With Chanukah beginning on Thursday night, it's time to scrape out the candle wax from those menorahs you made with nuts and bolts back in preschool, dust off your dreidel collection, and start grating potatoes to get those latkes frying (or buy the decent frozen pre-made variety from Trader Joe's).
But after the prayers are said, songs are sung, presents are opened, and gelt are devoured — how do you plan to spend the rest of your eight Chanukah nights? Might I suggest snuggling up with your family on the couch for a Chanukah movie classic for each glorious night of candle lighting?
I'm not going to lie — it was a stretch to put this list together. It's sad to say that there are only about 8 major Chanukah movie releases out there. There is still a palpable need for the Chanukah equivalent of It's A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, so Jewish filmmakers please take note. But at least this list should pair nicely with laktes, applesauce, and sufganiyot (jelly-filled holiday donuts). Hopefully there'll be a few new choices for you by next year!
The 8 best Chanukah movies for the 8 nights of Chanukah
1) Hebrew Hammer – this Jewish-themed spoof of 70s-era blaxploitation films (which even includes a cameo from Melvin Van Peebles as “Sweetback”) is over-the-top and surprisingly subversive, while still showing heart and cleverly weaving in its theme of inclusivity, as Mordechai Jefferson Carver aka “the Hebrew Hammer” fights crime and struggles to save Chanukah. It premiered in 2003 and gained a cult following after re-airings on Comedy Central, and stars Adam Goldberg (known mostly for his role as Chandler's temporary weird roommate Eddie on Friends) in a winning performance.
2) A Rugrats Chanukah – True fans will remember this is technically an episode of the television show Rugrats, but this is the closest Jewish equivalent to A Charlie Brown Christmas, which also has taken on a mythical movie-like aura over the years despite being a television special, so just cut me some slack and accept that it makes the movie list. A Rugrats Chanukah is historic for being, in the age of Christmas specials, the first children's television series to have an episode centered on Chanukah. It tells the story of the Festival Of Lights through the innocent (and often slightly misinformed) eyes of the lovable Rugrats babies, with equal parts wit and heart, and still holds up as a family favorite.
3) Eight Crazy Nights – Not content to simply give the Jewish people their own musical anthem for the holiday season, “the Chanukah Song,” Adam Sandler then came up with an on-brand, silly and not-so-family-friendly animated feature take on Chanukah called Eight Crazy Nights. It gave Sandler a chance to add his range of goofy voices to a variety of characters in, as the movie poster promises, “the ultimate battle between naughty and nice.” Sandler proved with this one that you can be proud of your heritage and holiday traditions without being particularly religious, which took some serious chutzpah.
4) The Night Before – Moving on from one Jewish comedy auteur to the next, Sandler collaborator Seth Rogen also took a stab at his signature raunchy and unapologetic take on a holiday movie in The Night Before, in which he co-starred with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, as three friends looking to party on Christmas Eve. It felt like a sequel of sorts to Superbad, minus McLovin'. But with Seth Rogen in an ugly Chanukah sweater the whole film and the occasional good one liner about the holiday, it makes the list!
5) A Serious Man – If you like your Chanukah movies a bit darker, headier and Coen Brothers-ier, check out A Serious Man. It's one of the Coen Brothers' most underrated and deeply personal films about their Jewish upbringing, with some serious biblical allusions thrown into the mix. It's a period piece set in 1960s Minnesota and centers on Physics professor Larry Gopnik facing a crisis of faith after some professional and personal crises all boil over at once. It's hard to call it a Chanukah movie per se, but covers a broad spectrum of Jewish themes, many of which correlate with the story of the holiday.
6) Full Court Miracle – If you need a lighter palette cleanser after watching A Serious Man, consider the vintage Disney Channel original movie from 2003, Full Court Miracle. It's inspired by the true story of college basketball star Lamont Carr, from the University of Virginia, who coaches a group of young Jewish basketball players out of a slump during Chanukah. It's cut from the same cloth as the Mighty Ducks, if you replaced Tammy Duncan's figure skating spin in place with a bunch of dreidel spinning instead.
7) Crossing Delancey – This is another one that falls under the category of “Jewish movie” more than Chanukah specifically, but as a well-written piece on the film from AnOther magazine proclaimed during Chanukah six years ago, it's “the obscure 1980s Jewish rom-com you need to see.” Starring recognizable 1980s actors Amy Irving and Peter Riegert, the film represents a bridging of old-world traditions and new, with Amy Irving trying to get some space from her family's religious traditions and matchmaker-obsessed bubbie, but ultimately discovering that a simple, kind pickle salesman might be just what she needs. I'm pretty sure there's some Chanukah candle lighting in this one at some point; I don't know, it's been a while since my mom forced me to watch it with her back in the late 80s when it came out, but I'm glad she did.
8) Hanukkah on Rye – And finally we have one fairly recent entry to the list, the much-publicized 2022 Hallmark holiday rom-com, Hanukkah on Rye. Hallmark, which makes Christmas movies galore as part of its extensive winter programming, eventually decided to branch out into Hanukkah movies, and found a hit with this release. It has all the staples of a Hallmark rom-com — an adorable meet-cute, plenty of conveniences and coincidences to get the leads together, an overly elaborate third-act complication that threatens true love — yet somehow it works for the most part, and appeals to a whole new demo. Although truth be told, Hallmark might need a new religious consultant for the inevitable sequel — whoever told these actors how to pronounce Chanukah clearly got a little over-enunciation happy with the Hebrew “chhh” sound. Hearing the holiday uttered as Chhhhhhanukah about a hundred times over the course of the film has to add a good ten minutes to the runtime, but if you can deal with that it's a good eighth night option.
And with that, Happy Chanukah everyone! (Or for those at Hallmark, Happy Chhhhhhanukah!)