Despite the hustle of closing out the work year, buying the right gifts, and decorating the house, Christmas provides the joy of relaxing to warm candy cane cocoa and watching holiday themed movies. Everyone has their own personal list of must-watch films like Elf, Love Actually, or It’s a Wonderful Life. TV networks will reliably play the classics: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Grinch, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. However, not every film fan gets into the Christmas spirit with these seasonal favourites.
Below is a list of ten rather alternative Christmas movies that still celebrate the season without reinforcing sappy traditional moral values or religious metaphors. These selections break conventional boundaries, glorify humbugs, and use the holiday setting for nothing less than pure mayhem. In other words, they’re very unsafe for the whole family.
10. Batman Returns
Tim Burton’s Gotham City: A dark and dreary place during Christmas time where Danny Elfman’s score sets the mood. Ice princesses are thrown off rooftops and Christmas presents explode. Killer clowns terrorize tree lighting ceremonies. An evil corporate bigot launches a plan to suck the city’s power supply. Kids are abducted from their homes by a monster penguin man. If there ever was a Christmas-set movie to give children and parents nightmares, Batman Returns is in a league of its own.
The only Christmas present I wanted as a kid was a Mogwai. Gizmo was just about the cutest thing I’d ever seen, and the fact that he could interact with me would have been a dream come true. He even knew how to take care of himself, sort of. Unfortunately, the critters that emerge from Gizmo when he isn’t given proper care results in a Christmas nightmare involving murder and absolute mayhem. Nevertheless, Gremlins will still get you into the Christmas spirit, since the movie involves people banding together for a cause. Also, you can nuke more than just turkeys in the oven.
8. Iron Man 3 / Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black films almost always take place during Christmas. Both Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are mysteries starring Robert Downey Jr as a wise-cracking protagonist desperately using his resources to solve a mystery that he’s involved in way over his head. Both movies incorporate ‘actors’ and ‘filmmaking’ into their plots, and both movies end on a note of reaffirming the traditional values of the season, Shane Black style.
7. Black Christmas (1974)
What’s the Christmas season without an old fashioned horror movie? Many consider Black Christmas to be the first ever slasher and for good reason. The film takes place on Christmas Eve in a sorority house, where a killer dispatches each of the girls one by one. Fun fact: the director of Black Christmas, Bob Clark, also directed A Christmas Story.
6. Trading Places
Trading Places has one of the more narcissistic movie premises on this list. It follows a pair of millionaires who essentially attempt to play God one Christmas by manipulating circumstances around two people. Their goal is to study how a person’s true character can change in unfamiliar settings. It forces the audience into a position where they can picture themselves in better or worse circumstances, all while laughing to some of the funniest uses of a Santa costume I’ve seen to date.
5. In Bruges
Last year, director Martin McDonagh earned universal acclaim for his brilliant Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but ten years ago he had already made a huge splash with his first feature, In Bruges. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as two hitmen who are forced to take a Christmas vacation in Belgium. While there, one of the characters slowly drives himself insane with the phony commercialization of Christmas that engulfs him wherever he goes, while the other uses this time to reflect on his past mistakes and poor choices. If anything, the film may encourage audiences to reflect on the year that just passed and plan for the year to come. In Bruges is hilarious, violent, and surprisingly uplifting, perfect for film fans who are looking for a little arthouse bloodshed over sleigh bells and caroling.
4. Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton’s gothic romance is as strange and unsettling as it is gentle and romantic. Edward Scissorhands is a beautiful nightmare, featuring many stark contrasts between the dark mansion that the artificial human Edward (Johnny Depp) originated in, and the colourful suburban town where Kim (Winona Ryder) brings him to live. Anyone who has ever felt lonely or unable to be with their true love will find something to relate to in this movie. Like its main character, who in a single Christmas lost his creator and then was driven out of town by an angry mob, Edward Scissorhands is the perfect alternative for those who find comfort in isolation.
3. Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s final film serves as a cautionary tale on how to properly behave at a Christmas party. Tom Cruise plays Dr. William Harford, who embarks on a night of strange sexual escapades, all of which test his loyalty and love for his wife. Eyes Wide Shut is very much a Christmas movie, exploring the themes of family, trust, loyalty, and true love through a rather unconventional story. Kubrick uses distinct visuals to clearly communicate why this story is set at Christmas time. As William continues to indulge himself in temptation, he is constantly surrounded by trees, decorations, lights, and music that remind him of the family he has been wilfully neglecting. Sometimes, the best way to understand what Christmas means is to explore the effect of its absence on people and society in general.
2. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Rare Exports is what you would get if you crossed A Christmas Story with The Thing. This coming of age fable from Finland is about a young boy who finds out that Santa Claus is really a human demon hybrid who kidnaps naughty children to eat. Throw in British and American research teams, evil Elves, and a reindeer slaughter and you have a film that is bizarre, gory, and hilarious in equal doses. How it manages to balance so much creativity and crafty storytelling in 84 minutes is amazing. You are unlikely to find a more original Christmas movie in your library.
1. Die Hard
No matter what Bruce Willis says, Die Hard is not only a Christmas movie but one of the best Christmas movies ever made. It’s about an estranged husband trying to make it home on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his wife. Along the way, he meets a greedy Grinch to whom he is forced to teach a lesson about goodwill. As Die Hard follows John McClane’s quest to reunite with his wife – who by no coincidence is named Holly – Christmas music plays every step of the way. By the end of the film, McClane learns about the spirit of Christmas through reuniting with his family, and helping a new friend find redemption. It even snows at the end. If this isn’t a Christmas movie, I don’t know what is.
What are some of your favourite un-Christmas (or Christmas-set) movies? Write a comment and let me know.
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