It’s a familiar feeling for anyone getting ready to celebrate Hanukkah—that sense that Christmas is everywhere. Hanukkah is always, and certainly will always be, overshadowed by Christmas. But that’s OK! Because while many can sit back in the cozy warmth and choose from thousands of Christmas movies, we Jews have… well, we have like, 10 Hanukkah movies! Not one of which is better than A Rugrats Chanukah, a 20-minute TV episode.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hanukkah has a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to movies—there are, after all, 24 different correct ways to spell the holiday. That identity crisis is so confusing that our most reliable purveyor of Hanukkah movies has become the Hallmark Channel. That’s right: The brand strongly associated with Christmas has slowly but surely been making movies about Hanukkah!
Jewish audiences have been starved of good Hanukkah movies for generations, but Hallmark seems to be turning the tide, delivering an annual Hanukkah movie each year for the last five years. Sure, it pales in comparison to the approximately 783 Christmas movies they release every year, but for a holiday celebrated by a mere .2 percent of the world’s population, it’s exciting to see Hanukkah portrayed with the same dose of schmaltz and corniness that our Christian neighbors get to enjoy each year. And while Hallmark is leading the way these days, they aren’t the only players on the field.
Though Hanukkah is woefully underserved by cinema, there is, thankfully, an impressive number of films that reflect the larger Jewish experience. Some of them like, An American Tail, Call Me By Your Name, and The Fabelmans, even feature Hanukkah in their stories. But for our purpose of a Hanukkah canon, the holiday has to feature significantly in the film—or at least more than one scene (pickings are slim, so we can’t be too strict about it.)
Here’s a guide to the wide (small) world of Hanukkah movies, presented in chronological order. A lot of them are admittedly pretty dreadful, but we’ve gotta take what we can get. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a Hanukkah miracle hidden amongst the bunch.
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
The movie that started it all! This animated movie features way too much deeply unfunny and very gross toilet humor (sometimes literally), which frequently derails what’s a fairly sweet story. But this is the only major Hanukkah movie with a theatrical release, and it made over $20 million. I still remember seeing this in the cinema, wondering what on earth was going on. It holds up pretty poorly on repeat viewings, but there is some indescribable feeling of joy that sparks while watching Adam Sandler goof around, voicing a bunch of different weirdos. Or maybe it's just the terrific Bum Biddy Bum scene.
The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
This super-low-budget movie kind of looks like it was shot on a potato, but The Hebrew Hammer is so wacky it doesn’t impact the experience. The outrageous Blaxploitation-inspired flick follows the Hebrew Hammer (Adam Goldberg), who’s determined to stop the evil son of Santa Claus from making everyone in the world celebrate nothing but Christmas. There are a lot (a lot) of references to circumcision, and this film wears stupidity like a badge of honor.
If you ever need evidence that there’s a staggering dearth of Hanukkah movies, take this film’s title as evidence. Its name is a Christmas pun! Formerly known as All I Want Is Christmas and Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas before landing on the title of Switchmas, things start well, tapping into the very real anxiety about celebrating Hanukkah when Christmas is everywhere you look. Then another agonizing 95 minutes happens, and you wonder where all the years have gone. It’s absolutely dreadful, but at least it’s themed around Hanukkah, and Elliott Gould is in it.
At last, what we’ve all been waiting for: a Hanukkah-themed horror movie! This extremely low-budget flick has a remarkable amount of gore, and some horror legends like Sid Haig, Caroline Williams, and Dick Miller. That does not save it from being dreadful. The acting (previously mentioned company excluded) is the scariest part of the movie, and the plot, about the resurgence of the aptly named Hannukiller, is lacking. It touches on some interesting elements, particularly what it means to be a “good Jew,” but it’s hard to get over the atrocious dialogue. The fact that there’s a whole scene of coming up with fun Jewish horror movie names, and they went with Hanukkah, tells you all you need to know.
Love, Lights, Hanukkah (2020)
Hallmark got off to a rough start with their Hanukkah movies: both Holiday Date and Double Christmas are Christmas movies in which people happen to eat latkes and light a menorah. But in 2020, the tide turned with Love, Lights, Hanukkah. OK, maybe the network didn’t actually turn the tide. This whole film is basically what people who have never seen a Hanukkah celebration think Hanukkah is. Heck, the house is decorated just like they’re celebrating Christmas, but everything is blue and white instead. But at this point, we had been starving for a proper Hanukkah movie for nearly two decades, and at least it has an incredibly charming Ben Savage.
Eight Gifts of Hanukkah (2021)
Sarah (Inbar Levi) seems to have it all—except a husband. But that might be about to change, as an anonymous suitor sends her a gift for each night of Hanukkah. But who on earth could it be? Hint: it takes about 15 seconds to figure it out. The leads are likable enough, but it’s all really basic. It’s practically a Christmas movie with a Hanukkah skin, which isn’t a complaint so much as an observation.
Hanukkah On Rye (2022)
A film about two competing Jewish delis? Be still, my beating heart. Here’s a film that knows exactly how to relate to the Jewish community. There are discussions of how to properly put toppings on a bagel, conversations about how to get wax out of menorahs, and the admission that we all get Chinese food on Christmas Day. It’s these kinds of charming details that make the film less of a computer-generated list of Hanukkah activities and more of a lovely, funny experience. This riff on The Shop Around the Corner throws in a wonderful Yael Grobglas and montages of deli meats piled high. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and prepare for much mishigas.
Menorah in the Middle (2022)
Lifetime’s foray into Hanukkah movies is a surprisingly charming one. Sarah (Lucy DeVito), a Jewish food writer, comes home to discover her parent's bakery is at risk of shutting down for good. She comes home with her fiancé, but it's her childhood friend Ben (Jonah Platt) who might be able to help save the bakery… look, you know exactly where this is going. It’s not particularly good—frankly, I’m not sure if any of these movies are truly good—but there is a latke-making montage, it uses the word schmear, and Sarah Silverman has a cameo. It’s also got an over-the-top dreidel game sequence, so make of that what you will.
Round and Round (2023)
The latest addition to the Hanukkah canon (premiering Dec. 10 on the Hallmark Channel), Round and Round is Hallmark’s latest foray into the Jewish holiday. And this one comes with a twist—there’s a time loop! Rachel (Vic Michaelis) is stuck reliving her parents’ Hanukkah party over and over, but the sweet, nerdy Zach (Bryan Greenberg) may be her key to escaping the loop and finding romance all at once. Their chemistry is believable, and the plot is a surprising departure from typical Hallmark fare—though it’s only a slight deviation, the brand is renowned for its reliable structures after all. Round and Round hones in on the family aspect of the holiday, which makes it a most welcome addition to the Hanukkah film canon.