SoundCloud. They did it again in 2015, before the show’s fifth season (though volume two contained some heavy metal tracks). Contributors include Method Man (“The Oath”), Snoop Dogg (“Lannister’s Anthem”), Big Boi (“Mother of Dragons”), Talib Kweli (“Lord of the Light”), and Anthrax (“Soror Irrumator”).

36. Sean Bean had some fun with his own decapitated head.

In a Reddit AMA, Sean Bean recalled that, while on-set, he kicked the model of Ned Stark's decapitated head around “like a football.”

37. The showrunners know how the books will end.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss speak at HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Panel during Comic-Con 2011 on July 21, 2011 in San Diego, California
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

George R.R. Martin has told D.B. Weiss and David Benioff the “broad strokes” of how the series will end. “Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with [Martin] and just talk through where things are going, because we don’t know if we are going to catch up and where exactly that would be,” Benioff told Vanity Fair in 2014. “If you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we just sat down with him and literally went through every character.”

38. The series will end differently than the books will.

So that the show doesn't give everything away, George R.R. Martin recently announced that he will be making a few tweaks to the final titles in his A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

"I’ve been so slow with these books," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The major points of the ending will be things I told [Benioff and Weiss] five or six years ago. But there may also be changes, and there’ll be a lot added."

39. The final season will feature several callbacks to season 1.

Maisie Williams in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

For anyone who needs a refresher course on all things Game of Thrones before the upcoming final chapter kicks off, all you need to do is rewatch season 1, according to Maisie Williams. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Arya Stark actress revealed that after she knew the ending to season 8, she had to go back and rewatch the first season.

"After reading the scripts I went back and watched season 1 again, because so much of it refers back to that season," Williams shared. "There are so many scenes that will look similar. And also I watched just to remind myself of the arc I've taken already. I wanted Arya to go full circle and try for some kind of normalcy like when she was younger."

40. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who plays The Mountain, needed a stunt double for the first time ever in season 8.

There’s no question that Game of Thrones's final season will be action-packed. But Iceland native Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who plays Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane in the TV series, recently confirmed just how much more hardcore the upcoming episodes will be.

In a recent interview with Mashable, the 30-year-old strongman, the final season was "the hardest season I’ve filmed for Game Of Thrones." Filming got so complicated that, for the first time in his four seasons on the show, Björnsson needed a stunt double to play The Mountain.

“All the seasons prior to this season that we just finished filming, I never had stunt doubles. I always did everything myself," Björnsson said. "But the last season I filmed, the season that hasn’t been shown on television, I had a stunt double there."

41. Scientists have calculated the odds to try and predict who will survive season 8.

Reidar Lystad and Benjamin Brown—injury epidemiologists at Sydney's Macquarie University—watched all 67 current episodes of Game of Thrones with an eye toward mortality trends and believe that they have determined some key factors in who is most likely to live or die in season eight, statistically-speaking. And the news is not great for low-born males with a high level of loyalty, who are the most likely to be killed.

On the plus side, the study found that upper-class women have a better survival rate. In addition, switching allegiances seems to lengthen a character’s lifespan. Using these criteria, and further expounding on their findings in the media, the research suggests that Sansa and Arya Stark have the best statistical chance of surviving the series as they have changed allegiances. While Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister have the high-born factor working in their favor, the fact that they've both remained fiercely loyal to their initial goals may not bode well for their ultimate survival. Not far behind the Stark sisters in terms of survival probability are Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, who Lystad told HuffPost are both "very much still in the running."

42. More than half of the series’ major characters have already been killed.

Maisie Williams and David Bradley in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

Lystad and Brown's study, which was published in the journal Injury Epidemiology, also found that more than half of the major characters in Game of Thrones had been killed off by the end of season seven. Interestingly, the study also concluded that characters have a 14 percent chance of dying within the first hour of first being introduced in the show.

43. Injuries—especially open neck wounds—and fire are the most common ways to be killed.

Injuries—specifically an open neck wound (we're assuming this would include having one's head chopped off) or injury to an unspecified part of the body (what happens in battle stays in battle)—are the most likely cause of death on the series, while burning (a.k.a. the only way to kill a White Walker, and a punishment Daenerys's dragons are very skilled at inflicting) is the second most common way to be knocked off.

44. George R.R. Martin regrets that he didn’t finish Winds of Winter sooner.

"It’s been an incredible ride," George R.R. Martin said of the Game of Thrones experience. "And almost all of it has been great. Obviously, I wished I finished these books sooner so the show hadn’t gotten ahead of me. I never anticipated that." The reason the television show's narrative has gone ahead of Martin is because he has been working on The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, for the past eight years—and it still doesn't have a release date in sight. On top of that, there is also supposed to be a seventh book called A Dream of Spring to follow.

45. The series has led to some marital disagreements.

Producer David Benioff (L) and actress Amanda Peet attend The 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for Turner

Like so many Game of Thrones fans, the friends and family of the people who create the show have a serious investment in the series’ characters and storylines. In 2015, while appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Amanda Peet admitted that she threatened to divorce David Benioff if anything happened to Jon Snow.

"I said, 'I've heard all this stuff … [Kit Harington] got a haircut, I don't want to divorce you, what's happening?'" Peet said. Benioff assured his wife that Jon wasn't going to die, but obviously that wasn't true—or at least not at the time. "I don't love you anymore," Peet (jokingly) told her husband. "I said, 'If you kill him, that's it.'"

But not even Parris McBride, George R.R. Martin's wife, is immune to petitioning (read: threatening) her husband when it comes to advocating for which characters she wants to see still standing when the series concludes. "[George's] wife did actually say that if he ever kills off Arya or Sansa, she's going to leave him," Maisie Williams revealed in 2015. "I'll just keep smiling, and say 'If you want to stay with your wife, you've got to keep me alive!'"

The 36 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

The Jim Henson Company via Fathom Events
The Jim Henson Company via Fathom Events

There’s a difference between a Christmas movie and a movie that happens to be set at Christmastime. One evokes the spirit of the holiday—the atmosphere, the charity, the awkward family meals—while the other shows snow falling and the occasional Santa hat to set the mood. This key difference is why the debate surrounding Die Hard being “a Christmas movie” is always so heated. Is it solely a matter of the calendar or does a true Christmas movie need to reflect the soul of the season?

It’s also a genre that’s oversaturated with new, harmless movies every year seeking to thaw icy hearts and let them grow three sizes after a tub of popcorn. Which makes the enduring legacies of the very best Christmas movies that much more impressive.

We all have our own lineup of movies, old and more recent, that instantly leaps to mind when you think of Christmas. Movies that you watch on repeat without fail this time of year. Movies that have achieved Christmas immortality. Here are some of the best movies that, in our opinion, capture the heart of Christmas (listed in alphabetical order, as we love them all too much to play total favorites).

1. The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in 'The Apartment' (1960)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Shut up and deal, everyone. A sloppy Christmas party is the catalyst of this legendary dramatic comedy, featuring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon as office works who would fall in love if they could just get their lives together. Maybe the most melancholic of the holiday romps, few films capture both the loneliness of the holidays and the life-saving power of human connection as well.

2. Babes In Toyland (1961)

There were more than a few adaptations of Victor Herbert’s operetta before this one, but the Disneyfication of the fairy tale mash-up created a Technicolor jolt of Christmas adventure. Mouseketeer Annette Funicello shines as the secret heir to a fortune, but the movie’s best weapon is Ed Wynn as the Toymaker, pouring pure delight on everything he touches. (The movie is currently streaming on Disney+.)

3. The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Nia Long, Terrence Howard, and Melissa De Sousa in The Best Man Holiday (2013)
Michael Gibson - © 2013 - Universal Pictures

Just as The Hangover II is just The Hangover but in Thailand, and the sadly never-filmed Beetlejuice 2: Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian would have been Beetlejuice but in Hawaii, The Best Man Holiday takes the characters we loved hanging out with from the first film and puts them all together for Christmas. It’s got every emotion under the sun, including a lot of laughs and a lip sync dance number to “Can You Stand the Rain,” and the rest of the soundtrack is smart enough to include a Christmas tune from Mary J. Blige. It’s also further proof that Terrence Howard should be added to movies if only just to spout gruff one-liners, throw cell phones, and roll out.

4. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This may be the only romantic comedy where a handsome young man helps a beautiful woman stay with her slightly cranky husband. Of course, Cary Grant is actually a handsome young angel whose mission is to help a Bishop (David Niven) in the midst of raising money for a new cathedral. Sometimes you pray for help and God sends the hottest actor in Hollywood to take your wife ice skating in order to remind you that kindness isn’t about funding a fancy new building.

5. Carol (2015)

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol (2015)
WILSON WEBB / © 2015 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Todd Haynes’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s romance takes some dark, personal turns while still reveling in Christmas cheer. In it, Cate Blanchett plays Carol, a woman who falls for the store clerk (Rooney Mara) who advises her to buy a train set for her daughter’s Christmas present. The intensity of their budding romance is set against Carol’s difficult divorce proceedings, creating a whirlwind story filmed with the lushness of a holiday department store display.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A still from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The shortest of the movies on this list, Charles M. Schulz’s holiday special left an indelible mark on pop culture in less than half an hour. The animated wonder simultaneously gave us the best Christmas monologue about the crappiest tree and a jazzy Christmas soundtrack courtesy of Vince Guaraldi.

7. Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Warner Home Video

Elizabeth Lane lives an ideal WWII-era life of domestic bliss on a picturesque farm with an adoring husband, sweet baby, and a host of pleasing recipes she shares with her magazine readers. Unfortunately, that’s the lie she’s living in order to keep her job as a writer. Her reality is as a single, city-dweller which is all well and good until her boss suggests she host a war hero for Christmas at the totally real and not-at-all made up Connecticut farm she’s always writing about. Cue the mad scramble. Barbara Stanwyck is fantastically charming as Lane, double life and all, and the holiday setting allows her to both search for love and discover the power of being herself.

8. A Christmas Story (1983)

A still from 'A Christmas Story' (1983)
Warner Home Video

There’s a reason TBS plays this on a loop for a full 24 hours heading into the big day. Endlessly quotable, the youthful memoir is stacked with iconic moments involving tongues on flagpoles, risqué leg lamps, a sadistic Santa, and a super safe BB gun. Go ahead and shout out all your favorite lines right now. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

9. The Christmas Toy (1986)

Long before Buzz and Woody, Jim Henson produced a movie about an overconfident toy tiger who puts a playroom full of toys at risk because he can’t handle being supplanted by a new favorite toy. They all come to life when people aren’t around, and flop down when the playroom door opens, but they get frozen forever if a human touches them out of their original place. It’s a funny, imaginative gem, and I wore out the VHS when I was a kid.

10. Christmas Vacation (1989)


Warner Home Video

The blessing! More outright embarrassing and less sardonic than A Christmas Story, the Griswold family’s suburban misadventures lovingly devolve into the kind of chaos that requires a SWAT team. If you’re hosting your whole family, a flaming, flying set of plastic reindeer may just be the best symbol for the season. Fun fact: Mae Questel (who stole scenes as Aunt Bethany) sounds familiar because she was the voice of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop.

11. Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Yup, it’s on the list. Not merely set during Christmastime, John McClane’s harrowing rescue of his wife’s office mates is a bit like an action version of Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts off cranky and hateful of the season but remembers the true value of love and kindness after being visited by multiple people with guns who teach him to share what he has with others and give selflessly to those in need.

12. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Johnny Depp stars in 'Edward Scissorhands' (1990)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The first film in Tim Burton’s Christmas Trilogy, this Gothic love story set in the artificial snow challenges a suburban wonderland when an unfinished Frankenstein’s monster descends from the castle at the top of the hill. Another assault on commercialism, Edward Scissorhands is the misunderstood, gentle creature thrust into a harsh world of neighborly envy and hormonal bullying. Burton followed it up by subverting Christmas with Batman Returns and celebrating more misunderstood holiday creatures by writing and producing The Nightmare Before Christmas.

13. Elf (2003)


Warner Home Video

There is no tamping down Buddy the Elf’s enthusiasm. Like a retelling of Big with yellow tights and a green, pointy hat, Will Ferrell navigates the big city world of cynics to help them locate their inner child and believe in Christmas again. The main gag is how ridiculous Ferrell is as a giant elf, but the movie turns to magic because of its refusal to be even slightly mean-spirited. It’s like taking a big bite out of spaghetti topped with M&Ms, marshmallows, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup.

14. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

A still from 'Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas' (1977)
The Jim Henson Company via Fathom Events

It’s “The Gift of the Magi” with singing river otters. That’s an automatic win on the adorability scale, but Jim Henson’s tale of family togetherness glides by on sheer sweetness and joy, revealing that you don’t have to have expensive equipment (or even a good band name) to create beautiful harmonies.

15. Frosty The Snowman (1969)

The tip top of children’s Christmas movies is dominated by Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and Rankin/Bass, who stepped away from stop-motion animation for this story based on the wildly popular holiday tune. It’s wondrous, but it’s also more harrowing than you remember. As soon as Frosty is given life, he’s aware of his own melting mortality, and the entire plot of the story is about figuring out how he can survive. It’s also impressive for having a mediocre children’s party magician as the villain.

16. The Holiday (2006)

Cameron Diaz and Jude Law star in 'The Holiday' (2006)
Columbia Pictures

The purity and heart are what make Nancy Meyers’s Christmas-set house-swapping romantic comedy an annual must-watch. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet’s characters trade cities for the winter and both discover that new Google Map directions are exactly what they need to put them in the path of the right guy. It sticks to the formula, leaving its stars to swoon, act goofy, and proposition Jude Law for sex.

17. Home Alone (1990)


20th Century Fox

John Hughes must have suffered some kind of vacation-based trauma, because this and Christmas Vacation both focus on the hilarious worsts of time away from the office. For the Griswolds it’s living beyond their means and needing more lights. For Kevin McCallister, it’s about neglect that should demand a call to Child Protective Services. The lesson of every elementary schooler’s dream of independence is that it’s ok to order your own cheese pizza—as long as you also buy more toothpaste and fight off violent robbers. And if you love seeing Home Alone on this list but bristle at Die Hard’s inclusion, think twice, because they’re essentially the same movie.

18. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Why they keep trying to improve on perfection is beyond comprehension. Keep Jim Carrey. Keep Benedict Cumberbatch. Give me Chuck Jones’s animation team featuring Boris Karloff and the legendary voice talent June Foray. It’s a madcap comic masterpiece with a message of kindness served up piping hot next to the roast beast. Sadly its sequel (which was written as a prequel), Halloween is Grinch Night, never quite caught on.

19. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)


Paramount Pictures

Like most of you, I often fantasize about what It’s a Wonderful Life would be like starring The Grinch. I mean, who’s The Grinch’s guardian angel? Obviously, Frank Capra’s classic tale of redemption is in the eternal top five of Christmas films thanks to Jimmy Stewart’s mournfully enthusiastic performance and its overall message that one life matters. It, more than just about any other movie, has come to represent Christmastime itself—a ubiquitous presence on TV screens everywhere throughout December.

20. Jingle All The Way (1996)


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Tons of Christmas movies share the true meaning of the holiday with otherwise jaded individuals, but few punish their protagonists so thoroughly as this tale of a father who waits until the last minute to get his son the hottest toy of the year. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mattress-selling Howard Langston goes through consumerism hell to try to snag an elusive Turbo-Man doll. He fights with police, almost blows up, and has to dress up in spandex all over a piece of molded plastic. It should be required viewing on December 1 for every parent.

21. Joyeux Noel (2005)

Daniel Brühl and Gary Lewis in Joyeux Noël (2005)
Nord-Ouest Production, Senator Film Produktion, Joyeux Noel Ltd., Artemis Productions, MediaPro Pictures, TF1 Films Product

A prestigious epic chronicling the famous Christmas truce of 1914, wherein German, French, and British soldiers crossed into the No Man’s Land to stay the fighting and exchange gifts. The film is a sentimental melodrama that uses the perspectives of several different characters (both Allied, Central Powers, and civilian) to celebrate peace’s possible existence even in the hellish, frozen waste of war.

22. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Showcasing Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell crooning “Silver Bells” while strolling down a New York City street, this gem is the rare Christmas movie with a twist ending. It’s also the rare Christmas movie where a con artist abuses our natural affinity for charity during the season until he realizes that doing honest, good work is far more fulfilling. Who knew all you needed to set a bunch of misdemeanoring baddies straight is to stuff them in Santa suits and give them a bucket?

23. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens in The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Kerry Brown - © Garlands Films DAC

Surprisingly deft and sweet, Scrooge meets his maker in this film about Charles Dickens and the apparent parallels of personality he shared with one of his most famous characters. Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens really shines as Dickens, slapping on a charming presence even in the midst of an existential breakdown and every writer’s worse nightmare: a deadline. The strangest element is Christopher Plummer as Scrooge in direct communication with his author, but like a ghost of Christmas past, it works to stunning effect. The movie, the man, and the manuscript all hinge on whether Dickens can accept that people can change.

24. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
MGM

Judy Garland’s musical extravaganza ticks all kinds of holiday boxes. A great Halloween movie. A great World’s Fair movie (why isn’t this a subgenre?). An excellent Christmas movie. It chronicles a wealthy family’s eventful season as two daughters vie for romance with their respective suitors and burst into song at every opportunity. We have it to thank for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but no snowman is safe during the film.

25. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Not just one of the best Christmas movies, but one of the very best films of its release year, Miracle on 34th Street soars with a charismatic performance from Maureen O’Hara and precocious side eye from a young Natalie Wood. Is Santa real? And is he the old gentleman you helped get a job at the department store? Cynicism is incinerated by this infectiously warm movie—one of the only films in history where the US Postal Service acts as Deus Ex Machina.

26. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

A scene from The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Walt Disney Studios

Undoubtedly controversial, everyone has their personal favorite version of Charles Dickens’s important treatise on humanity and self-inflicted loneliness. The 175-year-old story has been adapted more than 100 times counting movies, TV, radio, and graphic novels. Maybe 1951’s Scrooge is your favorite, maybe you like George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart best. The Muppets and Michael Caine, though, brought a fresh, playful flavor that allowed a rat to co-narrate.

27. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What’s this? What’s this? It’s Henry Selick’s perfect stop-motion celebration of Christmas cheer through a Gothic lens. With so many Christmas movies, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is defiantly different. Mostly because it has werewolves, a singing sack filled with bugs, and a ghost dog who saves the day. So many movies focus on Christmas getting canceled because Santa gets detained, so it’s nice to see a movie about the ghouls who detain him.

28. Period Of Adjustment (1962)

Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton in Period of Adjustment (1962)
Warner Home Video

Jane Fonda sporting a molasses-thick Southern accent stars with Jim Hutton as two newlyweds who fight about almost everything. The movie is about “that agonizing pause between the honeymoon and the marriage,” but it also takes its holiday setting to showcase the pause that Christmas often offers to reflect and talk and evolve. Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, the quarreling lovers swap grievances with another couple while drinking heavily and absorbing fully the stress and release of the holiday season.

29. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Onni Tommila in Rare Exports (2010)
Oscilloscope

Do you know the real origin of Santa Claus? If you said, “Giant goat beast buried a mile underground in Lapland,” consider yourself on the Nice List. This Finnish flick starts as a horror film, but evolves into a winter adventure featuring a bunch of naked old men, naughty children stolen from their homes, and a standing-ovation-worthy explanation for how every mall in America gets its own Santa.

30. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The epic story of a misfit caribou who finds purpose because of what makes him unique, this Rankin/Bass tale is the longest continuously aired Christmas special of all time. It’s shown up on screens every year since 1964, thrilling young and young-at-heart viewers alike with vibrant animation, fun songs, and, for some awesome reason, an abominable snowman.

31. The Santa Clause (1994)

Tim Allen and Paige Tamada in The Santa Clause (1994)
Walt Disney Pictures

So many great Christmas movies follow Dickens’s blueprint of transforming someone skeptical into a true believer, and this Tim Allen comedy goes one step further by converting the crank into Kris Kringle. It’s ostensibly an argument against growing up too soon (or at all), and it established the Highlander-esque rule that if Santa dies from falling off your roof, you become Santa.

32. Scrooged (1988)


Paramount Pictures

Another stellar adaptation of Dickens, Richard Donner’s manic spree recasts Scrooge as a power-hungry television president played by a breathless Bill Murray. Beyond its intrinsic entertainment value and Carol Kane’s national treasure status, it also gives us all a break from a season of sentimental stories. It’s also a reminder that we should petition to make “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas” a real thing.

33. The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Warner Home Video

Jimmy Stewart is the secret ingredient for a great Christmas movie. He and Margaret Sullavan are naive romantic magic in this movie about two store clerks who despise each other but don’t know they’re secretly falling in love through anonymous letters. If that sounds familiar, it was the basis for the AOL-era You’ve Got Mail, right down to the cafe meeting where Stewart learns that his nemesis is also his love and bugs her with a healthy dose of espresso and dramatic irony as she waits for her real crush.

34. 3 Godfathers (1948)

There aren’t enough Christmas Westerns. Thankfully, John Ford crafted one that replaces the wise men with three cattle rustlers who help a young woman give birth just before she dies. With a promise to keep the baby safe no matter what, and considering the Biblical symbolism of their predicament, they make a harrowing journey across inhospitable land to New Jerusalem. John Wayne brings his John Wayneness to the picture as one of the cattle thieves, but faith even in the face of dehydration is the real star.

35. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places (1983)
Paramount Home Video

One of the best comedies ever made is also one of the best Christmas films—one that is shot through with generosity while thumbing its nose at greed. It features two crusty stockbroker brothers who play God with the lives of a young, well-heeled gentleman and a poor hustler when they make a bet to see if nature wins out over nurture. They effectively switch their lives (tacitly proving that having money is a big help in making more money) but don’t count on their prince and pauper teaming up to fight back. The narcissistic brokers get what they earn, but you have to wait until their cameo appearance in 1988's Coming to America to see them back on top.

36. White Christmas (1954)

There’s just nothing better than opening those big stage doors to discover the snow you’ve waited months for has finally arrived on Christmas Eve while Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye croon about our days being merry and bright. The songs and dance routines are fantastic, the story is nostalgic and goofy, and the charm is on full blast. Even growing up in a place where it never snowed, this was the ideal.

8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas

A Krampus figure in Heimstetten, Germany
A Krampus figure in Heimstetten, Germany
FooTToo/iStock via Getty Images

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. Krampus

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on the region and what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. In recent years, the tradition has spread beyond Europe, and many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. Jólakötturinn

A representation of Jólakötturinn in Iceland
A representation of Jólakötturinn in Iceland
Atli Harðarson, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat; in fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this was mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores. A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. Frau Perchta

A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta circa 1910
A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta from 1910
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. Belsnickel

An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm Museum
An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm Museum
gsheldon/iStock via Getty Images

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. Hans Trapp

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. Père Fouettard

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. The Yule Lads

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls, that is.

8. Grýla

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this list originally ran in 2013.

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