Ten Christmas Movies To Watch With Every Holiday Loving/Hating Person In Your Life
"You'll probably notice that 'Love Actually' is not on this list because, fuck that movie."
Watching Christmas movies is a holiday tradition that needs very little explaining. It is the perfect lazy activity when you are hideously hot (or cold, depending on your hemisphere), avoiding at least three family members, and stuffed full of food — maybe compounded by a terrifying sugar crash.
Also, even though this is usually not admitted out loud, Christmas can be, well, boring. There are plenty of movies about — or at least set — during the holiday season that can make you feel like you are participating in the so-called “spirit of Christmas”. There are options for (almost) everyone, many of them family-friendly for when there are kiddos around.
Also, you might be surprised at how different your childhood favourites seem when you re-watch them as an adult (I’m looking at you Home Alone). You will probably notice that Love Actually is not on this list because, fuck that movie.
The One To Watch With Friends: Black Christmas (1974)
This is a great Christmas Eve film if you’re hanging out with friends. This early slasher is set in a sorority house, which is almost empty over the holidays, so the body count piles up without anyone noticing. Jess emerges as our Final Girl, who is a remarkably sympathetic character, seeming appropriately scared and sensible.
The film employs a slew of what we now think of as horror tropes, notably “the call is coming from inside the house!”. We also get jerky shots from the killer’s point of view as he sneaks through the house, being a creep. This is not the sort of film to watch if you expect lots of gore, but it builds up a good tense atmosphere so I recommend it regularly.
The One To Watch While Home Alone: Christmas Evil (1980)
While Black Christmas is set at Christmas, it’s not a horror movie about Christmas. Christmas Evil is a slasher flick with a killer dressed as Santa. But Henry is not a senseless, supernaturally-powered villain like Michael Myers, but an unstable man with a disturbing fixation on Santa Claus.
When he was a child, he saw Santa (i.e. his dad in a costume) in flagrante with his mother. This grows into an obsession that sees him as an adult in a Santa costume spying on people to see who is naughty and nice, and rewarding them accordingly. Christmas Evil has a cult following for good reason: it is ridiculous but also very watchable. It does not hurt that it was named by John Waters as the best Christmas movie ever.
The One To Watch With Your Siblings: Gremlins (1984)
My strongest memory associated with Gremlins is not the film itself but the now-closed Gremlins Adventure at Movie World, where my very young sister (hi!) became so terrified the ride had to be stopped and the lights turned on so that she could get off.
While I’m sure plenty of us saw the film as children, and it seems like a cute film, it is actually kind of inappropriate. The mogwai in the film are deceptively adorable, but just add water and you have creatures that terrorise the neighbourhood. Unlike Joe Dante’s previous two releases — Piranha (1978) and The Howling (1981) — the horror-dial here was turned way down by the studio. Gremlins was also very successful, helped along by Steven Spielberg’s role as executive producer.
The One To Watch With Everyone (And A Bottle Of Scotch): Die Hard (1988)
This is the most-watched Christmas-eve movie by people I know (that they will admit to). Bruce Willis is our gruff-but-charming New York cop John McClane who is up against the terrorist Gruber (the fantastic Alan Rickman) and his criminal pals. There are enough explosions and one-liners here to delight most viewers.
Suggested drinking game: anyone who recites a line alongside a character gets a shot.
The One To Watch With Your Parents: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
You thought you would just watch the original Home Alone this year, again? Nooooope. This is a sequel worth watching, if you can suspend your disbelief. I mean, think about it: apparently “normal” parents lose the same child they forgot the previous year, who manages to take the wrong flight, book a room with his father’s credit card, and runs into the same goons he fought off in his home.
The slapstick comedy here barely covers what is an actually pretty terrifying narrative — Kevin is a ten year old child who is forced to take care of himself because of his negligent parents and the nasty Harry and Marv. Even the snooty Tim Curry as the hotel concierge does not make up for this. While it might make you feel really uncomfortable, I still think the kids would enjoy it, even just for the novelty of a white Christmas.
The One To Watch With All The Kiddos: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There are plenty of films based on Charles Dickens’ novel, but I went with the Muppets version because I cannot be the only person with fond memories of watching it. Michael Caine’s role as Ebenezer Scrooge adds some gravity to the story, among the adorable puppets. This is a very family-friendly adaptation that you can watch with your cousins, nieces and judgmental Great Aunt Gertie. It should appeal even to the children who have never even heard of Muppets.
The One To Watch For Music Lovers That Cannot Listen To Another Christmas Carol: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This is known Tim Burton as a film, but while though he came up with the concept and it has a very Burton-esque look and music by Danny Elfman, it was actually directed by Henry Selick. (I considered going with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, because Danny Devito is spectacular as The Penguin, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is too delightful to not include here.)
The stop-motion animation fantasy is about Jack Skellington, who tries to introduce the joy of Christmas into Halloween Town. This is cute and fun with some musical numbers and is generally enjoyable.
The One To Watch With People Who Hate Their Family: The Ref (1994)
This black comedy set on Christmas Eve might make your family tensions seem more manageable. A furiously unhappy couple cannot stop quarrelling even when they are kidnapped into their own house by a burglar hiding from a heist gone awry. He immediately regrets his choice of get-away, especially when he is forced to pretend to be their marriage counsellor when the family arrives for dinner.
There are solid performances, fast-paced dialogue and some great barbed criticism and full-blown arguments.
The One To Watch Drunk: Jingle All the Way (1996)
This might not be a popular choice, and the film has a spectacularly low 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But it’s still worth seeing if you have low expectations and/or children under 12, who will probably enjoy the slapstick comedy. It stars Arnie, whose humorous performance really improves the very thin plot with a poorly-veiled moral message about consumerism.
He plays a father who spends Christmas Eve hunting down a must-have toy in a ramped-up search that would be familiar to a few people I know. Tip: If you’ve had a few too many eggnogs, this will be all the more enjoyable.
The One To Watch With Christmas-Hating Friends: Bad Santa (2003)
This is a film for people who do not care for Christmas very much. Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie, a very inappropriate Santa who uses his job as a means to burgle the malls he is hired at. Drawn as a deviant, vice-ridden loser, Willie develops a surprising and oddly endearing friendship with a bullied child. Still, don’t watch this if you are looking for traditional Christmas cheer.
Kate Robertson is not that kind of doctor. She is a part-time academic who also writes on art and culture, and is currently working on a passion project about women in horror.