Rudolph and the Rest: The Definitive Ranking of Rankin/Bass Christmas Movies

By Justine Sterling |
FWX DEFINITIVE RANKING OF RANKING BASS MOVIES RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER

© 2001 Miser Bros Press/Rick Goldschmidt Archives

There are lots of great Christmas movies—A Christmas StoryWhite ChristmasDie Hard—but the best of the best will always be the stop-motion animated movies from Rankin/Bass Productions. You may not recognize the company name, but you definitely know at least one of the movies: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Yukon Cornelius? The Island of Misfit Toys? Hermey, the elf that wants to be a dentist? You wouldn’t have any of those Christmas icons without Rankin/Bass.

But that’s not all the duo of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., accomplished. For a long time they ruled the made-for-TV Christmas movie scene. Along the way they produced some true classics along with some, well, let’s just say some misfits. Here, the definitive ranking of Rankin/Bass’s stop-motion Christmas movies.

1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

It’s a classic for a reason. From the whimsical plot to Burl Ives’s warm and cozy narration, the movie is like a big Christmas hug. Plus, it gave us one of the best facts ever: Abominable snowmonsters are essentially made of rubber or, as Yukon Cornelius puts it, “Bumbles bounce!”

2. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

This movie takes the No. 2 spot because of two of the world’s greatest characters: Snow Miser and Heat Miser. The vaudevillian songs that the two warring brother gods sing will stick in your head until St. Patrick’s Day.

3. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

You may not have heard of this somewhat heretical film. Based on a story by L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz), the movie posits that Santa Claus was abandoned as a baby, found by a kind mountain lion named Shiegra and raised by fairies. It’s the perfect Christmas movie to watch if you happen to live in a state where marijuana was recently legalized. 

4. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970)

If the idea of Santa as a changling doesn’t tickle your fancy, this is an alternate origin story: Santa is, again, abandoned as a child and taken in by woodland creatures that in turn bring him to an elf family once known for their incredible toy-making skills. From there the plot gets a bit complex, but the only things you really need to know are that the bad guy is named Burgermeister Meisterburger and it’s narrated by Fred Astaire as a mailman.

5. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

It’s the crossover Christmas movie everyone was waiting for in which Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer join a circus and battle an evil wizard. I could go into more detail, but if that doesn’t pique your interest I don’t know what will.

6. Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

Travel back to ancient Roman times with this Bible-inspired tale of Nestor, a donkey with long ears. It’s not a particularly happy movie, but there is a cherub sidekick and—spoiler alert—Nestor saves the Virgin Mary by wrapping her in his enormous ears. So that’s pretty great.

 7. Jack Frost (1979)

No, this isn’t the awful Michael Keaton vehicle about a father reincarnated as a snowman or the psyche-scarring horror flick about a murderous snowman; it’s the story of how Jack Frost, a winter fairy, fell in love with a human. Narrated by a groundhog (because why not), the film follows Jack as he takes human form in order to woo his ladylove.

8. The Little Drummer Boy (1968)

If you love the song “The Little Drummer Boy” and always wanted to know more about said diminutive drummer boy, then you’ll love this origin story movie.

9. The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975)

At a quick 22 minutes, this selection doesn’t really qualify as a movie. But Angela Lansbury narrates it, so it deserves a spot on the list.

10. The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold (1981)

Did you know that leprechauns lived on a magical island? What about the fact that banshees live underneath pine trees? You’ll learn those fun facts and more when you watch this super-weird movie.

 11. Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980)

Pinocchio is tricked into being part of a Christmas puppet show in order to get the money back after he…oh, who cares. This was a dumb idea for a movie.  

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