Every Christmas I face the same question: how many times can I watch the same old batch of Christmas movies before I get tired of them? Answer: three. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of five non-traditional Christmas movies for you to turn to when you get tired of TBS’s 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story.”
5 – Die Hard (1988)
Outside of “A Christmas Story,” “Die Hard” is my go-to Christmas movie. “But ‘Die Hard’ is an action movie!” you might say, and you’d be correct. But “Die Hard” is special, because it’s an action movie set during Christmas. “Die Hard,” starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, follows a New York City cop named John McClane who travels to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife, Holly. Since McClane is played by Bruce Willis, predictably he gets caught up in a terrorist attack on the office building where McClane’s wife works.
McClane, who is a colossal bad-ass, proceeds to take down the terrorists with minimal help (and a lot of moral support) from an LA cop named Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson, also known as the dad from “Family Matters”). The movie ends the way all Christmas movies should end: with a kiss. Holly and McClane drive off into the city, having rediscovered their love for one another. As long as you don’t watch Die Hard 4, you can imagine that they’ll never break up. Everyone together? “Awwwww.”
4 – Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton’s masterpiece is normally watched during the Halloween season, and rightly so, because it follows the residents of Halloweentown as they attempt to organize and celebrate Christmas. The songs are creepy and the characters are more at home during the end of October than the end of December, but Nightmare Before Christmas is, at its heart, a Halloween/Christmas cross-over. Santa makes a brief appearance (when he’s kidnapped by the Oogie Boogie Man), but he is replaced by tall, bony Jack Skellington. There’s even a Rudolph character; Jack’s ghost dog, Zero, and his shining red nose.
Like all Christmas movies (traditional and non-traditional), “Nightmare Before Christmas” sends wholesome Christmas-y messages. Unlike all Christmas movies, these messages are communicated through the lens of monsters, corpses and skeletons. Some of the messages Tim Burton sends to his viewers are… don’t kidnap Santa Claus, listen to your rag-doll friend when she has premonitions, shrunken heads don’t make good Christmas gifts for children, and, perhaps the most important lesson of all: never give up on your dreams.
3 – Gremlins (1984)
Everyone knows the three rules: keep them out of the light, don’t get them wet and don’t feed them after midnight. But how many people realize that “Gremlins,” the Steven Spielberg produced cult-classic is set during Christmas?
“Gremlins” is about a struggling family in a struggling town where the reigns are held by one greedy bank and one greedy bank manager. An aspiring inventor buys a “mogwai” from an admittedly shady store in Chinatown and gives it to his son, Billy, for Christmas. The characters proceed to break all three rules regarding the gremlins, and predictably all hell breaks loose.
In the background of this movie is a simple message: greed is bad. Using water, Billy’s father makes more and more gremlins so he can sell them as pets. When Billy accidentally feeds these gremlins after midnight, they turn on the family and Gizmo–the original mogwai that gave them life. Even The greedy bank manager (presented as a Mrs. Gulch from the Wizard of Oz character) gets her just desserts (spoiler alert: she gets killed by the gremlins).
“Gremlins” isn’t little kid friendly (the little monsters are pretty scary after they transform!), but it’s a great slightly-older family film nonetheless.
2 – About A Boy (2002)
Written and directed by Chris and Paul Weitz, “About A Boy” is a classic kind-of-Christmas movie. Set in and around Christmas, “About A Boy” tells the story of aimless womanizer Will (Hugh Grant) and his strange, surrogate, father-son relationship with 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Will’s entire income is based on a song his father wrote when he was a child, called “Santa’s Super Sleigh.” The royalties provided by this song ensure that Will can spend his life doing absolutely nothing.
His philosophy is interrupted when Marcus crosses his path, and Will discovers what can be gained by giving your heart to a child. “About A Boy” uses Christmas as a book end to allow the audience to gauge Will’s growth as a character. The film starts at Christmas, as Will chases women and fabricates a child to date single mothers–happily living his life as an “island.” The ending of the movie drops us off at the following Christmas, where Will is surrounded by friends and has discovered that, while men can be islands, some of them are part of larger chains of islands.
“About A Boy,” like any Hugh Grant movie, is good for a laugh, and it has good, Christmas-y messages, like “family is important” and “don’t scam on single mothers.” Though I suppose that last one isn’t really specific to Christmas.
1 – Home Alone (1990)
Do I even need to recount the plot of “Home Alone”? Macaulay Culkin plays Kevin, the youngest child in a huge family. The night before his entire family hops on a plane for Paris, Kevin is sent to his room for causing trouble. Kevin’s life is kind of sad–his siblings and cousins love to say things like “Kevin, you’re such a disease,” and “Kevin, I’m going to feed you to my tarantula.” After some crazy random happenstances, Kevin’s family sleeps in, accidentally count a neighbor instead of Kevin, and leave him in Chicago while they fly off to Paris. Predictably, hijinks ensue.
The best part of this movie is definitely the burglars that go head-to-head against eight-year-old Kevin, and eventually lose. Kevin also has to come to terms with his fear of the “Shovel Killer” (who is, in reality, just a nice old man who wants to be with his estranged family) as well overcome his belief that his family hates him.
While Kevin is initially happy that he “made his family disappear,” in the end he realizes that… he misses them, and wants to spend Christmas with them. At the end of the film, Kevin’s mother flies back to him and Kevin realizes that his family does love him, even if it’s difficult to imagine sometimes.