One of Michigan’s more affectionate nicknames is “Water-Winter Wonderland” because it has one of the most visually stunning landscapes during wintertime. That also makes it one of the best places to film holiday movies!
Surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes (Michigan, Erie, Superior, and Huron), Michigan has been the perfect host for quite a few classic films or has ties to the state in some way. Here is a list of some of the Michigan holiday movies that are perfect for enjoying during the Christmas season.
“Prancer” (1989) | Three Oaks
In 1989, this future holiday classic was released in theaters, and Michigan was where this beloved movie was filmed. Based in the village of Three Oaks in Berrien County, “Prancer” is all about the power of belief and the magic of Christmas.
The movie’s Michigan roots are pretty deep, too. In fact, the film’s director visits Three Oaks to sign autographs and reminisce with fans sometimes.
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“The Santa Clause” Trilogy (1994, 2002, 2006) | Birmingham
While The Santa Clause movies are based in Chicago, the movie’s main star is an original Michigan kid through and through — Tim Allen grew up in Birmingham Michigan.
After graduating from high school, Allen studied at Central Michigan University. Later, he transferred to Western Michigan University where he earned a degree in communications.
Even though he later became a big television and movie star, Michigan can proudly claim Allen as one of its own. Also, he stars in “Christmas with the Kranks,” another holiday movie favorite.
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“The Polar Express” (2004) | Pere Marquette
This heartwarming film ranks at the top of many holiday favorites, but the animated classic has roots in reality — and the Michigan-based train has everything to do with that. The magical train of the movie is based on the real-life Pere Marquette 1225, a steam locomotive that has existed since 1941.
One of the last two existing trains built for the Pere Marquette Railway, the 1225 was almost scrapped when diesel-powered trains began to phase out steam locomotives. In the late 1960s, though, a group of preservationists pursued historical restoration efforts to bring it back to life.
By the late 1990s, the train was running on a holiday-themed dedicated route for passengers. Hollywood came calling in 2002, seeking inspiration for what would become one of the most successful Christmas movies of all time.
Today, fans can take a Polar Express train ride from Owosso to Ashley to get a real-life experience of “The Polar Express.”
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“The Christmas Bunny” (2010) | Zeeland, Wyoming, Lowell, & Alto
Another favorite on the list of best Michigan holiday movies is “The Christmas Bunny.” In 2010, Tom Seidman, a West Michigan native, cooked up a fuzzy and warm film.
Starring the late Florence Henderson, it revolved around a foster child who found a rabbit that needed help. As the bunny heals, she also finds a true sense of family. Shot in several locations throughout West Michigan, this movie is the perfect soul-soothing film that makes the holiday season feel special.
“Silver Bells” (2013) | Manistee & Grand Rapids
Starring Bruce Boxleitner, a sports reporter and overzealous basketball dad, gets into a scuffle with a referee and ends up with community service as a punishment. This premise sets the stage for how important the spirit of giving and volunteering is, particularly during the holiday season.
There’s a nice shout-out to Central Michigan University in a side plot. Also, this movie gives a cushy plug to The Salvation Army because the organization is practically a character in its own right in the film.
Anyone longing for sweet Michigan holiday movies that have the true flavor of the Wolverine State should check this one out.
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“Small Town Santa” (2014) | Grand Rapids, Rockland, & Midland
This 2014 holiday movie stayed incredibly true to its Michigan roots. Small Town Santa” was filmed in several locations throughout Grand Rapids, Rockland, and Midland.
Santa House, one of the top destinations for holiday visitors in the region, is featured in the beginning dream sequence of the film. And, it is a great starting point for a movie that is authentically Michigan.
Starring Dean Cain of the 1990s “Superman” television show, a sheriff ends up arresting a burglar who claims to be the one and only Santa Claus. From there, more than a few hijinks ensue!
Of course, a cute love story and bonding family themes are part of the plot. However, those elements help the film cinch a top spot for great Michigan holiday movies.
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“A Dog for Christmas” (2015) | Rockford
How wrong can a movie go when its focus is all about a kid who really wants a dog for Christmas? “A Dog for Christmas” is one of those holiday films, and it happens to be set in the great state of Michigan.
Filmed in Rockford, this movie is great for those who enjoy slapstick comedy and humor. In fact, it has been compared to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Starring Dean Cain and Richard Karn of “Home Improvement” fame, the Karn connection lends this flick another Michigan tie. Karn co-starred with Tim Allen, who was raised in Michigan, in “Home Improvement.”
The late Dustin Diamond — famously known as Screech from “Saved From the Bell” — is also featured in a comedic role that many consider some of his best screenwork.
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“A Christmas Winter Song” (2019) | Brighton
“A Christmas Winter Song” is a recent entry into the lofty list of Michigan holiday movies. However, this film is full of soulful songs that celebrate faith and reunion during the festive season.
Starring Ashanti and legendary actor Stan Shaw, this is a movie that uses music to thread the characters together, culminating in a grand finale Christmas concert. Best of all, it takes place in Brighton Michigan!
Anyone who appreciates holiday movies with a great soundtrack should watch for that alone. However, the story is heartwarming and inspirational enough to stand on its own.
Besides those two things, Brighton’s beautiful scenery is well-known throughout the state, particularly during the holidays. It’s a win-win-win when it comes to holiday movies based in Michigan.
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“Miracle on Christmas” (2020) | Brighton
In 2020, a new addition was added to the full slate of Michigan holiday movies. “Miracle on Christmas” was filmed in its entirety in the picturesque and wintry landscape of Livingston County. Writer and director Thomas Bonifield chose the beautiful town of Brighton as the movie’s central location.
In the film, a grief-stricken woman named Mary is going through a crisis of faith while desperately trying to hold onto her holiday spirit. She navigates her way through it eventually, but she learns a few valuable and important lessons along the way.
Then again, a good holiday movie should always impart some well-earned knowledge, right? “Miracle On Christmas” hits those notes and does it with a Michigan backdrop and setting.
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“Cupid’s Christmas” (2022) | Holly
While this movie uses a fictional town as a character, it was actually filmed in Holly Michigan. However, the plot is very art-imitates-life. In the film, the community gathers and rallies to save a historic train station. Well, the town of Holly did the same thing with the Holly Union Depot.
So, the movie is actually based on a real-life town’s efforts to preserve one of its landmarks. Putting even more of a hometown spin on things, Holly Police Chief Jerry Narsh makes a meta appearance as the fictional town’s police chief.
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Watch Michigan Holiday Movies This Winter
There is no denying that the great state of Michigan is a magical winter wonderland, and each of these Christmas movies shows it! Whether you’re actually in Michigan or wish you could be here for the holidays, this list of Michigan-made and based movies is for you.
Grab a mug of hot cocoa and a cozy blanket, and settle in for a Michigan Christmas movie marathon. Let it satisfy your seasonal cravings and whet your holiday appetite. Happy holidays!