What’s the best way to spice up the bland eggnog that is Christmastime? Well, movies of course! And not just your regular ol’ Elf or Love Actually–I’m talking about movies that holiday purists would turn their nose up to. But screw them! This is your Christmas, and you can do whatever you damn well please. This holiday season, consider adding some of these films to your must-watch Christmas movie list.
Listen, I don’t have to sit here and argue whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie–it’s been decided already. And really, it may just be one of the best representatives of what holiday films are today. A father estranged from his family is trying to put differences aside and reconcile with them. The man is willing to go to any lengths to do that–including stopping the gorgeous Alan Rickman and his terrorist cohorts from blowing Nakatomi Plaza to smithereens. And the whole thing takes place on Christmas Eve–do you really need any more convincing?
Batman Returns claims its status as a Christmas movie for being, in fact, an anti-Christmas movie. The very first scene is a family throwing a deformed baby into the sewer–you would never see that in a traditional holiday film. All the main characters are all loners without families, undercutting the glittery facade of Gotham at Christmas. This approach to highlighting the dark underbelly of the holiday season, in my opinion, should solidify Batman Returns as a classic Christmas movie–to truly understand the season is to see it from all frames.
Look, if a movie starts with “Jingle Bell Rock” and ends with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” it’s 100% a Christmas movie. Lethal Weapon takes place around the Christmas season, Riggs (Mel Gibson) takes on a bunch of punks in a Christmas tree lot, there’s plenty of holiday decorations, and the film ends on Christmas Eve with Riggs joining Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family for dinner. Such a wholesome moment–two partners becoming their own sort of family–couldn’t happen in anything but a Christmas movie.
While Just Friends is a little problematic in hindsight, it’s a great example of Ryan Reynolds’ comedic chops. The dynamic between him and Chris Marquette, who played his younger brother, is absolutely hilarious. And, at the heart of it all, Just Friends talks about themes that show up in many holiday films–growing up, having to deal with your dysfunctional family, redemption, self-discovery, and so on. I’m counting it!
It’s funny that two Tim Burton films should make it on this list, but I’m honestly not surprised. Edward Scissorhands and Batman Begins both deal with these themes of isolation, which can be all the more potent around the holidays. And the story of the film is fitting for the Christmas season; Edward (Johnny Depp) is a “creation” of the “Inventor,” not made by normal human reproduction. Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) brings him down to the people and acts as a mother figure to him. The townspeople end up misunderstanding and subsequently persecuting Edward. Kim (Winona Ryder) witnesses Edward’s departure, claims he has died but believes he lives on. If the Jesus allegory hasn’t hit you yet, I don’t know how much clearer I can be.
Silver Linings Playbook
I love Silver Linings Playbook, and I absolutely think it should be considered as a Christmas movie. It’s got tradition, dysfunctional families, superstition, romance, redemption–all the qualities of a solid holiday film. And the climax of the movie takes place around Christmas, which absolutely solidifies its place as a Christmas movie. It might be unconventional, but Silver Linings Playbook has everything you could ask for this holiday season.
Iron Man 3
Writer Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon) pops up a lot on these “non-Christmas Christmas movies” lists, and for good reason. Black uses the holiday a lot in his films, usually as a kind of backdrop for his characters’ journeys. Iron Man 3 is no exception. Half the reason Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) narrative arc resonates with people is because of this intentional setting. At the merriest time of the year, Tony is sullen, pushing people who love him away. By the end, he’s ready to accept love and his own sort of family. Also, it’s another Jesus allegory–Iron Man metaphorically dies and has to be resurrected. Need I say more?
Rent starts on Christmas and ends on Christmas. It’s as much about love and giving and faith (of a sort) as about poverty, AIDS, and city life. Whether it’s Angel’s (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) charity, the bonds of the Support Group, or the unconditional love that wins out at the end, Rent extols the virtues of the holiday season better than most Christmas films in recent memory. I don’t think it’s coincidence, either, that they made the creative decision to prologue the film with “Seasons of Love.” By starting there and then bookending the musical’s main story with two Christmases–one year apart–you can argue there’s a greater message: that the love we spread during the holidays should really be shared all year long.
Now, this one seems like it’s a bit of a stretch but go with me here. I definitely think Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal can be considered not just a Christmas movie, but also maybe one of the best of all time. While I may be biased (and The Terminal is not without its flaws), the movie is wholesome, genuine, and all about family. Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) spends all his time waiting in the purgatory of JFK Airport for one reason only–to fulfill a promise he made to his father. And while he waits, he creates his own family–one that loves him and will do anything to help. When he finally gets into New York, it’s the Christmas season, snow is everywhere, and Viktor is finally able to get his father the final gift he never could get. How much more Christmas-y can you get?
Yeah, that’s right, you heard me–I’m calling Jurassic World a Christmas movie. How the hell could a movie about big, scary dinosaurs be a Christmas movie, though? Well, let me tell you. First off, it takes place around the holidays. A scene very early on in the movie shows Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, respectively) boarding their flight to Costa Rica in a decked-out airport terminal playing Christmas music. They then arrive to an Isla Nublar packed with families despite there being a tension in the film about dipping attendance. I argue it’s packed because it’s the holiday season, and hell, how many people go to Disney for the holidays?
But you can’t just have a movie be set around Christmas automatically qualify as a Christmas movie. There’s gotta be a bit more to it–and Jurassic World has that extra bit. Ultimately, it’s a film about family, wonder, and salvation. Only by becoming a family unit do all the main characters–humans and dinosaurs alike–overcome their challenges and arise triumphant. You could also dig out some biblical imagery if you’d like, but that’s an article for another day.
Other Honorable Mentions
There are slews of lists out there with many other non-Christmas Christmas movies that I could talk about. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen all of them, so it’s difficult for me to speak to their merits. Some films commonly cited as belonging to the Christmas movie canon include Rocky IV, In Bruges, Gremlins, Trading Places, and The Godfather. I’d argue these all fit into the Holiday Movie category, and they’re definitely worth a watch.
This holiday season, maybe you’re feeling like you want to watch Rudolph guide Santa’s sleigh. But perhaps you’re more for watching John McClane rip terrorists to shreds with machine guns, or dinosaurs kill people in droves, or a sad man with scissorhands do topiary and ice sculpting. Whatever the case, grab the kids, grandma, and that weird neighbor down the hall, and cuddle up with some cocoa and a great holiday movie–they’re out there waiting for you.