When is it too early to start watching holiday movies? For many movie buffs like myself, after we get our pants scared off from Halloween pictures we relish snuggling up with a warm blanket, hot chocolate, and our favorite holiday movies. We all know the classics: It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, and many, many more. These films are as traditional to the season as hanging a wreath or building a gingerbread house. These films are some of the most watched films of all time, but sometimes we need something new, something different, something outside the usual holiday stocking stuffer. I have assembled a list of holiday-based films that aren’t the usual trip to the North Pole. Some of our choices might make you scratch your head and ask, “How is this a holiday movie?” But trust me, these films will get you in the holiday spirit.
There’s more action to the holidays than running from store-to-store trying to find the perfect present for a loved one. In reality, the action genre heats us up and gets the blood pumping when it’s cold outside. Among fans and critics, Die Hard is considered one of the best holiday movies, regardless of genre. Yet a recent poll from Morning Consult found that 62 percent of those surveyed do not consider it a holiday movie. While at a holiday party with his wife, John McClane must stop terrorists who have overtaken the building, saving his wife and the other hostages from the iconic villain Hans Grubber. Terrorists ruining Christmas! That screams holiday! One director and writer who loves to use the holiday season in his films is Shane Black. In Iron Man 3 superhero Tony Stark is met with another bad guy trying to take over the world. The scenic design relies heavily on decorative trees. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, another film starring Robert Downey Jr., takes place during the season and is a buddy-cop movie with a dark-humor twist. Another buddy-cop holiday movie is Lethal Weapon. Similar to Die Hard, this film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover—despite all the bloodshed—is a holiday hit.
The holidays are no stranger to drama. There always seems to be a fight over someone not getting the present they really wanted. If you’re someone who can’t let Uncle Howdy’s crude remarks go unchallenged then these films might be perfect for you. Directors know how to exploit and contrast the sweet sentiments of the holidays to the (dramatic) reality characters face. One film that fits this description perfectly is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Set in a dystopian future with a strict class system and regulations, the film begins with a family celebrating the holidays and the father being captured by a SWAT team. But they’ve cuffed the wrong man, which sets the lead character Sam, played by British actor Jonathan Price, on a hunt. If you never really were a fan of the holidays, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands might be perfect for you. The title says it all; Edward, played by a young Johnny Depp, is an artificial man with scissors for hands who falls in love with a girl but feels like an outcast due to his strange appearance. Another great film is Tangerine. Shot entirely on an iPhone by director Sean Baker, this low budget wonder is about a prostitute whose pimp/boyfriend cheats on her. Not a holiday film for the kids but a favorite for movie lovers like myself.
No matter what time of year it is, everyone needs a chance to laugh and what better time of year to poke fun at something than the greatest time of all. If you’re someone who doesn’t understand Santa then Bad Santa is perfect for you. Billy Bob Thornton plays an alcoholic mall Santa with a mean streak. Every year during the holiday season, he and his friend plan a con to rip off the mall—cue the debauchery and hilarity. Another great film is The Night Before. Boasting a stellar cast of Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie, this gut-buster is basically Super Bad set during the holidays. Another recommendation is Trading Places with former Saturday Night Live cast members Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. Millionaire businessmen make a bet which causes the main characters to switch lives. Is it a holiday miracle or a holiday curse? Whichever comedy you pick, you’ll be laughing so hard you’ll spew eggnog.
Stick with me on this one. We all know the story of Santa Claus, the man who comes down your chimney and gives you gifts if you’ve been good. In our culture he is a symbol of unrestrained commercialism and festive cheer, but if you listen to the song closely you’ll hear, “he knows if you’ve been bad or good.” Some directors have imagined a world where Santa isn’t so jolly. Four classic examples of the holiday horror genre are Silent Night, Deadly Night, Krampus, and Better Watch Out. In these films, Santa is reimagined as a villain ready to slay those who aren’t on their best behavior. Be good for goodness sake or you’ll be singing feliz navi-dead. Another holiday horror is Black Christmas. This 1974 film introduced the Christmas world to slasher horror. There’s a reboot coming this year produced by Blumhouse, one of the biggest horror production companies. These movies might be a little intense for some people, so two films that are more digestible than a holiday fruitcake are Nightmare Before Christmas and Gremlins. This season you can join the debate on whether Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or holiday movie, and find out what happens if you feed the Gremlin after midnight.
If all else fails, you could always grab your ugly sweaters and have a wholesome time together watching some films with your family around an open fire. You’ve Got Mail is a classic, albeit outdated at this point, about an online relationship. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love online but hate each other in real life in the most 90s movies of all-time, before the world knew about catfishing. Rise of the Guardians is a family movie featuring Alec Baldwin voicing the man himself, Santa Claus. He teams up with Jack Frost and a cast of mythical creatures to stop an evil spirit’s plan to make children forget them. For bonus points watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. This 1964 film is considered to be one of the worst of all time by many critics but is the first movie to depict Mrs. Claus, played by the Doris Rich.
Regardless of which films are on your list this holiday season, they’ll all be sure to get you ready for the festivities. Holiday films are as iconic as setting up a tree or getting into a fight over politics with a loved one around the dinner table. Many of these films can be found on streaming sites, so you don’t even need to brave the frigid weather to enjoy them. We hope you find something here that you like. Blue Muse’s gift to you this holiday season is the gift of film.
Anthony Gramuglia is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.
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Especially love the argument for Die Hard! Very funny.