When it involves Christmas movies, some hold top-tier positions in our hearts, boasting merry elements, holiday-themed mayhem, a sprinkle of magic, and possibly even Ole St. Nick himself. Think Miracle on thirty fourth Street, Home Alone, or A Christmas Story. Others, over time, have been examined, popping up on Christmas movie lists and leading readers to query their merit as Christmas movies.
What makes a Christmas film? Is it concerning the themes — redemption, belief within the absence of proof, family? Is it simply concerning the Christmas aesthetic? Are you good to go along with a zoom-in on a Christmas Tree, some decorative lights, and possibly just a little snowfall? Below, are probably the most debatable Christmas movies which have worked their way into the genre (kind of), despite boasting other non-merry aspects that appear more identifying.
‘Die Hard’ | 1988
You can’t make a listing of debatable Christmas movies and omit the one which has arguably catalyzed probably the most discourse. The rated R motion movie has a few strikes against it right out the gate — the rating, the “mature” language, and the general bloody spectacle. That being said, the movie is about during Christmas time, Christmas music serves as a backdrop to much of the catch-the-terrorists film, and it even takes place during a Christmas party. The movie, though going about it in a way more gritty way, also features themes of reconciliation and redemption, which mirror the worth often set forth in traditional Christmas movies when a protagonist needs to seek out his way back to what matters most. And, who could forget Bruce Willis’ Christmas-themed line — “Now I even have a machine gun. Ho ho ho?”
‘Batman Returns’ | 1992
Tim Burton’s campy comic book adaptation — with costumes that mirror the extravagance tied to the source material and dialogue so perfectly punchy and scrumptious — once defined the genre that has since given method to testosterone-fueled humor and compelled seriousness. Though the film is in the beginning an action-adventure movie, it employs a Christmas atmosphere to juxtapose its more seedy, gothic elements. Burton intentionally exploits the festive cheer tied to the vacation — and the associated feelings of affection and joy that outline the time — to enhance Gotham and its villains’ (Penguin and Catwoman) polar twisted and self-serving nature. Gift-giving and tree-lighting ceremonies occur alongside criminal activities and the pursuit of power. The extreme contrast enhances the film’s social commentary and its depiction of a sinister society, making a visually engaging and thought-provoking motion movie. With Christmas virtually serving as a personality unto itself on this movie, Batman Returns is, dare we are saying, more debated than it ought to be…
‘Gremlins’ | 1984
With a horror-comedy approach and the mischievous gremlins catalyzing chaos, this film falls under scrutiny regarding the “Christmas tag” due to its lack of sentimentality, unsettling tonal shift, and powerful emphasis on horror elements. It’s not exactly light and merry. That being said, it takes place during Christmastime and explores the results of not adhering to rules (even throughout the holiday season).
‘Frozen’ | 2013
All that snow. All that ice. A walking, talking snowman. This one is more concerning the atmosphere than the rest. The overall winter-themed aesthetic plays into the vacation spirit. Not to say, the in-your-face themes about love and family shine through in several musical numbers and the general plot trajectory. That being said, it doesn’t exactly feature “Christmas.” We’re not going to get a white elephant moment, and nobody is kissing under the mistletoe. It’s festive, but not exactly ho-ho-ho merry.
‘Edward Scissorhands’ | 1990
While Edward Scissorhands kicks off in summertime, the film makes its method to a wintery wonderland in a while. Christmas lights and decorations adorn the homes and landscapes, and Edward even makes festive ice sculptures. The movie also celebrates the importance of family and connection, yet not without first spotlighting Edward’s isolation — which many less fortunate can deeply relate to throughout the festive season. The importance of giving also surfaces throughout the film; Edward offers up his uncanny hairstyling ability, which manifests as each an art form and a way for Edward to emotionally connect with others whose first impressions may shroud his inner beauty. Incorporating fairytale elements, the film also advantages from a sprinkling of magical realism; the supernatural shtick here is only a bit more gothic than the neon-colored levity the decorations would otherwise suggest.
‘Harry Potter’ Series | 2001 — 2011
For years, ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” featured the Harry Potter movies. Several franchise installments include Christmas with Hogwarts decking the halls and characters exchanging gifts. Who could forget the laced-trimmed, second-hand dress robes Ron received from Mama Weasley? The debate here arises from the incontrovertible fact that the narrative itself has nothing to do with Christmas (it also gets quite dark because the series progresses). Rather, Christmas is interwoven into the movies merely to serve various relationships and subplots.
‘Trading Places’ | 1983
Trading Places is one more R-rated “Christmas movie” on this list. So, it strikes out on the family-friendly front that tends to define the genre. Two complete strangers and one twisted bet set the stage for this social satire starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. The former is a down-on-his-luck hustler. The latter is an upper-crust executive. The two switch places to satisfy the curiosity of successful brokers. The film is about throughout the holiday season with decorations and gift-giving elements (and themes of generosity) surfacing. While the film uses Christmas as a backdrop to explore class and privilege, it’s way more a satire than a Christmas movie, as the everyday merry themes of affection, family, redemption, in addition to a way of caprice are amiss.
‘Lethal Weapon’ | 1987
With motion genre dominance and little emphasis on Christmas traditions, it’s easy to see why this one is debated — although the motion culminates on Christmas day. The film follows two cops who couldn’t be more different forced to work together to uncover an enormous drug trafficking ring. The premise doesn’t exactly scream “Christmas.” We’re kind of in a Die Hard position here with Christmas serving as a festive backdrop to the machismo, explosive vibes. However, the film does highlight the go-to Christmas themes of family and redemption, while working in classic Christmas needle drops like “Jingle Bell Rock.” It’s merely gritty and violent as a substitute of jolly and vibrant. With movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, you get the themes inherent to more festive movies, but you don’t receive them within the festive light (despite the literal Christmas lights).