Magical Michigan Holiday Movies Worth a Watch

With the holidays just around the corner, what could be better than an evening spent curled up on the couch with a steaming mug of hot cocoa and some classic holiday flicks? 

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If a cozy night in is on your agenda in the coming weeks, give this list of Michigan holiday movies a look. Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan shares seven Michigan holiday films worth a watch this season. 


1. The Polar Express

Written by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg, this classic movie prominently features the city and noted businesses like Herpolsheimer’s downtown department store. The star of the show is the Pere Marquette 1225, a steam locomotive which was recently restored and put back in operation in 2013 at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso. Seasonal excursions aboard the “North Pole Express” are extremely popular with families, selling out in advance of the holiday season. One of the animated elves was played by actor Ed Gale, who graduated from Plainwell High School in the 1980s. (Ed also appeared in “Call Me Claus” and “Santa, Jr.”).

The world premiere of The Polar Express was held in 2004 at Celebration Cinema IMAX in Grand Rapids, with an elaborate post-viewing party at DeVos Place downtown. Actor Peter Scolari (who played the “lonely boy” Billy) and Van Allsburg were both in attendance for the festivities, along with Santa Claus (of course).


2. Prancer

Filmed in the Berrien County town of Three Oaks, this 1989 film starred Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman and young Rebecca Harrell—an eight-year-old farm girl who discovers one of Santa’s reindeer has fallen from a downtown decoration and come to life. She later nurses the wounded reindeer, hoping to bring it back to health in time for Christmas, while inspiring the community with her spirit.


3. The Santa Clause (I, II and III)

All starring Tim Allen, who was raised in southeast Michigan, attended Western Michigan University, has owned several homes around the state and is the voice of the Pure Michigan TV and radio ads. The movie itself is actually set in Chicago. The trilogy was first introduced 20 years ago in 1994 (followed by sequels in 2004 and 2006), the story follows the life of Scott Calvin—who inadvertently kills Santa on Christmas eve and magically finds himself taking over the role of the big guy himself.

Sequel #1 shows Scott Calvin settling well into his role as Santa, but a new twist may bring his reign to an end if he doesn’t find a Mrs. Claus before Christmas Eve. Sequel #2—The Escape Claus follows Santa and Mrs. (Carol) Claus and the pending arrival of their first child together, as well as a plot by Jack Frost to take over the helm at the North Pole.


4. The Christmas Bunny 

Filmed entirely in Michigan, this is the story of a lonely foster child who finds a lost, injured rabbit in the woods on Christmas Eve. The animal is nursed back to health by the eccentric “Bunny Lady” (played by Florence Henderson), who runs a rabbit rescue in an old barn behind her Michigan farmhouse. The movie was filmed during a snowy February and March, 2010 in several West Michigan rural towns—including LowellAltoWyoming and Zeeland. It was directed by Grand Rapids native Tom Seidman (Ordinary People, Dead Poets Society), and was his first movie filmed in West Michigan.


5. Silver Bells 

Produced in association with the Salvation Army and filmed in Manistee, Grand Rapids and Ludington, this 2013 film stars Bruce Boxleitner (Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Babylon 5). According to a production release, the holiday story revolves around a hyper-competitive feather and overly win-driven sportscaster who goes too far and must perform community service as a bell ringer. Through his work with the Salvation Army, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas. The charity played a pivotal role throughout the film as the family volunteers with the organization in various ways. Michigan filmmaker Harold Cronk directed the project and 10 West Studios lead the post production efforts to keep the entire project in Michigan, qualifying it for state film incentives.


6. Small Town Santa

This Christmas tale is filmed and set in Rockford. This one is a Christmas classic of "home intrusion" gone wrong. Sheriff Rick Langston (Dean Cain) locks up a strange man claiming to be Santa Clause. But as everyone's Christmas wishes start to come true, the Sheriff might just have to change his mind and his heart. This Christmas comedy will delight the whole family and get you into the holiday spirit!


7. A Dog for Christmas

It's every child's Christmas dream! "A Dog for Christmas", starring Dean Cain (Superman) and Richard Karn (Home Improvement), was also filmed in Rockford, MI and 95 percent of it's cast and crew are from Michigan. Rockford natives with notice some scenes filmed in a local hotspot, The Corner Bar. So, will Santa bring Kassandra a dog for Christmas? Gather the family around the TV for this fun Christmas comedy to find out!


About the Author: Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan and former board member of the West Michigan Film Video Alliance.