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The Best Hanukkah Movies To Watch

The Best Hanukkah Movies To Watch

When it comes to Hanukkah films, most people would say that they could count the good ones on a menorah and still have candles left over. In theory, the sheer lack of Hanukkah movies should make the best Hanukkah movie line-up seem easy. However, this lack of options has the opposite effect. With so few movies to choose from, you sometimes have to stretch the definition of what can actually be considered a Hanukkah film. In other words, a good Hanukkah film may not even take place during Hanukkah, but it may capture the Jewish experience perfectly, or it may just be a really great movie with fleeting Hanukkah references.

To help you navigate this tricky Hanukkah puzzle, here is a list of the best movies to watch for Hanukkah — whether they take place during the holiday, focus on Judaism, or even if they just have a solid holiday reference or two.

Eight Crazy Nights

While Adam Sandler’s raunchy animated flick isn’t exactly an uplifting story to gather around the menorah and commemorate the holiday by, it is, in fact, one of the few Hanukkah movies in existence.

“Eight Crazy Nights” is undoubtedly not a family-friendly tale you’d want to share with the kids. It’s a depressing account of Davey Stone, a jaded Jewish man who is frankly bitter and unkind to just about everyone who passes his way. The film even starts with Davey being sentenced to community service and forced to train as a referee for a Youth Basketball League. In other words, Davey is truly an unlikeable guy, and he really doesn’t get much better throughout. But in the end, the Miracle of Hanukkah saves the day, forcing Davey to change his ways, and perform a selfless act for a kind older man.

“Eight Crazy Nights” is far from a great movie. Given its Rotten Tomatoes score, one could even call it bad. It’s filled with mindless gags, mean-spirited characters, and middle school-esque gross-out humor. But, there is some charm to be found here too. The animation is fantastic, and Sandler’s performance does shine through in Davey. Even so, considering the lack of options, this still technically counts as one of the best.

An American Tail

While not strictly a Hanukkah story, Don Bluth’s animated classic ties perfectly to the Jewish experience — starting with the Russian-Jewish Mousekewitz family celebrating Hanukkah at the film’s beginning.

In 1885 Shostka, the Mousekewitz family dreams of a better life in America, free from cats. Interestingly, the film conveys themes of antisemitism to its child audience by having human interactions and struggles happen in the background. The Mousekewitz family suffers collateral damage, and are similarly victims of this antisemitism.

As Fievel’s father relays his dreams of America to his children, the Mousekewitz family is destroyed during a human antisemitic attack in the town square. And so, the family is forced to emigrate to New York City and, ultimately, Fievel is separated. Little Fievel must then find his way back to his family, facing the struggles of the new country along the way. Because contrary to the song, there are cats (antisemites) in America.

Full-Court Miracle

“Full-Court Miracle” is a Disney Channel original movie about a failing basketball team from a Philadelphia Hebrew Academy that utilizes their knowledge about the Miracle of Hanukkah to land their own Judah Maccabee for the team. Desperately in need of a coach, Alex Schlotsky serendipitously makes the acquaintance of college basketball player Lamont Carr and becomes convinced that he is the team’s Judah. After some convincing, Carr agrees to be the team’s coach and whips them into shape before facing off with their rival team.

This heartwarming holiday sports film is an absolute joy, being filled to the brim with Jewish humor that is surprisingly relatable for something that aired on the Disney Channel. Aside from basketball, Hanukkah is the absolute centerpiece of the film, from aesthetic down to the film’s very message about standing firm against near-impossible odds. “Full-Court Miracle” is a genuinely fantastic pick for any Hanukkah line-up and is bound to be enjoyed by children, adults, and basketball lovers alike.

The Night Before

While obviously “The Night Before” isn’t Hanukkah, it does feature Seth Rogan rocking a sweet Hanukkah sweater. Directed by Jonathan Levine, this Christmas comedy has more than enough Jewish ties to land itself on the list of the best Hanukkah films.

When Ethan loses his parents in a car crash, his two best pals, Isaac and Chris, promise to spend every Christmas Eve with him. However, as the years pass, Isaac and Chris move on, building their own careers and families. They can no longer dedicate each passing Christmas Eve to Ethan, meaning that after one final shebang with his boys, the annual tradition will finally come to an end.

In a lot of holiday films that feature Hanukkah, it is merely as a foil to Christmas. And while this is definitively a Christmas film, there is a hilarious scene of Seth Rogan’s character freaking out in a church during a Christmas service while drunk and high. For any Jewish people who have felt uncomfortable in a Christmas-centric world, there is bound to be at least something for you in this film. 

The Hebrew Hammer

“The Hebrew Hammer” in one sentence: Mordechai Jefferson Carver — AKA The Hebrew Hammer — teams up with the Kwanzaa Liberation Front to save Hanukkah and Kwanza from Damian, the evil son of Santa Claus. Really, what else is there to say? 

The film parodies the blaxploitation genre, creating a highly caricatured Hasidic crime fighter dedicated to defending Jews. It’s the story of a boy who was made to feel like an outcast for not participating in Christmas — one who ends up trying to save the holiday, as well as all others, when Santa is assassinated by his own son. It should be quite obvious, but this is a film that should not be taken seriously and is certainly not intended for general audiences. The production is cheesy at best, the humor may not land with all viewers, and some may very well find the stereotypes offensive. That being said, if you want a cheesy, B-movie Hanukkah story that you can watch with some pals and down with some Manischewitz, sit down and watch a “certified circumcised dick” in action.

Switchmas

For those who grow up Jewish, it’s sometimes hard not to feel left out of all of the Christmastime celebrations. “Switchmas” perfect captures the experience of wanting to celebrate Christmas like the other kids.

Ira J. Finkelstein has only one desire once the winter months come around: Christmas. Coming from a Jewish household, Ira is presented with a recurring problem. When Ira is set to fly to Florida to celebrate Hanukkah with his grandparents instead, he runs into a boy named Mikey at the airport — who is none too excited to end his own holiday journey in a place called Christmastown. Knowing that he would never get another chance like this, Ira convinces the boy to switch places with him so he can finally celebrate the holiday he loves.

Since Ira’s grandparents have exceptionally poor eyesight, they don’t initially catch on to the switcheroo and bring Mikey to their Hanukkah celebration. The film explores both how Ira feels being separated from his family during one of the most exciting times of year and how his love for a Christian holiday fits into his family dynamic. On top of these timely holidays, themes are a fair number of “Parent Trap” style shenanigans that make “Switchmas” a fun, feel-good showcase of what color the grass is on the other side.

Hanukkah

When it comes to Hanukkah, horror may not be the first thing on your mind. However, for you slasher fans looking to spice up the holiday, “Hanukkah” might just be enough to keep you awake for eight sleepless nights.

The premise of “Hanukkah” surrounds a serial killer who believes God has sent him commandments to kill anyone who would harm Jews, or even Jews whom he considers “bad.” Horrifyingly, after the psychotic killer hunts and kills his victim, he leaves behind a Star of David inscription in the body of his dead victims.

“Hanukkah” is a low-budget horror entry and indeed suffers from various pitfalls and tropes. However, it is also one of the very few Jewish horror films in existence. More specifically, it’s probably the first Hanukkah horror film, making it a notable entry in the horror genre. “Hanukkah” is worth checking out for any fans of Hanukkah or horror flicks.

An American Pickle

What do you get when a refugee turned pickle-factory-rat-killer is accidentally preserved in pickling brine for 100 years and must be taken in by his app-developing great-grandson? Apparently, the answer is “An American Pickle,” starring Seth Rogan opposite Seth Rogan. As modern secular Judaism butts heads with old-world sensibilities, Ben Greenbaum struggles to help his great grandfather Herschel assimilate, while Herschel is disappointed in Ben’s outward disinterest in his familial, religious, and cultural roots.

Neither of the Greenbaums ends up celebrating any sort of holiday throughout the film, but it still maintains an air that lends itself to a Hanukkah celebration. Even though it’s exaggerated and played for laughs, the film does an excellent job of centering issues important to many Ashkenazi immigrants who came from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century.

But above all, the film demonstrates that even though some attitudes may change from generation to generation, there is still a core of traditions and values that tie people together. For a holiday based in deeply rooted tradition, “An American Pickle” is a refreshingly salty film selection.

Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah

When it comes to quality children’s Hanukkah specials, nothing holds a candle to “Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah.” For those unfamiliar, Lamb Chop is a talking sheep puppet created by ventriloquist Shari Lewis. The character first appeared on the show “Captain Kangaroo” in 1956, and from there, Lamb Chop garnered more and more popularity, largely in part due to “The Shari Lewis Show.” Ultimately, Lewis landed a PBS children’s show titled “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along,” running from 1992 to 1995.

“Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah” is a charming and warm musical that is also a great educational tool for children to learn about the holiday. Shari Lewis is endearing and constantly makes you yearn for a warm latke from the stove. Similarly, Lamb Chop’s character can be surprisingly sarcastic and humorous given her stated age of six years old. Whether you’re a ’90s kid yearning to relive some nostalgic Hanukkah memories or longing for a wholesome film to watch with the family, “Lamb Chop” is a must-watch during the holiday.

Little Fockers

In “Little Fockers,” a Jewish family and a Christian family unite to celebrate “Christmakah” as they come to terms with the fact that they are all in-laws. Inevitably, hijinks ensue. One notable joke involves main character Greg Focker’s parents surprising his father-in-law with the news that he is one twenty-third Israelite. The star-studded cast features Ben Stiller opposite Robert De Niro and also includes Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Owen Wilson, and Jessica Alba bringing their A-game.

While some holiday films focusing on interfaith holiday festivities center on the harmonious and sentimental outcomes that such unions can bring, don’t expect that from “Little Fockers.” Genuine emotion isn’t absent front the film, but the focus is much more on the friction that arises when strong personalities holding steadfast to their own traditions are forced to sit at a table with each other. Here, Ben Stiller’s character tries to survive the holidays as the Gentiles get less than gentle in their ribbing. For anyone who has been in similarly uncomfortable familial standoffs, “Little Fockers” may be a cathartic way to wind down as the menorah candles burn.

Hitched for the Holidays

At any yearly family holiday get-together, you can reliably count on hearing any number of questions: “When are you gonna bring home a boyfriend?” “When are you gonna settle down?” “What about that doctor friend of yours? “Is she single?” “How much longer do you want me to wait for grandchildren?” “Don’t you want me to die knowing you’ll be happy?” If you can relate to any of these, then “Hitched for the Holidays” may just be the Hanukkah flick for you.

After Rob breaks up with his girlfriend in November, his Christian family gives him grief since he never seems to have a significant other during the holidays. Meanwhile, Julie faces prodding questions from her Jewish mother about her relationships. After finding each other on a dating website, Rob and Julie agree to pretend to be each other’s significant other to get their respective families off their backs. While the ending of this romance film may not be ideal for sending a message to nosy family members who keep inquiring about your romantic endeavors, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a fun time exploring relatable holiday dilemmas.

Call Me By Your Name

“Call Me By Your Name” follows Elio as he spends the summer of 1983 doing a bit of self-discovery in the picturesque hillsides of Northern Italy. When Elio notices that he is also Jewish, he is immediately struck by Oliver, the graduate student that his father, an archaeologist, has invited to help with his studies. Though initially put off by his bold attitude, the two begin to develop a rapport and bond over music, their shared Jewish identities, and their attraction to each other. But of course, romance in the Italian sun is not the traditional Hanukkah setting.

What lands this romantic coming-of-age flick on this list is the film’s epilogue. Months after the intense romance has blossomed and run its course, Elio receives a phone call from Oliver, where he announces to Elio’s family that he has just gotten engaged. Still harboring passionate feelings for Oliver, Elio takes the news hard. After the phone call, he walks into the dining room and stares at the roaring fire in the fireplace as his parents set the table for their dinner on the last night of Hanukkah.

While the film contains no allusions to the Maccabees or dreidels, the constant allusions to Jewish identity and the frying of latkes are enough to make this film one of the best for the Hanukkah season.

Love, Lights, Hanukkah

After Christina’s adoptive mother passes away, she receives a DNA test and, surprise! The results state that she’s 50% Jewish! Not only that, she apparently has a close family member living in her neighborhood! What are the odds of that? Eager to learn about her Jewish culture, Christina meets her birth mother and discovers the joys of latkes, menorahs, and even kugel.

Known for their prodigious holiday filmography, “Love, Lights, Hanukkah” was acknowledge by Insider as Hallmark’s first genuine Hanukkah film. Given the honor, the film hits you hard with the Hallmark-branded sentimentality, laying it on thick with themes of love, and tradition. The difficulty of adjusting to new customs is a centerpiece of the film, as Christina grapples with her upbringing celebrating Christmas as she visits her newfound family. However, there is also plenty of room for exploring a new relationship with her biological mother, and developing a cute, romantic relationship along the way. The film definitely captures the spirit of Hanukkah as observed in interfaith households or those that welcome guests for their holiday celebrations. 

Mistletoe and Menorahs

“Mistletoe and Menorahs” is a Christmas film about Hanukkah and is clearly not targeted at Jewish audiences. The film’s primary perspective is from an overly excitable Christmas-obsessed woman fretting over being invited to a CEO’s Hanukkah party. She is so worried about this that she studies Hanukkah, stresses about it with her friends and family, and enlists the help of a co-worker’s Jewish friend, Jonathan, to learn about the holiday festivities. In other words, this is primarily a movie for those outside the Jewish faith who empathize with Christy’s ignorance and need to benefit from John’s constant explanations.

But for you Hanukkah lovers out there, both the gentile confusion from Christy and the non-Jewish characters is highly humorous. Of course, we also get to see Jonathan learn about the tinsel towns or wearing red and green. But this is a bit of an odd comparison considering that most anyone growing up in America is likely vaguely aware of these widely celebrated Christmas traditions. But the idea is still cute.

That being said, Christy does legitimately embrace John’s lessons and is excited and receptive to learning about his culture. This is the core heart of the film, and while there is some eye-rolling Lifetime corniness and a weird Pureflix-esque ending, the film is an overall sweet romance about a pair from two different backgrounds embracing and learning about their respective cultures.

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