Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for the airwaves to be flooded with Christmas movies. From It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol to Elf, Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Each year at this time, the same movies that are deemed to be classics of the Christmas genre are shown multiple times on different channels leading up to December 25th. And if, like us, you are tired of the same old Christmas fare, and have no desire to watch Miracle on 34th Street for the 34th time, then here is a list of other, not so obvious, classic Christmas movies that you may enjoy.
10. Reindeer Games (2000)
A classic starring Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise (at his most sinister) and Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games was directed by action master John Frankenheimer (Ronin, The Manchurian Candidate) and is about a convict (Ben Affleck) who is paroled on Christmas Eve and finds himself embroiled in the heist of a casino on an Indian reservation. All Ben Affleck’s character wants to do is get home for Christmas and enjoy a nice cup of hot cocoa. But instead, he finds himself at the mercy of love interest Charlize Theron and her psychotic brother played by Gary Sinise, who is hell-bent on robbing the casino on Christmas. Fun, dumb and with lots of action and funny one-liners, Reindeer Games is a decent film for people looking to watch something different over the holidays. Look for the director’s cut of this movie, which is better than the original version that was in theaters back in 2000.
9. Cast Away (2000)
This classic Tom Hanks movie opens at Christmas time, and we see Tom Hanks’ character enjoy a wonderful Christmas dinner of turkey with all the trimmings before he boards the ill-fated flight that crashes and strands him on a deserted island for the next three years — where the only things he has to eat and drink are raw fish and coconut juice. And while the majority of this movie plays out on an isolated island, it is the initial Christmas scenes and holiday food goodness that helps the viewer appreciate what Tom Hanks has lost while being stranded on the remote island alone, save for his trusty volleyball Wilson. A great movie worth watching at any time of year, Cast Away is especially powerful during the Christmas holiday period. Check it out. Again.
8. Gremlins (1984)
Gremlins is set at Christmas, and the Gremlins themselves stem from a Christmas gift the inventor father in the movie Randall Peltzer (actor Hoyt Axton) gets for his son Billy (played by actor Zach Galligan). Once let loose, the Gremlins take delight in destroying the small town that is the movie’s setting on the eve of Christmas. This movie contains scenes of Gremlins in Christmas trees, wearing Santa hats, and there are several nods to other classic Christmas movies in the film—notably It’s A Wonderful Life. This classic movie has aged very well and now seems like more of an action comedy film than the horror movie it was made out to be when first released. Directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg, Gremlins is a lot of fun for people who have a perverse sense of humor and are a little cynical about the holiday season.
7. Black Christmas (1974)
Bob Clark is best known for directing the classic movie A Christmas Story about little Ralphie Parker who dreams of owning a Red Rider B.B. gun. However, Bob Clark also directed another Christmas movie that has a decidedly different tone than the nostalgic A Christmas Story. We’re speaking, of course, about Black Christmas, the 1974 horror/thriller film about a group of sorority girls who are stalked and murdered over the Christmas school break. While many fans of the holiday horror genre will point to the Silent Night, Deadly Night series of films, we think Black Christmas is more of a classic movie. The plot and pacing are better, and the movie—which stars actor Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) and Margot Kidder (Superman: The Movie)—is more of a thriller than an outright gore fest. People who don’t have the stomach for a hack and slash Christmas movie, but are still looking for some frights with their egg nog should check out this underrated gem from the man behind A Christmas Story.
6. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Who doesn’t love this classic 1990 film from the visionary mind of director Tim Burton. The movie, about a teenaged boy with scissors for hands, is a great modern love story that is very quirky, entertaining and effective. Starring Johnny Depp as the title character and actress Winona Ryder as his love interest, Edward Scissorhands features many scenes set at Christmas—all displayed in Tim Burton’s strange, signature style. The white Christmas trees and green ornaments are a classic example of Burton’s style. Plus the scenes set in the snow are magnificent. See this movie at Christmas for something different but still likely to tug at the heart strings. It’s good, clean quirky fun.
5. Trading Places (1983)
If it’s comedy you like, check out 1983’s Trading Places, a modern masterpiece starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, and directed by John Landis. About a rich, pampered investor (Dan Aykroyd) and a low life street hustler (Eddie Murphy) who have their stations in life reversed by two rich old men who make a bet with one another, Trading Places is set at Christmas and features a number of hilarious holiday-related scenes—none funnier than Dan Aykroyd as a drunk, gun-wielding street Santa. The Christmas backdrop helps to contrast the world of privilege with the world of poverty, and it allows the actors to riff on the holidays. For a great laugh, watch Trading Places this year rather than National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which you’ve no doubt seen too many times already.
4. Nobody’s Fool (1994)
A heartwarming drama, and one of the best movies actor Paul Newman ever made, Nobody’s Fool is about a small town handyman who is reunited with his son and grandchildren during the holidays and comes to realize how much he is needed in the lives of the people who populate the town of North Bath, New York. This movie, which also stars Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy and Melanie Griffith, is charming and amusing while also managing to be touching. As the main character, played by Paul Newman, embraces the responsibilities he spent most of his life avoiding, the viewer can’t help but be touched that he has had this realization before it is too late in his life. Set between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, this movie has a Christmas backdrop and features a hilarious ongoing battle over a snow blower. Paul Newman was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for this movie.
3. Lethal Weapon (1987)
This classic 1980s action movie opens to the Eric Clapton song “Jingle Bell Rock” and ends with the main characters of Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) heading inside to celebrate Christmas together. In between, the two LAPD cops take down a very nasty drug cartel run by ex-Vietnam war veterans turned mercenaries. Exciting, fun and action packed, Lethal Weapon is one of those movies that is enriched from being set during the Christmas holidays. Suicidal cop Riggs’ (Mel Gibson) pain over the death of his wife is amplified at Christmas time, and his lone wolf persona is contrasted nicely to family man Murtaugh (Danny Glover) whose home is lovingly decorated for the holidays. With submachine guns, car chases and aborted suicide attempts, how can you go wrong with this Christmas classic?
2. Bad Santa (2003)
Arguably Billy Bob Thornton’s best movie, the 2003 film Bad Santa is a black comedy from director Terry Zwigoff that is aimed at the most cynical of hearts. About a miserable conman and his midget partner who pose as Santa and his elf helper in order to rob department stores on Christmas Eve, this movie has Billy Bob Thornton reveling in all the bad department store and street Santa clichés—from showing up to work drunk to pissing his Santa suit while a kid is seated on his lap. This movie isn’t for everyone. Many people find the premise and execution repulsive. However, for people with a dark sense of humor, this is definitely a classic Christmas movie. And you gotta give Billy Bob Thornton kudos for getting really into this role. It is one of his best. Actor Tony Cox as the evil and unrepentant elf that works with Billy Bob to rob the stores is also hilarious.
1. Die Hard (1988)
New York cop John McClane flies to Los Angeles to visit his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids at Christmas only to find himself caught up in a terrorist takeover of the ultra-modern high rise office complex Nakatomi Plaza. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history. This movie kicks-off with an office Christmas party and accelerates into a high octane action movie that is one of the best in motion picture history. Poor John McClane. All he wants to do is see his kids during the holidays, and instead he’s forced to kick ass through 40 stories of sheer heart pounding action sequences. This move made actor Bruce Willis’ career and contains some not-so-subtle jabs at the Christmas holidays. Case in point, the classic line: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho, Ho, Ho.” A great Christmas movie and a great action movie. What could be better?