It's that time of year. Thanksgiving is behind us which means it is full steam ahead for Christmas. Things do look a bit different for the holidays this year, with the coronavirus pandemic prompting many to stay home rather than travel or forgo family gatherings in the name of health and safety. That means that the time-honored tradition of watching Christmas movies may be more important this year than ever.
But what if you don't like traditional holiday movies? For some, they've seen A Christmas Story, It's A Wonderful Life, Elf, Bad Santa, and countless others way too many times. Or maybe you just don't like Christmas stories that feel like, well, Christmas stories but still want to do something festive with your movie-watching this December. Fortunately, there are options. There are non-traditional holiday movies out there that don't necessarily fall into the "Christmas movie" category, but are still holiday films, just in disguise. Everything from fantasy to action to horror to even comic book, there's an offbeat holiday movie for everyone.
In the spirit of Christmas and other assorted winter holidays, we've come up with nine non-traditional Christmas movies to watch this holiday season. A few of the choices on this list may be a little controversial, but there really is something for everyone here. Want to see what we've chosen (and maybe make your movie watching list while you're at it)? Read on for our selections and be sure to weigh in with your favorites in the comments.
Let's just jump right in with one of the more controversial picks, Batman Returns. Released in 1992 and directed by Tim Burton, Batman Returns is the sequel to 1989's Batman and sees Michael Keaton reprising his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The film is, in a word, unique and centers largely around The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot (Dany DeVito) who has some very nefarious plans for Gotham City -- including killing all of its firstborn sons. The movie also features this universe's origin of Catwoman/Selina Kyle (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) as well as Christopher Walken as the deeply corrupt businessman, Max Shreck.
The film is set around Christmas time, but for holiday films that isn't the only criteria. What makes Batman Returns a holiday film is how it takes the idea of the festive, family-oriented holiday and importance of togetherness and flips it with a darker take centered around characters with no family at all. Penguin is thrown into a frozen river by his parents and left to drown as an infant. Selina Kyle has only her cats. Bruce Wayne, well, he's possibly comics' most famous orphan. These elements come together as something of a satire of the holiday genre, a tale of bleak, violent sadness juxtaposed against some twinkling lights. It's something that offers sort of an alternative to the warm and fuzzy holiday fare, one that speaks to people who fall a bit outside of the ordinary -- or even those who are already over family togetherness by the time Christmas arrives.
It's bleak. It's weird. But hey, isn't Christmas, at least some of the time?prevnext
Everyone has an opinion on this one but yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie -- and not just because of its holiday setting! Yes, Die Hard is set at the Christmas holiday as NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to Los Angeles to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and he goes to a holiday party at Nakatomi Plaza (Holly works for Nakatomi Corporation). However, before he can get to the party, the tower is taken over by German radical Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and the film from there sees McClane trying to stop Gruber and save his wife. Generally. No spoilers here.
It's a great action movie, has a fun holiday setting, but what drives Die Hard into holiday movie territory (no matter what anyone include Willis himself might say) is that at its core, the film is about an estranged family that is trying to come back together at Christmas. You could even argue that Hans Gruber is definitely Grinch-like villain if you want to go there. But really, it's about coming together, reconciliation, and honestly the chaos of the holiday season -- it's just wrapped up in one wild action flick. Say it with me: Die Hard is a Christmas movie.prevnext
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Looking for a little fantasy for a Christmas movie, then look no further than the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Released for the holiday season in 2001, there is plenty of Christmas imagery and spirit within the movie which will already give you a nice holiday feeling, but there's something about the sheer joy of the Christmas scenes in the film that really make it a truly heartwarming film as Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) gets to experience his first real, true Christmas thanks to his friends.
It's that friendship as family element that really pushes Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone into the Christmas film category -- so much so that one could probably convincingly argue that nearly all of the Harry Potter franchise consists of Christmas films. One thing is for certain, there's a spirit of belonging and togetherness in this first film that is just perfect for the season. It is, after all, magic.prevnext
Don't "@" me. If Die Hard is a Christmas movie (and it is, please see the second entry on this list) so is Lethal Weapon. The movies are actually pretty similar, generally. Both films are set in Los Angeles at Christmas and are both cop films. There's some great moments in the movie that really only work with a Christmas setting, including that swan dive out of a high-rise set to "Jingle Bell Rock".
And, like Die Hard, there are universal themes that work well in the holiday setting, especially when it comes to redemption and Mel Gibson's Riggs as well as the idea of coming together with chosen family -- in this case, with Danny Glover's Murtaugh including Riggs in his family's holiday. Yes, it's an action movie with heart and it makes for a great Christmas film.prevnext
Iron Man 3
If you won't take our word for it, then trust Marvel. Last year, Marvel declared Iron Man 3 a Christmas movie and we just tend to agree with them. Set around the holiday season, the film finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) dealing with PTSD due to the events in Marvel's The Avengers, specifically the battle of New York leaving him with anxiety attacks, insomnia and other symptoms. After a string of bombings claimed by the Mandarin leaves Happy Hogan badly injured, Tony hands out his home address and essentially challenges the Mandarin who attacks his home with Tony barely escaping in a new Iron Man suit and ends up in Tennessee with everyone believing him dead. From there, Tony begins investigating Mandarin attacks and ends up finding something far more sinister at play.
What makes Iron Man 3 a "Christmas movie" beyond its seasonal setting are the themes of transformation as well as self-confrontation that is a part of that process. As Marvel put it, the story could easily be compared to A Christmas Carol and Tony's transformation is just as dramatic as Scrooge's by the time the film is over.
It may not be everyone's favorite installment of the MCU, but it's a great Christmas movie and one that should be on your rotation this holiday season.prevnext
One of the newer films to hit this list is Shazam! The film itself is set in the holiday season, but as we've established, that doesn't always make something "Christmas". What sets Shazam! apart and puts it firmly into the holiday category is its heart and its message about family -- specifically, found family.
Shazam! follows young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who is chosen by the ancient wizard Shazam Djimon Hounsou to be his new champion, something that allows him to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi). However, also in the story is the fact that Billy is a foster kid and as the story unfolds it's Billy and his foster siblings, including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) who come together to stop the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) and the Seven Deadly Sins.
What's so beautiful about Shazam! is that so much of the movie we see Billy trying to do things on his own and not accepting of his foster situation. He still believes that his mother is out there and wants him. He eventually learns that family isn't necessarily who you're born related to, but the people who love and support you unconditionally. It's a beautiful message, especially in a time of year that can be difficult for those suffering from loss and loneliness.prevnext
If it's a horror Christmas movie you're looking for, your best bet is Gremlins. That's right, terrifying film about adorable fuzzy creatures you absolutely don't want to feed after midnight is a holiday film and not just because of its setting. It's because of how lightly skewers the feel-good themes of most holiday-set films.
Gremlins centers around a pretty basic premise: struggling inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) gets his son Billy (Zach Galligan) a furry creature called a mogwai for Christmas. The creature -- who was sold to Randall in secret by a Chinese antique store owner's grandson -- has three rules for care that must be followed: don't expose them to light, don't let it come into contact with water, and never feed it after midnight. As you can guess, those things happen and really bad things ensue before the good mogwai, Gizmo, manages to save the day.
There are a whole slew of messages here, but the big one is that the pets you get at Christmas are a really big responsibility that you better be ready for. We could all be reminded of that.prevnext
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The quintessential Los Angeles Christmas movie, 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a black comedy buddy detective film that stars Robert Downey Jr. (pre-Iron Man) and Val Kilmer (post Batman Forever). The plot of the film isn't exactly holiday fare -- the film sees thief-turned-actor Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.) tells the story of how he ends up an accidental detective when the discovery of a corpse brings Harry, his crush Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan) and private eye Perry Shrike (Kilmer) together during the holiday season to solve a murder and deal with a sinister conspiracy.
It is every bit as bonkers as it sounds and it's amazing. But even though the film generally doesn't have a heart-warming Christmas theme per se, the film does feature themes of transformation (both Perry and Harry become better men by the end) and also is just visually very much what you'd expect for a Christmas in Los Angeles, a place where the cold and snowy aesthetic that usually accompanies the season just doesn't exist. The film is packed full of Christmas jams as well.prevnext
A Rocky film as a Christmas movie? You know it. Rocky IV is absolutely a Christmas movie and it's more than just the holiday setting -- though the idea of the big fight between Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) taking place on December 25th did factor very heavily into its place on this list.0comments
In Rocky IV, the Soviet Union's best boxer, Drago, wants to take on the world champion, Rocky. However, Rocky's best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) fights him instead and is fatally beaten in the ring. An Enraged Rocky ends up fighting Drago in the USSR to avenge Apollo's death as well as defend America's honor in the process. One can argue that there are some solid "holiday" themes here with Rocky stepping up for his "family" by avenging Apollo, but there are also themes about transformation and change here as well. It's a great movie.
Of course, there's also the wild Christmas gift Paulie Pennino (Burt Young) gets for Christmas: Sico, the robot butler. No holiday movie list is complete without a weird Christmas present and this one's it.prev