Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hours of good old-fashioned TV watching. Settling down on the sofa and putting on a festive film 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 teen’s knowledge – while still getting your well-deserved holiday chill time.
Together with our tutors (who are all students and grads from top UK unis), 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 surprisingly educational Christmas films.
1. Home Alone (1990)
Subjects: GCSE Physics, National 5 Physics
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 and SQA 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, its mass, and the speed it accelerates 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.
2. Falling for Christmas (2022)
Subject: A-level Psychology, Higher Psychology
If you’ve watched Mean Girls or The Parent Trap, you’ll be happy to see Lindsay Lohan back on the big screen. In Falling for Christmas she’s the rich and spoiled heiress of a swanky ski resort chain. But disaster strikes when her influencer bf proposes and she falls down a steep hill, hitting her head hard against a pine tree. She can’t remember who she is, or where she’s from. But luckily, a nice widower finds her and lets her stay at his beautiful (but failing) ski resort. Can you guess what happens next?
For those of you taking A-level and SQA Higher Psychology, you’ll have learned all about how the brain takes in, stores, and retrieves information in your Memory module. So you’ll know why Lindsay remembers things like the name of a past president, but not what she did a week ago. Anyway, this won’t be a film you’ll soon forget…
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Subject: GCSE English
It’s a fun film with a serious message. 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 performs, 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 taken straight from the novel. Ask your teen: how does the language Gonzo use create mood and atmosphere?
4. Christmas with You (2022)
Subject: GCSE Music, National 5 Music
Remember Freddie Prinze Jr as the heartthrob in She’s All That? Fast forward 24 years, and he’s back on the screen in this feel-good Christmas movie that’s all about finding your voice.
Miguel is a secondary school music teacher/widower whose daughter is obsessed with pop star Angelina. When the singer turns up at their door during a snowstorm – there’s more than just flurries flying in the air. Angelina, who’s been struggling to write new music, jams with Miguel and his daughter while she’s snowed in (might as well make the most of her time there!).
For those of you taking GCSE & A-level music, and SQA music technology in Scotland, you might ask yourself what makes a good composition. Are there patterns in rhythm and melody in popular music? And will music bring Miguel and Angelina together? Or will their creative differences pull them apart?
5. Elf (2003)
Subject: A-Level Physics, Higher Physics
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 and SQA Physics might tempt you to press play!
When Buddy and Michael get into 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 2nd 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!
6. The Grinch (2000)
Subject: A-level Psychology, A-Level Sociology, Higher Psychology, Higher 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 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. And really – maybe the Grinch has a point when it comes to unnecessary waste.
7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Subject: A-level Physics; Higher & Advanced Higher Physics
You can’t go wrong with the Harry Potter film series at Christmas. The wizarding world is the perfect escape when there’s family chaos around. You can even learn a thing or two about relativity and time travel (spoiler ahead!).
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione uses a Time Turner to travel back in time with Harry. But does the Physics actually add up – if time travel were possible?
When Harry and Hermione go back in time, they don’t create a new timeline. The past events that take place (because of the future time travellers’ actions) always took place in the past. Bit confusing?
Basically, what you watched before the characters travelled back in time cleverly stays the same because there’s no second, ‘alternate’ timeline created (like you see in Back to the Future). Real Clear Science says that: ‘If against all odds time travel were ever invented, this would be the only way it could operate in the known universe.’
So it looks like JK might’ve gotten this right. You can always brush up on your Astrophysics module for a deeper dive into time and space. And for teens in Scotland studying Advanced Higher Physics, you can check out the unit on rotational motion and astrophysics to find out how general relativity works.
8. Spirited (2022)
Subject: GCSE English
We know there’s already a Christmas Carol film on here – but we couldn’t resist. Spirited is a modern and fun musical twist on the Dickens classic that’ll have you singing along. Because it’s told from the perspective of the visiting ghosts (mainly Will Farrell who’s the ghost of Xmas present), you’ll question everything you thought you knew about the GCSE set text.
9. 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. 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.
10. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Subject: GCSE Citizenship studies, National 5 Modern Studies
An oldie but a goodie. 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. 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.
For National 5 students in Scotland, George’s actions are an example of good citizenship for the “Citizenship and Sustainable Development” module.
11. Arthur Christmas (2011)
Subject: GCSE Business, National 5 Business Studies
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 isn’t 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.
12. The Holiday (2006)
Subject: GCSE & A-Level Music composition, National 5 & Higher 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.
13. Happy Feet (2011)
Subject: GCSE Geography, National 4 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 greenhouse 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.
14. The Polar Express (2005)
Subject: GCSE Physics, National 5 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.
15. Frozen (2013)
Subject: GCSE Chemistry, National 5 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.
16. Cabaret (1972)
Subject: GCSE History, National 5 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 some 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 resentment of the Weimar Republic and gave Hitler a foundation for his propaganda.
17. Love Actually (2003)
Subject: A-Level Politics & History, Higher History (module: Britain at war and peace, 1938–51)
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. 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.
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.
18. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Subject: GCSE & National 5 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.
There you have it! Who knew that Christmas TV could teach you so much. That’s our round up of the best educational Christmas films out there.
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