Top Picks: Retail Therapy at the Movies

Illustration of woman with shopping bags next to Christmas tree
Source: ann marie boyle, Flickr

The holiday season and shopping go hand in hand: a visit to Santa at the department store, finding that perfect gift, or, if you’re working retail, contending with frenzied shoppers. So it’s no surprise that many of our favorite holiday movies have retail settings or memorable retail scenes. Whether you’re gearing up to go shopping or are already exhausted by it, check out our top picks for holiday movies featuring retail.

Arguably the most famous holiday film with a retail setting is Miracle on 34th Street. Susan likes the nice man her mother, Doris, hired to play Santa at Macy’s, but she’s a precocious child who doesn’t know any silly fairy tales and certainly doesn’t believe in Santa. Will the charming Kris Kringle change her mind?

Elf is the story of Buddy, who was adopted by one of Santa’s elves and raised in the North Pole. When Buddy finds out he’s not an elf, he goes to New York City in search of his biological parents. Comedy ensues when Buddy finds himself in Gimbel’s department store during the Christmas season, but it's not without some heartwarming scenes, too.

If you prefer your comedy a bit darker, try Bad Santa. Hard-drinking Willie and his sidekick, Marcus, run a scam where they get hired at shopping malls as Santa and his elf, respectively, in order to rob them. Directed by Terry Zwigoff, this offensively funny film is not for everyone but will likely entertain even the most cold-hearted Scrooge. And for another movie featuring a scene with a surly department store Santa and elves, check out A Christmas Story.

Oh, you’re a romantic? No, I’m not going to plug Love Actually, even though it does include that humorous scene when Harry is holiday shopping with his wife and surreptitiously attempts to buy jewelry for secretary Mia. There’s a much more beautiful holiday retail scene in the visually stunning Carol. Therese is working at Frankenberg’s toy department when she helps a woman choose a Christmas gift for her daughter, setting off an unlikely love affair.