The holiday season is upon us and something my family would always do while we decorated the house or wrapped presents for the upcoming holiday was having a movie on in the background. While so many memorable classic holiday movies, both animated and live action, grace that list, there are other movies that take place during that 25 day countdown that people like to debate whether they count as Christmas movies. Some movies such as Mean Girls or Rise of the Guardians have a memorable Christmas related moment or character but overall do not belong in that genre. These movies below in no particular order not only range in their specific genres but also become a part of the Christmas tradition themselves.
1. Die Hard (1 and 2): If there was anybody who had conflicting feelings about Christmas, it’s Detective John McClane. He travels to LA in order to reconnect with his estranged wife and family but things take a turn when criminals masquerading as terrorists take over her workplace, Nakatomi Towers, during their annual Christmas party. Two years later, he’s picking up his wife from the airport on Christmas Eve when it’s seized by mercenaries who threaten to crash the plane she’s on. Whether he’s leaving messages on bodies dressed as Santa, climbing through ventilation shaft’s barefooted or spouting iconic one-liners in the snow, John’s primary motivation has always been his family and the length’s he’d go to protect them. People enjoy this movie because it’s so unlike other Christmas movies before that; where else will you see such a creative use of “Ho-Ho-Ho” to announce your presence? In the end, it’s just a man looking to save his wife against insurmountable odds so he can bring her home for Christmas. In the years leading up to Die Hard with a Vengeance, one can only hope John got the normal Christmas full of eggnog, a Christmas tree and a little turkey he clearly earned.
2. Batman Returns: Tim Burton’s sequel tells of Batman’s struggle to protect Gotham during Christmas season from the Penguin, Catwoman and businessman Max Shreck. Here the bright red and green of Christmas are accompanied with ghoulish clowns, toxic sewers and Christmas music overshadowed by ominous Danny Elfman music. While this is a superhero movie, I like to think the characters serve as interpretations to Christmas themes. Batman is the lonely good Samaritan, Max Shreck is the greedy businessman, the Penguin is the Grinch looking to exploit the masses and Catwoman toys the line between naughty and nice. Few people can look at mistletoe and not have the memorable monologue between Bruce and Selina echo through their mind. While keeping consistent with the Batman he brought to the big screen, Burton brought us a Gothic Christmas story that anyone could enjoy no matter the depths of their dark side.
3. Lethal Weapon: Shane Black’s unforgettable buddy cop action film was the first in the writer/director’s series of Christmas themed action movies. Officer Riggs and Murtaugh attempting to take down a dangerous gang of drug smugglers while not killing each other in the process was so successful it spawned a franchise. Just like Die Hard before it, a house covered in Christmas decorations is blown to pieces minutes after as the Richard Donner directed movie balances action and themes of revenge and loss with family, togetherness and trust. Seeing Murtaugh and Riggs go all out on the criminals after they kidnap Murtaugh’s daughter and torture both of them is one thing but Gary Busey yelling how much he hates Christmas and blasts Murtaugh’s TV running A Christmas Carol to prove it? A total Christmas classic that you never get too old for.
4. Gremlins: Joe Dante’s horror comedy Christmas movie is a cautionary tale of how you should always read the instructions instead of just winging it whenever you get a present for the holidays. If you don’t, your Mogwai can multiple and transform into ugly little Gremlins lead by their ruthless leader Stripe who have both odd personalities and a penchant for maiming or killing people during the holiday season. There’s Santa’s dying by overbite, Gremlin caroling, the near lethal fight in a convenience store and who can forget about Kate’s depressing story of how she learned there was no Santa Claus? Although I still can’t listen to Bing Crosby’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” without thinking of Gremlins, Gizmo’s overall cuteness and the just sheer intensity of this odd whimsical tale was my first introduction to the darker side of Christmas themed horror movies and thus earns a spot on any Christmas list.
5. Iron Man 3: When Marvel needed a third movie to follow 2010’s Iron Meh 2, they tapped writer/director Shane Black to see what he could come up with. Being that it was Robert Downey Jr’s role in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that got him the role of Iron Man in the first place, an addition to Iron Man trilogy was the least he could do. Picking up where Avengers left off, we see a stressed and traumatized Tony Stark working on Iron Man suits rather than focus on other important things in his life during the holidays. But when the Mandarin and the bucket load of problems that follow including the abduction of Pepper Potts, Tony Stark has to shake it off and save the day, even if he has to drag his suit through the snow at one point. Although the movie does have its arguable flaws, Tony bonding with the little kid Harley who’s alone for the holidays while his mom works and his dad abandoned them years ago is textbook Christmas feels and when Tony teams up with Rhodey had that Lethal Weapon buddy cop vibe written all over it. Like so many movies on this list, it’s a superhero movie and at times the farthest thing from a traditional Christmas movie but what better present could you give your now superpowered girlfriend than the destruction of all your suits to prove all you need is her? Always remember, he loved you in The Christmas Story.
6. Edward Scissorhands: Edward Scissorhands is a classic fairy tale told only in the way Tim Burton could. An unfinished man with scissors for hands is taken in by a saleswoman and her family in hopes to give him a normal life but things just don’t work out. Although this movie has metaphors for suburbia, society and how we view those who’re different you can’t ignore all the sweet Christmas symbolism. You have Edward making ice sculptures so fast it creates snowfall, holiday parties that nobody attends, decorating the tree, outspoken religious fanatics warning everyone about the devil, and ill-fated Christmas presents. Edward Scissorhands is a tale of love and loss, something that people very much deal with during the holiday season and there is something beautiful in the symbolism that Edward’s immortality and love for Kim is represented by the seasonal snowfall in a place that never experienced it beforehand.
7. Tokyo Godfathers : This unique anime comedy-drama is loosely based on the Peter B. Kyne novel The Three Godfathers but instead of three bank robbers who become godfathers to a newborn, three homeless discover an abandoned newborn on Christmas Eve. This unlikely trio of a female runaway Miyuki, middle aged alcoholic Gin and a former drag queen Hana not only attempt to take care of the baby named Kiyoko but also discover the identities of the baby’s parents from the clues left behind with the child. As their adventures involve the Yakuza and other surprising twists and turns, the movie touches on other subjects such as death, identity, abandonment, and loneliness which are things that can also be associated with the holiday that some choose not to recognize. As these three individuals struggle through personal and public obstacles to reunite the child with its parents, they also find strength and love within each other. With a Christmas miracle or two near the end, these three not only find themselves as a family but also as three new godparents to the child. Although I’m not the greatest fan of anime, I daresay I did rather enjoy Tokyo Godfathers with a smile and occasional waterworks I typically enjoy with movies during this season.
So that’s my list but what I’m really interested to know is what titles are on your list? Which ones do you think should be up here with these awesome movies? I’m always looking for something great to watch with a plate of cookies and a nice glass of eggnog. Until next time, have a happy holidays and avoid the Hallmark channel.