30 Jewish Movies To Watch On Christmas

Being a chosen person on Christmas isn’t so bad. Here are 30 movies that capture something about Jewish culture.

1. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Gregory Peck is a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to expose antisemitism in Gentleman’s Agreement. This controversial film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, which was a nice “fuck you” to the Los Angeles County Club, who had refused producer Darryl Zanuck access after mistakenly thinking he was Jewish.

2. The Jazz Singer (1952)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Michael Curtiz
The classic story of a man (Danny Thomas) in show business who breaks his rabbi father’s heart by not following in his footsteps has been told many times. You can also check out the 1927 original (warning: an uncomfortable amount of blackface) or the 1980 remake (warning: an uncomfortable amount of Neil Diamond).

3. The Graduate (1967)

United Artists

Directed by: Mike Nichols
There’s more to The Graduate than Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) getting seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) — but of course, that’s the moment everyone remembers. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching this awkward short Jewish kid try to navigate a very adult affair with an older woman.

4. Funny Girl (1968)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: William Wyler
There are few Jewish heroines as iconic as Fanny Brice, portrayed perfectly by Barbra Streisand. (Accept no substitutes.) Babs’ most famous role has her singing classics “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” while reminding everyone that there’s more to fame than being a conventionally pretty face.

5. The Producers (1968)

MGM

Directed by: Mel Brooks
Alas, we will never get to see the stage production of Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden. But at least we have The Producers — multiple versions, in fact! — Mel Brooks’ film about Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), two Jewish producers who put on a Hitler musical meant to flop.

6. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

United Artists

Directed by: Norman Jewison
This quintessential Jewish musical offers a crash course in culture with the opening number “Tradition.” Beyond that, it’s a lovely and often sad story of rapidly changing times, as the Jews of Anatevka struggle to maintain their old-fashioned way of life.

7. Annie Hall (1977)

United Artists

Directed by: Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s greatest film — some will make a case for Manhattan, but nope — is a love story between “real Jew” Alvy Singer (Allen) and unpredictable shiksa Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Annie Hall encapsulates so much of the self-deprecating, death-obsessed Jewish humor that Allen fans love.

8. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Hugh Hudson
Chariots of Fire tells the true story of Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), an English Jew who becomes a competitive runner to combat antisemitism. The film played up Abrahams’ Jewishness, which was less central to his life in reality, but with so few depictions of Jewish athletes, it’s OK to exaggerate a little.

9. The Chosen (1981)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Jeremy Kagan
Reuven (Barry Miller) is a modern Orthodox Jew with a Zionist father, and Danny (Robby Benson) is the son of a strict Hasidic rabbi. Though these two boys initially hate each other, they come to form a unique bond, challenged by their conflicting religious and political beliefs in this film adaptation of the novel by iconic Jewish author Chaim Potok.

10. History of the World, Part I (1981)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Mel Brooks
Never has the torture of Jews been more hilarious than in Mel Brooks’ song-and-dance take on the Spanish Inquisition, which includes a cameo from the one and only Jackie Mason. The Inquisition aside, the film is infused with Jewish humor, but sadly, we never got to see Hitler on Ice in History of the World, Part II.

11. Yentl (1983)

MGM

Directed by: Barbra Streisand
Based on the short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yentl is about a girl who disguises her identity in order to enter an all-male yeshiva school to study the Talmud. It’s also a musical starring Barbra Streisand and Mandy Patinkin, so even without the explicitly Jewish subject matter, it would qualify for this list.

12. Zelig (1983)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Woody Allen
In the mockumentary Zelig, writer-director Woody Allen stars as the titular character, a “human chameleon” who can transform his appearance to match that of anyone around him. As many film scholars have noted, the film is something of an allegory for Allen’s Jewish identity, and the often-hidden presence of Jews throughout history.

13. An American Tail (1986)

Universal Pictures

Directed by: Don Bluth
An American Tail is probably the only kids’ movie in which a family is forced out of their home by the Cossacks’ pogroms. Of course, in this case, it’s a family of mice, the aptly named Mousekewitzes, who leave their native Russia to find a better life in America. The immigrant story transcends species.

14. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Lionsgate

Directed by: Emile Ardolino
Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein based Dirty Dancing in part on her youth as a Jewish girl who summered in the Catskills with her family. The film itself may not be widely regarded as a Jewish movie, but it certainly should be: Baby’s (Jennifer Grey) coming-of-age is a distinctly Jewish experience.

15. Crossing Delancey (1988)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Joan Micklin Silver
A more modern story than Fiddler on the Roof, Crossing Delancey is still deeply entrenched in Jewish tradition. As Isabelle Grossman (Amy Irving) searches for love, it’s her bubbe Ida who helps her find sweet Sam Posner (Peter Riegert), by way of the local matchmaker. A blessing on their heads.

16. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Rob Reiner
As it turns out, the elements for a great romantic comedy are the same as the elements for a classic Jewish movie: screenwriter Nora Ephron, director Rob Reiner, and star Billy Crystal. When Harry Met Sally is a standout no matter which genre you place it in, with more humor and heart than almost any other modern romance.

17. Avalon (1990)

TriStar Pictures

Directed by: Barry Levinson
Avalon, the third of writer-director Barry Levinson’s semi-autobiographical Baltimore films, tells the story of Jewish assimilation through Russian-Jewish immigrant Sam Krichinsky (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his grandson Michael (a young Elijah Wood), who comes of age in the ’50s.

18. Barton Fink (1991)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Like many of the Coen brothers’ films, Barton Fink is tough to pin down. Most would call it a noir — or perhaps a satire of one. Either way, it has big ideas: Roger Ebert suggested it’s an allegory for the rise of World War II-era fascism, as exemplified by its hero, the very Jewish — and very oblivious — Barton Fink (John Turturro)

19. School Ties (1992)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Robert Mandel
Brendan Fraser plays David Greene, a Jewish boy who transfers to a Massachusetts prep school in the 1950s. Once there, he is forced to hide his religion to protect himself from his classmates’ antisemitism. All that aside, there’s a lot of eye candy here — Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, and Ben Affleck also star.

20. Clueless (1995)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Cher (Alicia Silverstone) never says that she’s Jewish in Clueless — but she doesn’t have to. Her last name is “Horowitz,” and she’s the creation of writer-director Amy Heckerling, who adapted Clueless from Jane Austen’s Emma. More to the point, Cher is the quintessential Jewish American Princess, truly an icon for the community.

21. Independence Day (1996)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Yeah, it’s a disaster flick about aliens, but what Independence Day is really about is the heroics of nice Jewish boy David Levinson, played by Jewish hunk Jeff Goldblum. Judd Hirsch does his best Jackie Mason impression as David’s father Julius, who is OK with gentiles, because “nobody’s perfect.”

22. Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Fine Line Features

Directed by: Woody Allen
Like so many of Woody Allen’s films, Deconstructing Harry feels very personal. Some have noted its similarities to his earlier (and also autobiographical) film Stardust Memories. In one scene here, Harry Block’s (Allen) devout Jewish half-sister Doris (Caroline Aaron) criticizes the way he represents Jews in his stories. And really, she’s not entirely wrong.

23. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

DreamWorks Pictures

Directed by: Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Hickner
Oh, sure, you could watch The Ten Commandments, but that’s the gentile version of the Exodus story. The Prince of Egypt has actual Hebrew, late Israeli pop star Ofra Haza, and Jeff friggin’ Goldblum as Moses’ brother Aaron. It doesn’t get much more Jewish than that.

24. The Wedding Singer (1998)

New Line Cinema

Director: Frank Coraci
Really, any Adam Sandler film counts as a Jewish movie, but The Wedding Singer gets extra points for one of the best Bar Mitzvah scenes ever committed to film. For many young Jewish boys — including the one her character dances with in the film — Drew Barrymore was the ultimate dream.

25. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

USA Films

Directed by: David Wain
The summer camp in Wet Hot American Summer isn’t explicitly Jewish — but it totally is. (The campers’ names, for one thing. Booing at the cross in “Day by Day,” for another.) And for awkward, nebbishy Jewish boys, there is no greater role model than Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg (Michael Showalter).

26. Angels in America (2003)

HBO

Directed by: Mike Nichols
Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play was given the television treatment in this stunning HBO adaptation. It’s about the emerging AIDS crisis in 1985 — but it’s also very much about faith in all its forms. And it’s full of complicated Jewish characters, including Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman) and real-life lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino).

27. Munich (2005)

Universal Studios

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Munich is the film that the Jewish characters in Knocked Up (which is, you know, most of them) celebrate as a movie where the Jews kick ass. It’s a little more complicated than that — and indeed Munich’s apparent politics caused some controversy when it was released. Regardless, it’s a compelling drama.

28. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The Weinstein Company

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
OK, so it’s not historically accurate, but if you’re looking for a Jewish revenge story, it doesn’t get much better than Inglourious Basterds. The badass Jews who form the titular gang kick ass and take names (also scalps). Plus, Hitler gets his in a way that’s much more satisfying than what actually happened.

29. A Serious Man (2009)

Focus Features

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
There are few film moments that better capture the inherent neuroticism of Jewish identity as the Bar Mitzvah scene in A Serious Man, which has young Danny (Aaron Wolff) struggling to read the Torah while stoned. The film, as a whole, is the Coen brothers’ most direct commentary on Jewish identity, and it’s one of their best overall.

30. Holy Rollers (2010)

First Independent Pictures

Directed by: Kevin Asch
Holy Rollers is a very strange movie, stranger still when you realize it’s based on a true story. Yes, Hasidic Jews were once used as drug smugglers in the late ’90s. As Orthodox Jewish drug mule Sam Gold, Jesse Eisenberg brings his considerable skill and nuance to a complicated role.

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