Lights! Camera! Mistletoe! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the time of year when everywhere you look (on TV) you’ll find family-friendly holiday entertainment. Whatever your flavor, be it action movie mayhem, cranky Christmas Scrooges, or various iterations of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, there’s a little something for everyone on this list of real-life movie locations (and a few fun facts) of your favorite holiday flicks!
Christmas with the Kranks – Riverside, suburb of Chicago
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: This off-center Christmas tale is based on a John Grisham novel, and what it lacks in courtroom suspense, it makes up for in really cranky Christmas comedy. Starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, as parents looking forward to their first Christmas cruise, only to be surprised when their college-aged daughter says she wants a traditional family Christmas…queue the holiday mayhem and mishaps. Will they pull it off and save Christmas from themselves?! SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, pretty much.
FUN FACT: So, Dan Aykroyd also co-stars in his film as Vic Frohmeyer, king of Christmas in the Kranks’ neighborhood. The Kranks comment that Frohmeyer is unhappy that they’re skipping Christmas, so Tim Allen’s character comments” “Who’s he gonna call?” This is a cute little inside joke for Dan Aykroyd fans, since it’s the tagline of his most famous film, Ghostbusters!
The Family Man – Suburbs around Newark, NJ
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: In this modern-day retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life, action-director (and recently-accused sexual predator) Brett Ratner does his own, actually delightful, twist on the classic story of holiday redemption. When a successful rich person (played by Nicolas Cage) wakes up in his NYC penthouse apartment and realizes he’s actually living in a parallel reality, where he’s married to the ridiculously-adorable Tea Leoni, and sells tires in New Jersey. Will he find that the grass is greener in Jersey? Or will he want to go back to his life of tailored suits, fast cars, and foie gras?
FUN FACT: While Nicolas Cage’s character is bowling with his buddies, he recalls a story about the time he jumped out of an airplane above the Mojave Desert. Well, Cage did just that in film “Honeymoon in Vegas”? Am I the only person who’s seen that movie?
I’ll Be Home for Christmas – California to New York
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Did you grow up in the 90s? Were you hopelessly in love with JTT (also known as Jonathan Taylor Thomas)? You were?! Me too! Then you must have loved I’ll Be Home for Christmas, the Disney-helmed road trip movie of a kid just trying to get home for Christmas. It’s like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles but for families! (NOTE ON VIDEO BELOW: Evidently not everyone loves this movie.)
FUN FACT: You may have noticed that during the final credits the holiday song “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” is performed by *NSYNC. Well, flash-forward 14 years later, and one of the film’s actors Jessica Biel is now married to the lead singer of said 90s boy band. Oh, and there’s also a cut scene where a little kid pees on Jake’s lap.
Prancer – Three Oaks, Michigan
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: No, you don’t have anything in your eye, you just read Prancer and were probably triggered by some latent nostalgia. Ah, it’s a tale as old as time, a cute little redhead girl really wants a flying reindeer, and everyone is kinda mean to her. Then all of a sudden, a bit of holiday magic appears (after some tragic accident), and voila! You’ve got E.T. meets Pollyanna…as a holiday movie!
FUN FACT: Okay, this movie is scarce on really cool fun facts, but here’s a cute one: The name of the reindeer that played Prancer is actually “Boo.” And at the end of the film Prancer is released at Antler Ridge, which is actually Starved Rock State Park. Also, today the home where the mean old lady from the film lived is actually a working inn.
Jingle All the Way – Minneapolis/St. Paul
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Can we just talk about how consumerism has totally taken over the holidays? Black Friday, anyone?!!?! I mean, we can’t even get through Thanksgiving without cyber-mania and midnight sales completely dominating our lives! Well, Jingle All the Way is a 1996 madcap comedy, that captures this sad holiday trend…but it’s funny! But, also really sad and depressing.
FUN FACT: Based on the absolutely insane frenzy over the Cabbage Patch Dolls, Jingle All the Way isn’t without its controversy. A judge ruled that the story was stolen from a Detroit High School teacher, and the studio was slapped with a $19 million judgment. This was reduced to $1.5 million, but the studio never actually paid, and the judgment was reversed due to discrepancies over when the original story was purchased. Today you can still grab a bite to eat at Mickey’s Diner, featured in both Jingle All the Way and The Mighty Ducks!
The Holiday – Los Angeles
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: The Holiday is your standard transcontinental rom-com: Two pretty single ladies, played by Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, decide to house swap over the holidays (with Diaz heading to a small village in England, and Winslet spending her Christmas in sunny Los Angeles). I’m not going to spoil anything, but two words: Jude Law.
FUN FACT: The super sweet English pub, The White Horse, is a real pub, and to add a little more real-life enchantment, it actually snowed while filming.
Lethal Weapon – Los Angeles
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Okay, this is controversial around my house…what’s the best Christmas action film, Lethal Weapon or Die Hard? I mean, it’s kinda obvious, isn’t it? Die Hard, duh! Well, some people (ahem..Jim) would argue that Lethal Weapon is the superior Christmas film. I’ll let you decide, but let me just leave you with you with this: It’s Die Hard. When you visit L.A. head over to the Emser Tile Building. just don’t jump off the roof like Mel did.
FUN FACT: The first iteration of the script by Shane Black was much darker. More napalm missiles, a few kids get killed, more heroin, and in fact there was supposed to be so much heroin that it would start to snow the illegal white powder over the Hollywood hills. Oh, and Riggs was originally some sorta ninja with throwing stars or whatever.
Ernest Saves Christmas – Orlando
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: As far as the pantheon of Jim Varney films is concerned, Ernest Saves Christmas is easily in the top three (c’mon Ernest Goes to Jail and Ernest Scared Stupid are basically masterpieces). In this holiday fare, Ernest, again playing multiple characters, has to..you guessed it…save Christmas! And in the process manages to make it snow in Orlando!
FUN FACT: Well, PETA isn’t going to like this, but allegedly during production the reindeer shed their antlers so they had to be fitted with fake ones. As the first movie filmed almost entirely in the city of Orlando, the Orlando Science Museum was used as the Children’s Museum (it’s since been replaced).
Trapped in Paradise – Paradise, Pennsylvania
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: And ANOTHER holiday film from Nicolas Cage makes our list! In Trapped in Paradise, fresh out of prison, a trio of bank-robbing brothers get lost in the charming Pennsylvania town of Paradise after a heist. This is actually a really charming comedy, and quite underrated as far as holiday films go. So, give it a try!
FUN FACT: The production crew had to truck in 75,000 pounds of custom potato flakes from Idaho in order to blanket the town of Paradise in fake snow.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Plaza Hotel, NY
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: While not as iconic and perfect as the original (sorry, Anna), Home Alone 2 is an incredibly worthy sequel. Here we find Kevin (played one last time by the adorable Macauley Culkin), lost in New York! The movie has heart and soul, and lots of endearing pigeons.
FUN FACT: It was so cold during filming that some of the cameras actually froze. Also, the movie was shot on location at the Plaza Hotel’s Central Park Street Suite. Ooh, one last cute little fact: The children in the toy store scene were actually allowed to take home their favorite toy! Duncan’s Toy Chest was actually filmed in The Rookery Building in Chicago.
While You Were Sleeping – Chicago
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Okay, this is an absolutely ESSENTIAL holiday film! I’m sorry, but it’s legit the best holiday rom-com of all time (ugh, I forgot about Love, Actually. Okay, I amend my previous statement: It’s the best American holiday rom-com of all time)! Starring young and shiny Sandra Bullock, While You Were Sleeping is your standard girl meets boy, boy gets mugged and falls onto train tracks, girl saves boy, girl pretends to be boy’s fiancé while he’s in a coma but secretly falls in love with his brother. I mean, it’s basically a perfect film.
FUN FACT: Sandra Bullock’s character was allegedly written for Demi Moore (and it almost went to Nicole Kidman or Geena Davis). Also, the movie was initially going to be about a man falling in love with a woman in a coma.
Scrooged – NYC
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Okay, this is one of the funniest, weirdest, and offbeat Christmassy films of all time. Starring Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge, this retelling of the classic Dickens tale hits all the right notes. It’s a little bit cute, a little bit creepy, and completely wacky.
FUN FACT: Though the production was plagued with issues, from editing, to relationships between cast and crew, this film was a success and a bonafide cult hit. It also served as Bill Murray’s first major starring role since his star-turn in Ghostbusters.
Bell, Book, and Candle – Greenwich Village, NY
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: This classic movie makes our list because if there’s one thing that Christmas movies have been sorely lacking it’s witches! The stunning Kim Novak stars as a beautiful, albeit lonely, witch who risks it all by casting a love spell on Jimmy Stewart.
FUN FACT: The title refers to excommunication, conducted by a ritual including the ringing of a bell, the opening and closing of a book, and the lighting and extinguishing of a candle. Sounds like a new Christmas tradition!
Trading Places – NYC
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Because, if you can’t tell yet, we love offbeat Christmas comedies. Trading Places stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, who are two incredibly unlikely friends in this buddy-comedy about Wall Street. It’s a true riches to rags to riches tale, and also co-stars a scene-stealing Jamie Lee Curtis! Who if you remember worked with Aykroyd in Christmas with the Cranks!
FUN FACT: Here’s a cool fact for ya, in 2010 the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act was known as “The Eddie Murphy Rule”, because the purpose of the act was to forbid anyone from using secret insider information in trading.
Gremlins – Los Angeles*
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Gremlins oozes Christmas, from the small town setting, covered in snow, to the ubiquitous twinkling Christmas lights that are basically in every scene. In this cute, quasi-horror film, we get adorable Gizmo, and a gaggle of Gremlins wreaking holiday havoc.
FUN FACT: Although set in the fictional “Kingston Falls”, Gremlins was shot in California on a Universal Studios backlot, where Back the Future’s Hill Valley town was also shot.
The Santa Clause – Oakville, Toronto*
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Okay, this movie completely wowed me as a kid, and I recently re-watched it with my own 4 year-old, and it was still adorable! Yes, it’s aged a bit, but you know what, Tim Allen totally pulls it off. I even love the sequel, The Mrs. Clause.
FUN FACT: The Santa Clause was set in the fictional Illinois town of Lakeside, but was shot just outside Toronto in the town of Oakville.*
Die Hard – Fox Plaza Tower, Los Angeles
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: And here we have it…the GREATEST holiday action movie of all time! There, I said it. Come at me, bro. With Die Hard we have John McClane, a wise-cracking New York cop, battling a bunch of German terrorists at Nakatomi Plaza. McClane doesn’t have a cop buddy watching his back, he doesn’t even have SHOES! But, he manages to wiggle his way around this massive building, with just his wits and his inescapable charm.
FUN FACT: That awesome, iconic introduction scene between John McClane and Hans Gruber was totally unrehearsed. And a lot of the script was actually improvised. Another fun fact, I’ve seen this movie over 3,456 times!
Elf – NYC
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Will Ferrell stars in this modern classic holiday film. He plays Buddy the Elf, an orphaned human who snuck into Santa’s bag years ago and is on a quest to find his birth dad and become a part of a family. With a fantastic supporting cast, Elf has become one of the funniest holiday comedies of all time. It’s goofy, but has loads of heart.
FUN FACT: Due to the absolute insane success of the film, Will Ferrell was offered a reported 29 million dollars for the sequel, which he turned down. The fight between Buddy and the fake store Santa had to be done in one take because of the amount of total destruction that took place, it would have been super costly to rebuild the set for another shot. If Santa’s Workshop and the elf outfits looked familiar it’s because they were meticulous recreations from the 1964 stop-motion, Christmas-classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Lastly, some of you may have also noticed that Buddy’s dad lives in the same apartment building where they filmed Ghostbusters.
CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS – Charles Schulz wrote in 1957 that the cartoon is set in Hennepin County, Minnesota
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: This series of shorts is nostalgia at its finest. From the smooth folky jazz soundtrack to the sharp-witted criticism of the commercialization of Christmas, in my house at least this is a December staple.
FUN FACT: The show runners thought it was going to be a major flop. This was also a cartoon very much ahead of its time during the 1960s, for one it didn’t use a laugh track, and the cast were actual real live children, instead of adults mimicking kid voices. Sally had to be fed her lines one at a time.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS – Chicago Suburb
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: Much like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas showcases how we go into the season full of excitement and anticipation, and then all that holiday cheer devolves into chaos and anarchy, and ends with your weird cousins emptying their RV’s septic tank in the street drain by your front yard.
FUN FACT: Chevy Chase broke his pinky finger punching a plastic Santa Claus. Even after the break the cameras kept rolling, and that’s the shot used in the film.
CHRISTMAS STORY – In the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana (inspired by writer Jean Shepherd’s hometown Hammond, Indiana)
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: I don’t know about you, but I loved A Christmas Story, since before I could actually appreciate how sardonic and kinda messed up of a film it actually is. This holiday classic that experiences 24-hour marathons every holiday season is all about the joys and pitfalls of growing up, and how the holidays truly brings out the best and worst of us.
FUN FACT: Although the film was shot mostly in Canada, the Christmas Story house is in Cleveland (you can even visit it!), but the movie was set in Indiana. The Santa Claus scene, Ralphie’s house and the parade were all filmed in Cleveland. But, the rest of the film was shot in Canada. You get all that?! The school scenes also included actual student extras who got about $1 for their performances.
HOME ALONE – Suburb north of Chicago
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: In this fantasy tale, a young child is abandoned at his home over the holidays. In many ways this is every kid’s wildest dream: ice cream for dinner, pizza for breakfast, whatever you can think of, imagine a world with no adults! Well, in this adorable comedy a super cute Macaulay Culkin learns just how awesome (and kinda sad) that fantasy can be IRL.
FUN FACT: All of the fun facts about this movie are about Joe Pesci, cause he’s pretty awesome. On set Pesci deliberately avoided Culkin because he wanted the kid to think he was mean, in order to make their scenes together more believable. Also, Pesci had a problem remembering his lines, and if you know the film intimately, his character frequently erupts in angry outbursts, so Pesci was told to say “fridge” instead of the “f-word”. Lastly, as if he could be more perfect, all of John Candy’s lines were improvised during filming.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – The fake town of Bedford Falls was believed inspired by Seneca Falls, NY
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: This is a holiday tale of regret and redemption. George Bailey (played by the ridiculously likable Jimmy Stewart) feels increasingly like a failure in his life’s choices, until he meets the angel Clarence, who shows him what life would be like had he gone down a different path. Today you can even visit the “It’s A Wonderful Life” Museum in Seneca Falls.
FUN FACT: Set in the fictional Bedford Falls, the set of It’s a Wonderful Life was built over 2 months, and was one of the biggest set-building projects ever undertaken, taking over 4 acres of the RKO studio ranch in Encino. The production crew built 75 stores, a main street, a residential neighborhood, a slum, and a factory area. Another fascinating factoid is that Frank Capra was a major proponent of capturing live sound that he nixed the traditional use of painted white cornflakes (used for snow) in favor of a brand new snow technology, foamite. You see cornflakes are loud when you walk on them, obviously, so most dialogue in films with snow scenes up until this point had to be dubbed over. The foamite mixture, however, was a combination of soap, water, and a fire-retardant chemical. 6,000 gallons of this mixture were pumped through a wind machine. Also, the sweet scene where George and Mary are dancing and fall into the pool, was shot at Beverly Hills High School.
MIRACLE ON 34th STREET – NEW YORK CITY
ROADTRIPPERS SYNOPSIS: In this courtroom drama, Santa Claus is on trial and must defend the Christmas spirit. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but basically everything works out.
FUN FACT: A major part of the film was shot during the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1946. This presented quite a logistical nightmare for the cast and crew as there were obviously no reshoots, so they had to get it right in basically one take.