Your guide to the best films on TV this Christmas
From Cinderella to Star Wars, there's something cinematic for everyone on the box this festive season
DECEMBER 9 Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! (2014) Channel 5, 3.20pm STARRING: Martin Clunes, Catherine Tate, Marc Wootton and Celia Imrie. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Mr Shepherd (Clunes), a new teacher at St Bernadette’s Catholic School, is struck with a dilemma when he loses not only his memory but also Archie the Donkey. It’s up to the pupils of St Bernadette’s and the madcap Mr Poppy (Wootton) to save the day and reunite Mr Shepherd with his fiancée Sophie (Tate) in New York. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Nativity film series has become a festive favourite for families, and its pint-sized stars will melt your heart.
DECEMBER 10 The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015) Channel 4, 9pm STARRING: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel and Richard Gere. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Now that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is full up with its long-term residents, co-managers Muriel (Smith) and Sonny (Patel) have a dream of expansion. As his marriage to the love of his life quickly approaches, Sonny finds his plans for the new hotel making more claims on his time than he has available. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: As wholesome and hilarious as its predecessor, this light-hearted sequel has the added intoxication and vibrancy of an Indian wedding.
DECEMBER 11 Gangs of New York (2002) ITV4, 11.40pm
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz and Liam Neeson. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In the 1860s, young Irish immigrant Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) returns to New York after being released from prison. Seeking revenge against his father’s killer, anti-immigrant gang leader ‘Bill the Butcher’ (Day-Lewis), by infiltrating his inner circle, Amsterdam’s mission becomes a fight for survival and for a place for the Irish in New York. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: A labour of love lasting nearly three decades for director Martin Scorcese, this historical epic is rich, intense and compelling.
DECEMBER 12 Sausage Party (2016) Sky Cinema Comedy, 3.05 pm / 8pm STARRING: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton and Salma Hayek. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The food items at the local supermarket – including Frank (Rogen) the sausage, Brenda (Wiig) the hot dog bun, Teresa Taco (Hayek) and Sammy Bagel Jr (Norton) – can’t wait to go home with a happy customer. After learning the horrifying truth that they will eventually become a meal, the panicked perishables devise a plan to escape from their human enemies. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: An animated adventure that’s definitely not suitable for little ones, this star-studded comedy will give you a basketful of lewd laughs.
DECEMBER 13 Big Game (2014) Film4, 9pm STARRING: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman and Jim Broadbent. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: US president William Alan Moore (Jackson) is aboard Air Force One when it is shot down over Finland, as part of a psychopath’s plot to hunt and kill him. With the terrorists closing in to capture their own ‘big game’ prize while Pentagon officials watch on satellite broadcast, Moore must rely on 13-year-old hunter Oskari (Tommila) to get him out of the wilderness alive. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Jackson is at his uncompromising best in this high-octane thriller which harks back to the golden age of the adventure flick.
DECEMBER 14 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Sky Cinema Christmas, 7am / 5.45pm STARRING: James Stewart, Henry Travers, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After desperately frustrated businessman George Bailey (Stewart) wishes he had never been born, guardian angel Clarence (Travers) is sent from heaven to make George’s wish come true on Christmas Eve. In the alternate reality, George starts to realise how many lives he has changed and impacted, and how they would be different if he was never there. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Considered one of the greatest festive films ever made, it’s impossible not to be moved to tears every time by this timeless fantasy drama.
DECEMBER 15 Before I Go to Sleep (2014) More4, 9pm STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Anne-Marie Duff. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Ever since a vicious attack nearly claimed her life, Christine (Kidman) has suffered from anterograde amnesia and is unable to form new memories. On the instruction of her doctor (Strong), Christine keeps a video diary, but when she she starts to uncover terrifying truths about her past, she begins to question everything – and everyone – around her. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Kidman gives a spine-chilling performance in this stylish psychological thriller based on SJ Watson’s bestselling debut novel.
DECEMBER 16 Pitch Perfect (2012) Channel 4, 9pm STARRING: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Elizabeth Banks. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Beca (Kendrick) knows she does not want to be part of a clique, but when she arrives at her new college, she is cajoled into joining The Barden Bellas, an all-girl singing group. Injecting some much-needed energy into their repertoire after a disastrous failing at last year’s finals, Beca leads The Bellas into a campus competiton against their male rivals. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Beyond all the belly laughs and cheesy sing-along moments, this comedy musical offers a joyous dose of girl power.
DECEMBER 17 Toy Story 2 (1999) BBC One, 2.50pm STARRING: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Kelsey Grammer. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When cowboy toy Woody (Hanks) is stolen from his home by a scheming toy dealer, spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Allen) and the gang try to rescue him. But when Woody discovers he’s a valuable collectible and is reunited with his horse Bullseye, Jessie the yodeling cowgirl (Cusack) and Stinky Pete the Prospector (Grammer), he doesn’t want to leave. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: 18 years on from its original release, the sequel to Disney Pixar’s Toy Story remains a landmark moment in family cinema.
DECEMBER 18 Carry On Cleo (1964) Channel 4, 12.20pm STARRING: Amanda Barrie, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Sid James and Kenneth Collins. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Two Britons are enslaved by invading Romans and taken to Rome. While Horsa (Dale) is a brave and cunning fighter, cowardly inventor Hengist Pod (Connor) is accidentally drafted into the Royal Guard to protect Caesar (Williams). Meanwhile, Mark Antony (James) is left with a tricky decision to make after he becomes besotted with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra (Barrie). WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Often regarded as one of the best instalments in the Carry On series, there are more innuendos than you can shake a palm frond at.
DECEMBER 19 Carol (2015) Film4, 9pm STARRING: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Therese (Mara) is a young clerk working in a Manhattan department store who dreams of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol (Blanchett), an alluring older woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage. As an immediate connection sparks between them, the innocence of their first encounter dims and their bond deepens with complicated consequences. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, both Blanchett and Mara were given Oscar nods for this alluring romantic drama.
DECEMBER 20 Chicken Run (2000) BBC One, 3.35pm STARRING: Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson and Jane Horrocks. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: American rooster Rocky (Gibson) crash lands on a British farm, where tenacious hen Ginger (Sawalha) has led the chickens in several foiled attempts to escape. Rocky reluctantly agrees to help the flock in teaching them to fly over the farm’s fences, but they must first contend with evil farmer’s wife Mrs Tweedy (Richardson) who is intent on turning them all into chicken pot pies. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: There’s something for everyone in this egg-cellent claymation adventure from the people behind Wallace & Gromit.
DECEMBER 21 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Sky Cinema Sci-Fi/Horror, 12pm / 9pm STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Galen Erso’s (Mikkelsen) peaceful existence comes crashing down when the evil Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) takes him away from his family to engineer the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, the Death Star. Knowing that her father holds the key to its destruction, Galen’s daughter Jyn (Jones) joins forces with spy Cassian Andor (Luna) to steal the Death Star’s plans for the Rebel Alliance. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Thrilling nostalgia meets cutting-edge CGI in this bold but brilliant expansion of the Star Wars universe.
DECEMBER 22 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) BBC One, 1.45pm STARRING: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody and River Phoenix. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After an archaeologist goes missing in their search for the Holy Grail, renegade treasure-hunter Indiana Jones (Ford) is coerced into searching for the precious goblet himself. Jones learns the missing man is his own father, Dr Henry Jones (Connery), and once reunited with his not-so-doting dad he must stop the Nazis from getting their hands on the grail first. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It’s Indy’s wildest outing yet, and the butting of heads between the eponymous hero and his old man makes for hilarious watching. DECEMBER 23 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) ITV, 8pm STARRING: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Having taken back their homeland from the dragon Smaug, the company of dwarfs has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Obsessed with his reclaimed treasure, dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) descends into madness, and with Middle-earth on the brink of war, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is forced to fight for his life and the lives of his friends. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Peter Jackson’s re-imagining of JRR Tolkien’s tale comes to a stunning climax with one of the best battles in cinematic history.
CHRISTMAS EVE The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Channel 4, 6.30pm STARRING: Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) tries desperately to instil some festive spirit in his boss, the cold-hearted moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge (Caine). On Christmas Eve, Scrooge receives an unexpected visit from the spirits of three Christmases – past, present and future – who show him the error of his self-serving ways and offer him the chance to redeem himself. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: With The Muppets lending a hilarious helping hand, this is the definitive take on Dickens’ classic festive story and essential Christmas Eve viewing.
CHRISTMAS DAY Cinderella (2015) BBC One, 3.10pm STARRING: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden and Helena Bonham Carter. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After her father unexpectedly dies, young Ella (James) finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother (Blanchett) and stepsisters, who reduce her to their maid. An invitation to a palace ball gives Ella hope that she might reunite with the dashing stranger (Madden) she met in the woods, but her stepmother prevents her from going. When all seems lost for Ella, help arrives in the form of a kindly beggar woman (Bonham Carter) who has a magic touch for ordinary things. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: There’s nothing like a fairy tale to make Christmas all the more enchanting, and this Disney flick fits the bill like a perfectly-sized foot in a glass slipper.
BOXING DAY Jurassic World (2015) ITV, 6.40pm STARRING: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio and Iffran Khan. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Located off the coast of Costa Rica, the Jurassic World luxury resort provides a habitat for genetically engineered dinosaurs, including the vicious and intelligent Indominus Rex. When the massive creature escapes and causes the other dinos to run amok, it’s up to animal expert Owen (Pratt) to use his skills to save two brothers and the other tourists from an all-out, prehistoric assault. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It took more than 20 years to deliver a worthy successor to the original Jurassic Park, but this pulse-pounding action-adventure is worth every second of that wait.
DECEMBER 27 Big Hero 6 (2014) BBC One, 4.10pm STARRING: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Damon Wayans Jr and TJ Miller. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Robotics prodigy Hiro (Potter) lives in the city of San Fransokyo. Next to his older brother, Hiro’s closest companion is Baymax (Adsit), a robot whose sole purpose is to take care of people. When a devastating turn of events throws Hiro into the middle of a dangerous plot, he must transform Baymax and his other friends – Go Go Tamago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred – into a band of high-tech heroes. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Not since WALL•E has a robot been as downright lovable as Baymax, who is impossible to not adore in this blast of animated fun.
DECEMBER 28 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017) Sky Cinema Premiere, 11am / 8pm STARRING: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill (Pratt) and his fellow Guardians – Gamora (Saldana), Drax (Bautista), Rocket (Cooper) and Baby Groot (Diesel) – are hired by a powerful alien race to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the batteries, the alien race dispatches its armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Packing a side-splitting script and an indulgent soundtrack, Marvel’s Guardians will make you think twice about ‘not getting’ the superhero genre.
DECEMBER 29 Gone Girl (2014) BBC One, 9.15pm STARRING: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Emily Ratajkowski. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Former writer Nick (Affleck) and his glamorous wife Amy (Pike) present a portrait of a blissful marriage to the public. However, when Amy goes missing on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick becomes the prime suspect. The resulting police pressure and media frenzy cause the Dunnes’ image to crumble, leading to questions about who Nick and Amy truly are. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Director David Fincher proves his worth as the master of the modern thriller in the gripping adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel.
DECEMBER 30 Bridesmaids (2011) ITV2, 9pm STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Annie (Wiig) is a single woman whose life is a mess, but when she learns that her lifelong best friend Lillian (Rudolph) is engaged, she has no choice but to serve as the maid of honor. Though lovelorn and almost penniless, Annie is determined to make things work as the bride’s go-to gal, leading Lillian and the other bridesmaids down the wild road to the wedding. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The strange and expensive rituals around the bride’s big day are extorted to hysterical effect in this crude retort to the ‘chick flick’.
NEW YEAR’S EVE We Bought a Zoo (2011) Channel 4, 1.55pm STARRING: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning and Colin Ford. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Following his wife’s untimely death, Los Angeles journalist Benjamin (Damon) decides to make a fresh start by quitting his job and moving his two children to an 18-acre property containing the Rosemoor Wildlife Park. Though closed for years, Rosemoor is still home to many animals cared for by Kelly (Johansson) and her small staff. Benjamin opens his heart and his cheque book as he and Kelly work to renovate and reopen the zoo. WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: A heartwarming and humorous watch for the family, this fact-based drama should provide some R&R before the new year’s rush.
NEW YEAR’S DAY Spectre (2015) ITV, 8pm STARRING: Daniel Craig, Monica Bellucci, Christoph Waltz and Léa Seydoux. WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A cryptic message from the past leads James Bond (Craig) to Mexico City and Rome, where he meets the beautiful widow (Bellucci) of an infamous criminal. After infiltrating a secret meeting, 007 uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation SPECTRE. As Bond ventures toward the heart of the operation, he discovers a chilling connection between himself and his old nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz). WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: See in 2018 with a bang, as 007’s latest super-spy escapades make their explosive network premiere.