Like with most things, the deeper you dive into Christmas films, the harder they become to define. Thematically, they’re all over the place: Frosty the Snowman, White Christmas, The Polar Express, and Love Actually, for example, address vastly different concepts (not to mention their varied use of setting, music, and visual aesthetics, among countless other things). Throw in Hallmark movies, which are essentially romantic comedies with a Christmas backdrop, and the idea of Christmas as a genre starts to look even hazier. And I think that’s amazing—it invites more films into the holiday rotation. Sure, “traditional” Christmas films are great, but if you need a break from the standard fare this holiday season, check out some of these alternative Christmas classics—or hopefully-soon-to-be classics.
Okay, let’s just address the elephant in the room and get this one out of the way: Die Hard is a Christmas movie. If Hallmark movies can be romantic comedies set at Christmas time, then Die Hard, as an action movie set during Christmas time, is just as deserving as Christmas movie status. I mean, if Christmas movies are about families coming together, what could be more Christmasy than a guy who does some heroic deeds to win back his estranged wife? The fights and explosions are just a bonus.
Much like Die Hard, Gremlins is a Christmas movie in that it’s set during Christmas time. Sure, there are creepy little monsters running around, but after all, Christmas is all about embracing those from different places and different walks of life. Gremlins also features the best super-dark Santa Claus anecdote in film history, which is then parodied in the equally brilliant sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Just remember that to ensure your own holiday season is merry and bright, don’t feed any gremlins after midnight.
When you think of Christmas movies, which onescome to mind? Okay, now what’s missing from all those movies? Why, yes, you’re correct: it’s Batman.While the first Batman film with Michael Keaton gets a lot of credit for opening the door to more serious superhero movies, Batman Returns, in many ways, is the superior film. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the Tim-Burton-ness is really ramped up. Danny Devito and Michelle Pfeiffer are giving it 110% as Penguin and Catwoman, respectively. Plus, try to watch the end of Batman Returns without shedding at least a little tear. You know which scene I’m talking about.
On one hand, Rare Exports: A Christmas Taleis very much a Christmas movie. After all, the plot is very Santa-forward. But on the other hand, let’s just say that the Santa of Rare Exports doesn’t exactly align with typical portrayals of St. Nick. Rare Exports is a gem of a movie that’s best experienced with as few spoilers as possible, but I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that it’s both hilariously and shockingly dark. Most importantly, Rare Exports proves that Christmas films can include plenty of horror and comedy.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a dysfunctional suburban couple gets held hostage by a cat burglar on Christmas Eve and hilarity ensues. Well, maybe you haven’t heard that one before, but now is the perfect time to remedy that. Similar to Rare Exports, The Ref is full of dark comedy, and while it may not seem like a Christmas classic on the outside, it nonetheless reaffirms many of the themes present in more typical Christmas films, like the importance of family and togetherness. It just takes being held hostage by Denis Leary to understand that.