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Arts & Entertainment

Feel the Yuletide splendor with these classic holiday films screening in the Bay Area

The San Francisco Symphony’s Film Series returns with “Elf” on Dec. 22 and 22. | Courtesy the San Francisco Symphony

Taking in a movie on Christmas Day—holiday-themed or otherwise—is as much a tradition as drinking eggnog or pelting kids with snowballs. But you don’t need to wait that late to unwind courtesy of the silver screen. Whether your idea of fun is a pile of corpses or a stoner’s search for the perfect Christmas party or something in between, the Bay Area has you covered, with holiday film screenings of all flavors. 

Two Tim Burton Classics at the Castro Theatre 


The most classic of San Francisco movie houses (designed by renowned architect Timothy Pflueger) is a perfect place for a holiday double bill. And while you might associate Tim Burton more with Halloween than Christmas, a little darkness with your moviegoing could alleviate the saccharine overload of hot cocoa and tinsel. See Burton’s classics The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands (set during Christmastime) with back-to-back showings on Dec. 9.   

🕑 Friday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
📍 429 Castro St
☎️ (415) 621-6120
🔗 Purchase tickets here

Johnny Depp stars in "Edward Scissorhands," written and directed by Tim Burton. | Twentieth Century Fox Film Corpo/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at the Vogue Theatre

Presidio Heights 

Who could forget that dazzling display of Christmas lights, that ridiculous eggnog mug or Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing an obnoxiously over-exercised neighbor? In case you need a refresher—or need to be initiated—you can catch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on Dec. 13 at the Vogue Theatre in the Presidio Heights. On Dec. 21, the same theater screens screens 1982’s Annie, in which the eponymous character lived with Daddy Warbucks for two weeks during Christmas.

🕑 Tuesday, Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. 
📍 3290 Sacramento St. 
☎️ (415) 346-2228

Gremlins at the Balboa Theatre

Outer Richmond 

The holidays might not immediately come to mind when you think of Gremlins. But that fuzzy little Mogwai who got wet and created the film’s namesake ghoulies was a Christmas gift, and seasonal imagery abounds in the 1984 classic. See it Dec. 20 at the Outer Richmond’s Balboa Theatre, which, of every independent in the city, is probably the most committed to holiday-themed movies. 

Catch Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas on Dec. 12 along with the Christmas-set Batman Returns on Dec. 13. If getting high on laughs is your thing, clear your calendar for the underrated-yet-hilarious Christmas stoner movie The Night Before starring Seth Rogen on Dec. 15. Fan favorite Bad Santa will screen on Dec. 17, and Tokyo Godfathers—a touching Japanese animation film in which three homeless people find a baby in a trash can on Christmas Eve—is slated for Dec. 19. Rounding out the year with How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Dec. 21 and Elf on Dec. 23 and 24, you have plenty to choose from at the Balboa! 

🕑 Various times
📍 3630 Balboa St. 
☎️ (415) 221-3117

Home Alone 2 at the 4 Star Theater


Tag along with Kevin McAllister one year after he was left home alone to grapple with dim-witted burglars by seeing the reprise of the diminutive hero taking on New York during Christmas in Home Alone 2. Jingle All the Way and Die Hard—it’s still subject to debate as to whether or not it’s a holiday film—will also screen in December at the 4 Star Theater. The Richmond’s movie house was sold to a new owner in 2021 and is set to operate as a cinema once again. Its grand reopening is on Dec. 8, and exact dates are not yet set, so check the website for updates. 

🕑 Various times TBD
📍 2200 Clement St.
☎️ (415) 309-9240

Elf at the Alamo Drafthouse 


Order food and drink to your extra comfortable seat at the luxe Alamo Drafthouse, which hosts full-on watching parties. This year, there’s an Elf movie watching party on tap, so grab a ticket for the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy. 

🕑 Various times and dates
📍 2550 Mission St. 
☎️ (415) 549-5959

It’s a Wonderful Life at The Cut Outdoor Cinema 

Rincon Hill

Frequently ranked as the No. 1 holiday movie of all time, you can get your It’s a Wonderful Life fix this year at The Cut Outdoor Cinema on Dec. 9. That night also has Scrooged on tap if you need a side of cynicism with your sweetness. See other holiday classics on the big screen—and in the brisk air—with screenings such as Home Alone on Dec. 10, Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Clause on Dec. 16, A Christmas Story and Elf on Dec. 17 and The Muppet Christmas Carol and The Grinch on Dec. 18. 

🕑 Various times 
📍 250 Main St. 

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" returns to the San Francisco Symphony on Dec. 16 and 17. | Courtesy the San Francisco Symphony

How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the San Francisco Symphony 

Civic Center

For a family-friendly yet upscale holiday treat, see Ron Howard’s live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the beautiful Davies Symphony Hall on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17. If the Grinch is not your thing, Elf is another symphony option, with every note of John Debney’s score played live to accompany the film on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22. 

🕑 Various times 
📍 201 Van Ness Ave. 
☎️ (415) 864-6000

Noir Intrigue with I, the Jury at the Grand Lake Theatre


If the season has gotten a bit too warm and fuzzy for you, add a dash of hard-boiled noir to your holidays by attending Noir City Xmas. Famed noir expert Eddie Mueller hosts the screening of Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury in 3-D at the gorgeous Art Deco Grand Lake Theatre. The line-up for the popular Noir City film festival in January will also be announced. 

🕑 Tuesday, Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.
📍 3200 Grand Ave., Oakland 
☎️ (510) 452-3556