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The 20 best (sort of) educational Christmas films

by Mariota at MyTutor ·// December 13, 2021

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hours of good old fashioned telly watching. Settling down on the sofa and putting on a festive film (or 5) is a break from cooking, present prepping, school work, and the usual family squabbles. And while learning might be the last thing on anyone’s mind, you can use this time to keep topping up your knowledge – without even noticing!

That’s right, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of top Christmas films and classics that feed directly into the school curriculum. So when you’re sitting back and letting Christmas entertainment wash over you, try chipping in with these educational gems that will wow everyone with your academic know-how.

1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Subject: English GCSE

It’s a fun film with a serious message. Well, it’s arguably not that serious, but it’s curriculum-focused! Of all the dramatisations of the Dickens original, this Muppets 1992 version is the truest to the original text. As you watch the muppets breaking into song and the great Michael Kane gives a performance of Shakespearean merit, see if your teen can talk about how the Victorian family is shown in the film. That’s one of the themes in the GCSE course, as well as how Scrooge’s character transformation is expressed, and the idea of redemption more generally. Gonzo’s narration is largely grabbed straight from the novel. Ask your teen: how does the language Gonzo use create mood and atmosphere?

2. Home Alone (1990)

Subject: Physics GCSE

Not a Christmas goes by without at least one – or 4 – of the Home Alone films gracing our screens. How could Macaulay Culkins’ parents leave him behind that many times?! That’s a question for another day. If you’ve seen any of the franchise, you’ll remember that our child protagonist Kevin is a master of boobie traps for escaping from baddies. And it turns out, a master of GCSE Physics.

Picture the scene in the first film when the law-defying Harry and Marv try to catch him. When they slip over a selection of toy cars that have craftily been left at the bottom of the stairs, this is very funny and it’s also an example of Newton’s 2nd Law. Here, there’s a relationship between the force applied to a body, it’s mass, and the speed it accelerates at when the force is applied. Harry and Marv step on the cars, which applies a large force compared to the mass of the car, so the cars accelerate away at high speed leaving them to crash down on their bums.

3. Elf (2003)

Subject: Physics A Level

If Will Ferrell playing a 6’3” elf isn’t enough to make you want to watch (again), then your teen  brushing up on their A Level Physics might tempt you to press play! When Buddy and Michael get in a snowball fight with the school bullies in Central Park, Buddy teaches us all about the conservation of energy. When he makes his final shot towards the bully who’s getting away, he applies Newton’s Second law, but this time it’s applied to two dimensions. Buddy travels in one direction but throws the snowball in a perpendicular direction. This means he has to account for the fact that when he releases the snowball, it will continue to move in his original direction of travel and aim to the left of the bully, which works out very well when it hits the bully who then falls over. From an adult perspective, a 40-year-old man taking out a group of middle school children with a snowball attack is probably a bit off, but let’s not ruin a festive classic!

4. The Grinch (2000)

Subject: A level Psychology, A level Sociology

Is the Grinch really to blame for stealing Xmas? Sure, it was his idea to ransack Whoville and he executed his devious plan perfectly (and with style!). But the Whos– at least in this film adaptation– have not always been the most welcoming. In school, they bullied the Grinch for being different and even humiliated him during a secret Santa gift exchange. 

A level Psychology students will have learned about childhood trauma in their ‘Approaches in Psychology’ module, and how these awful early life experiences left a deep scar on the Grinch’s psyche (and on his tiny heart). It’s not a huge surprise that he’s so anti-Xmas, especially the gift giving part of it. A level Sociology students will be interested in the Grinch’s deviant anti-Xmas attitude which challenges the Whos’ capitalist love for more stuff. New and shinier things, as they toss the old down the trash shoot! And really—maybe the Grinch has got a point when it comes to the unnecessary waste?  

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Subject: GCSE Business, A level law

Poor Kris Kringle has been arrested for an assault crime he didn’t commit. Sadly, he’s caught in the middle of an ugly squabble between Cole’s Department Store and Shopper’s Express (who frame him!). And now Kris Kringle might be sectioned when he tells police he’s the real Santa. Nightmare. 

Cole’s Department Store (where Kris has had his Santa gig) has a hugely important marketing decision to make. Do they stand by their famous Santa as he faces trial, or do they distance themselves from him? Here begins the launch of a risky marketing campaign where Cole’s store decides to support Kris. Their TV ads and buttons proudly declare: ‘We believe.’ Far from alienating their customers for believing in Santa, the department store gets loads of shoppers through the door, gaining the support of tens of thousands of New Yorkers. An interesting one for GCSE business students as well as A level law pupils who are studying the Criminal Law module. 

6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Subject: GCSE Citizenship studies

Considered to be one of the best movies of all time, this feel-good film is sure to restore your faith in humanity! George Bailey has big dreams. Since he was a kid, George has been keen to leave the small town of Bedford Falls and travel the world. But a string of unfortunate events put him in a tough spot. He has to decide between following his dreams, or staying back to help his community. 

Through the years, George stays put to protect the citizens of Bedford Falls against the miser slumlord, Potter. Even George faces trouble at the hands of Potter (risking arrest and ruin!). But his community rallies behind him, and a Christmas miracle happens! A perfect Xmas movie to watch for GCSE students who want to dive deeper into the ‘active citizenship’ theme of their course. 

7. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Subject: GCSE Business

Three generations of Santa under the same roof makes for some colourful disagreements. Delivering toys to all the good girls and boys around the world is no small job. It takes real leadership to bring the whole event together. 

GCSE questions around effective leadership are at the heart of ‘Arthur Christmas’. While Grandsanta likes to do things ‘old school’, the new Santa is the polar opposite, using the latest tech gadgets to make Xmas run as efficiently as possible— almost to a clinical degree. When a gift is not delivered, it’s Arthur Claus (the underdog) who puts children at the heart of his management style, and ultimately saves Xmas. GCSE business students, studying the ‘Human Resources’ module will have their own thoughts on how best to motivate their elves—we mean employees.

8. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Subject: A level Sociology

Edward has always wanted to fit in. Made from machine parts, his scientist creator sadly dies only moments before he gives Edward human hands (such bad luck!). And so, Edward is stuck with scissor hands which are a danger to himself and others (ouch). But when Avon representative Peg Boggs shows up at his door, his whole life changes. 

Edward is introduced to family life in suburbia. There, he grapples with what it means to fit into a tight knit community. The theme ‘Culture and Identity’ in A level Sociology, as well as the theme ‘Families and Households’ are central to this film. Plus, those stunning ice sculptures Edward creates for Xmas, give us real festive vibes, Tim Burton style. 

9. A Castle for Christmas (2021)

Subject: GCSE English Language

A 2021 Netflix release, ‘Castle for Christmas’ is well worth a watch. It follows Sophie, an American author, who runs off to Scotland after receiving an avalanche of criticism for killing off a beloved character in her book series. Never mind Sophie’s jaunt and love story in the Highlands—or even her random desire to buy a Scottish castle. 

What English Language students will really appreciate as they prep for exams, are questions the film raises around a writer’s crafting choices. Knowing her readership, was Sophie right to kill off the love interest in her commercial fiction series? In the film, Sophie based her decision on problems she was facing in her own personal life—namely, her separation from her husband. What responsibility does she have (if any!) as a writer to the specific audience who read her work? There are worse ways to revise text analysis than watching ‘A Castle for Christmas’, so it’s a thumbs up from us!

10. The Holiday (2006)

Subject: GCSE and A Level Music composition

We’ll find a way to make this holiday rom-com educational, if it’s the last thing we do. And actually, there’s a great example of the process of music composition in the film. When Miles (played by Jack Black) and Iris (played by Kate Winslet) are in the video store, Jack acts out a bit where he explains how movie scores create character. “Two notes – and you have a villain!” he says when he holds up the Jaws DVD. If your teen is working on any of their own compositions for their Music coursework, this scene, and a later scene, where Miles writes a soundtrack for Arthur, brilliantly express how to use life and people as inspiration for melodies.

11. Happy Feet (2011)

Subject: GCSE Geography

Without wanting to put a dampener on Christmas, the story of Happy Feet illustrates the impact of climate change on the earth and its animal species. In this scene where ice comes crashing down (bringing a crane down with it), we see a consequence of global warming. The ice in our North and South Poles is melting because of the Greenhouse Effect caused by global warming. This happens when more greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide, methane and fluorocarbons are released into the earth’s atmosphere. These come from cars, power stations, homes and factories. The immediate threat to the penguins’ habitat is just one example of the impact of global warming.

12. The Polar Express (2005)

Subject: GCSE Physics

Tom Hanks is the voice of the conductor who leads Hero Boy and Hero Girl (yes, those are their names) to the North Pole. As they’re choo choo-ing to the north, their mode of travel speeds us through one of the best examples of energy transfer in Physics. A steam train uses heat to convert chemical energy to kinetic energy, which activates the engine and then the wheels of the train so it moves forward. It uses the force created by the steam pressure to move a piston back and forth inside a cylinder. This pushing force is transformed by a connecting rod and flywheel into rotational force for work.

13. You’ve Got Mail (1999)

Subject: A Level Economics

What better way to understand the foundations of business than through a love story involving Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Using an early form of online dating, the two fall in love anonymously online, while in the professional world they’re arch enemies with competing businesses in New York. We have Kathleen, a small independent book shop owner, whose livelihood is immediately threatened by business mogul Joe’s chain store setting up shop around the corner. This tale of small vs large businesses reflects the key concepts in the A Level module “How Small Firms Compete”. As a small business owner, Kathleen can offer unique selling points that big businesses can’t. A chain bookshop is a threat to a small business like hers because they’re able to offer a wider range of products. They can also sell with smaller profit margins, because their scale means they can still make a big profit even when the books are cheaper. Of course, in 2021, both small bookstores and large ones are in trouble because of Amazon. A key question the film asks which is missed out in A Level Economics is, of course: which is more important— business or love?

14. Frozen (2013)

Subject: GCSE Chemistry

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen or heard of this Disney franchise which took the world by (snow) storm a few years ago. In the world of Frozen, everything snow melts to water, which freezes to ice, which melts back to water again. In other words, the events are determined by the three chemical states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. The magically gifted Elsa uses these states of matter to her advantage as she creates ice sculptures from thin air, fights fires with miniature snow storms, and freezes the world around her wherever she goes. Ice is an example of a solid, which has a fixed shape and can’t flow because the particles don’t move around. When the air temperature causes ice to melt and become water, it becomes a liquid, which flows and can take the shape of its container – it can do this because its particles move around each other. Fog and steam are examples of a gas, which also flows because the particles can move quickly in all directions. You shouldn’t take every aspect of the film as examples of science though. For example, as far as we’re aware, love hasn’t actually been proven to melt ice (this is an example of a metaphor, which is a device in GCSE English Language!).

15. Paddington 2 (2017)

Subject: A Level Psychology

This instant classic is a heart-warmer and a tearjerker for all ages. Based on the children’s stories from the 1970s, we see the adorable and morally upright Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) get caught up in trouble with the law, much to the dismay of his loving human family and neighbours. A core theme of the story is how he influences other people to become kinder, happier and more hopeful wherever he goes. This is an example of the theme covered in the A Level Psychology module, Social Influence. 

The frightening prisoner/head chef Knuckles McGinty is an example of an authoritarian personality, and the other prisoners’ initial fear of him shows us conformity to social roles. Paddington’s non-conformist approach (aka a minority influence), and the deliciousness of his marmalade recipe, are situational variables which cause a social change in the prison and beyond. And as well as topping up your Psychology knowledge, you also get to witness Hugh Grant sneaking around dressed as a nun.

16. Cabaret (1972)

Subject: GCSE History

If there comes a moment when you can’t take any more Christmas spirit, this musical classic starring an amazing Liza Minelli is both incredibly entertaining – and a great way to learn more about Nazi Germany. We follow the collapse of the Weimar republic as the Nazis took power, and see the growing fear and authority of Nazi rule in a number of violent scenes. We also understand how many Germans saw Nazism as the route to a bright new future, as is shown in the chillingly hopeful song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, led by a passionate member of the Nazi youth. This was partly due to the economic collapse in Germany in 1929, which followed their defeat in World War I. The unemployment and widespread poverty that we see fuelled a resentment of the Weimar republic and gave Hitler a foundation for his propaganda.

17. Rebecca (2020)

Subject: A Level English

Another non-Christmassy film that we had to include on our list as it’s sure to become a classic, is ‘Rebecca’. This Netflix production stars Lily James as our Heroine, and Armie Hammer (in a divine yellow suit!) as the tormented but handsome Maxim de Winter. Based on the novel of the same name, ‘Rebecca’ is a set text within the module “Love Through the Ages”. When you’re watching, your teen can have a think about the role of the narrator – how do they create a Gothic atmosphere with the setting of Mandalay? How does Maxim’s and the heroine’s relationship develop throughout the story? The ending of the film diverges quite a bit from the book. Why might the director have made those choices? These are all questions which will set them on the right path for understanding the text and writing great essays. 

18. Love Actually (2003)

Subject: A Level Politics & History

Some get their political education from books, some get it from Richard Curtis films. Here we see a visit to London from the suave US President, who steals a sneaky kiss with Natalie, the staffer who the UK Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) is in love with. Fast forward to a moment when the president announces that “the special relationship is still very special”. This is a reference to the “special relationship” between the two countries, a term coined to reflect the supposed important and deep level of allyship between them. Apparently first coined by Winston Churchill in 1946, the term comes from the fact that the two nations were close allies in WW1 and WW2, and following that, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and the War on Terror.

Curiously, the ‘Love Actually’ plot reflects many real aspects of the dynamics between the two countries. Grant’s passionate press conference speech where he says they have “a relationship based on the president taking what he wants and casually taking all the things that really matter to… Britain”, reflects true dynamics between the US and the UK. While the likelihood of a UK Prime Minister making such a speech and openly falling out with the president extremely low, the power imbalance Curtis shows us here helps us get a picture  of UK-US relations over the years.

19. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Subject: GCSE Religious Studies

Here we have a Christmas film that tells us the story of… Easter! One of the key elements of Christianity in GCSE Religious Studies is the story of Jesus’ life, sacrifice and return from the dead i.e. resurrection. Based on the original story by theologian C.S. Lewis, the majestic Lion, Aslan, symbolises Jesus, who sacrifices himself to save the wayward Pevensie brother, Edmund. He gets tempted to the dark side by The White Witch (played by the chilling and glamorous Tilda Swinton), who represents– yep, you guessed it, Satan. Following a resurrection and a lot of forgiveness, the redemption of Edmund is a metaphor for the redemption of mankind as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice. We’re not sure which Bible characters exactly Mr and Mrs Beaver are meant to be.

20. Die Hard (1989)

Subject: A Level Business Studies

The story of a group of terrorists-come-thieves led by Alan Rickman being picked off one by one by an increasingly bedraggled Bruce Willis doesn’t sound so festive. But hey, it’s set on Christmas Eve! At one point Bruce even shoots a guy, dresses him up as Santa, and writes “Ho Ho Ho” on his top – what could be more festive than that? Plus, their whole terrorist plot is a great example of the power of branding. Hear us out. It relies on police and FBI believing they are suave terrorists – rather than a bunch of thieves they secretly are. They walk, talk, and act the 1980s cliché of a terrorist band. Their clothes, haircuts, how they talk to the police, and the demands they make. In short, because of how clearly and distinctly they brand themselves, everyone immediately understands who they are and what to expect. They accept the story they’re being sold without question. And that’s what we call a brand!

And there you have it! Who knew that Christmas TV could teach us so much.

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