Sure, you’ve got your perennial Christmas classics like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa, but what about when you want to switch it up while staying on theme? That’s where the best Christmas-y movies come in – they all take place during Christmas but are not explicitly about the holiday.
Read on to find out about the best alterna-Christmas movies out there:
- Gremlins (1984) Dir: Joe Dante
Gremlins is a tried and true alterna-Christmas classic. The seasonal set-dressing is prominent and the central plot revolves around the gifting of the mogwai Gizmo who spawns the Gremlins when the rules are broken. Joe Dante combines the best of ghoulish 80’s practical effects with an anarchic and cartoon-like glee for violence (which was so intense that the PG-13 rating was created in response). This one is sure to stay imprinted on those that see it at an impressionable age – show it to young relatives for family fun!
Further Viewing: Trading Places (1983) Dir: John Landis
Another 80’s classic that happens to take place during Christmas. In their primes Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd are a conman and snobbish investor who unwittingly trade places around the holidays as part of a cruel prank by old rich assholes played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy. The snow covered New York setting is iconic in its own right and who can forget the sight of a down-on-his-luck Aykroyd in a bedraggled Santa suit, smoke dangling from his lips as he shoplifts?
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) Dir: Shane Black
Shane Black’s directorial debut was also notable for being one of the first stops on Robert Downey Jr.’s current comeback trail. A modern self-aware noir that’s awash in Black’s signature dialogue delivered at a brisk clip, it paired Downey and a never better Val Kilmer as an odd couple out to solve a murder mystery while also introducing audiences to the delightful Michelle Monaghan. It’s hilarious, dense, and well deserving of an annual re-watch. And what better time than Christmas, when the L.A.-set film takes place?
Further Viewing: Lethal Weapon (1987) Dir: Richard Donner & The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) Dir: Renny Harlin
Lethal Weapon is an action classic starring an unhinged Mel Gibson (pre-public meltdown) while The Long Kiss Goodnight was an initially panned underdog that’s gained some respect in hindsight. They both take place in and around Christmas, with The Long Kiss Goodnight especially making good use of its Yuletide setting. Another connection they share – they were both penned by Shane Black. The man loves his X-Mas.
- Batman Returns (1992) Dir: Tim Burton
Tim Burton decided to follow up the wildly successful Batman with a descent into even weirder psycho-sexual territory. The Penguin was reborn as a neglected mutant with daddy issues, Batman seemed to be at his most virile when in costume, and Catwoman’s sex appeal was ramped up to 11 with the help of Michelle Pfieffer and an unforgettable leather getup. The catch? All this craziness was happening during Christmas, with the contrast further accentuating its unwholesomeness. It’s a fun ride that in many ways outdoes the original, if only in sheer audacity. Burton left it all on the screen and unfortunately wouldn’t get another crack at the caped crusader.
Further Viewing: Iron Man 3 (2013) Dir: Shane Black
Another superhero film set during the Christmas holidays, Iron Man 3 is infinitely brighter than Batman Returns and showcases a sunny West-coast Christmas (with a more upbeat and less dour titular hero). It’s another Shane West joint, proving his almost pathological (but hilarious) need to set movies against this particular holiday.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) Dir: Peter Hunt
An outlier in the Bond series, OHMSS represents Aussie George Lazenby’s only outing as 007. While his acting at times leaves something to be desired, Lazenby had enough swagger for more films and was a brutish and brusque Bond that was quick with a one-liner and violence. It took place in the Swiss Alps at Christmas, allowing for an iconic ski chase and a villainous lair reachable only by gondola. With Telly Savalas as Bond’s arch-rival Blofeld (rumoured to return in 2015’s forthcoming Bond outing Spectre!) and a sultry Diana Rigg as the tragic love interest (word of advice ladies: marrying Bond is a death sentence), it’s a stellar entry in the long running series.
Further Viewing: The World Is Not Enough (1999) Dir: Michael Apted
Okay, the Christmas connection here is tenuous at best and it’s not even that great a movie. BUT TWINE does feature a shell-shocked Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones, a name which I’m sure the giggling screenwriters came up with for the puns alone. And oh what puns they are. Brosnan’s Bond suggests he’s “always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey” while dining with Jones, and the entire shitty movie seems to be a set-up for the final line which was risqué by Bond standards. After the numerous explosions of the final battle, Bond inevitably finds himself mid-coitus with Jones and coos “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” Worth it!
- Die Hard (1998) Dir: John McTiernan
Could it have been anything else? One of the best action movies ever and one of the best movies period, Die Hard also happens to take place during a staff Christmas party at Nakotomi plaza in L.A. The plot concerns New York cop Bruce Willis who’s trekked out to the West coast to be with his wife and kids but instead lands in the middle of a hostage situation/heist led by the impeccably suave and anonymously European Alan Rickman. With numerous baddies who somehow all make an impression, drum tight plotting, crackerjack action, and a droll Bruce Willis before he gave up on acting, Die Hard set a template for the modern action movie that would be oft-repeated but rarely matched. It’s a holiday classic – yippee ki yay motherfucker indeed.
Further Viewing: Die Hard 2: Die Harder Dir: Renny Harlin
Die Hard 2, if it wasn’t obvious from the Die Harder subtitle, ups the ridiculousness of the first installment while setting Willis’s John McClane down the path of becoming more a superhero and less an everyman that would really come to fruition in later installments. While there are diminishing returns from the first superior entry, Die Hard 2 is still a fun action pic. There’s action sequences galore, from snowmobile chases to icicle stabbings to planes being waylaid by snow, and Die Hard 2 makes the most of its wintry Christmas-time setting (the holidays are a tough time for McClane).
That’s the list! I’m sure I missed a lot, so let’s start with honourable mentions for Brit-Christmas rom-coms Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually at the very least. Happy Holidaze!