Ok, we lied. We’re counting down our Top 12 Holiday Movies, because we couldn’t stop at just ten. So you’ve unwrapped your gifts, had your breakfast of cookies and ‘nog, and now you’re settling in for the time-honoured tradition of avoiding your family until turkey. Have we got some distractions for you!
It’s Hogswatchnight, when the Hogfather rides all over Discworld in his sleigh pulled by wild boars and delivers presents to children. The only problem is that he’s gone missing. With no other anthropomorphic personifications ready to stand in, it’s up to Death to strap a pillow to his ribs—in the most literal sense—and take over, leaving his (adopted) granddaughter Susan to solve the mystery with the dubious help of Bilious the “Oh God” of Hangovers, Quoth the Raven, and the wizards of Unseen University. But Hogswatch is the longest night of the year, and if she can’t find the Hogfather, Discworld will have much bigger problems than missing presents. This quirky two-part miniseries is a faithful adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel by the same name, but it is enjoyable whether you’ve read zero Discworld books or all forty.
11. Year Without A Santa Claus
While there is a live action version that appeared on TV a few years ago, it can’t hold a candle to the Rankin-Bass classic. Not even with Harvey Fierstein. Santa Claus, feeling unappreciated by the masses who have started to find Christmas stressful and over-commercialized, has decided he’s quitting. Mrs. Claus, accompanied by earnest buffoon elves, Jingle and Jangle, must circle the globe to prove that the big guy is still appreciated. The showstopper number is, of course, the Snow Miser’s song. His brother reprises it but can’t quite pull it off. Fun for all ages.
10. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Low budget and high camp, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is no less entertaining for its cheesiness. When Kimar, King of the Martians, fears his children are becoming depressed, he does the only sensible thing and kidnaps Santa Claus to bring fun and joy back to Mars. (Hey, they’re little green men on a red planet, they’re already color coordinated for Christmas.) There’s a cardboard robot, a man in a polar bear suit, and young Pia Zadora. What more does a Christmas movie need? (Bonus viewing: Mystery Science Theater 3000’s third season episode riffing SCCTM, which features the classic holiday standard “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas.”)
9. The Long Kiss Goodnight
So you want a Christmas action movie and you want a lady star. You got it! Geena Davis, patron saint of sense, is an amnesiac who slowly became a housewife of the “ideal mom” school. But—oh deer! Things start coming back when she delivers the mercy of death to a pre-Christmas roadkill. Cue CIA shenanigans, exploding trucks, many dire situations, and the reconciling of an action woman’s past with our heroine’s domestic side. If you’re worried that having kids could kill the part of you that bleaches all your hair and stabs guys with knives, pour a festive whiskey, put on your new slippers, and load’er up. Rated R for a substantial amount of strong bloody violence, and for strong language.
8. Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas
There’s a live action version of this one too. We Do Not Speak Of It. No, not even for Jim Carrey. This one is the half-hour animated special, brought to adorable life by animation master Chuck Jones. The Grinch is a cranky old monster who lives on Mt. Crumpet and pretty much hates everything—especially Christmas. That the Whos down in Whoville love it and gear up for a fantabulous celebration is a sore point, so the Grinch decides he’ll stop Christmas from coming by taking all their stuff. The rest is something you’ll want to watch for yourself with all your loved ones around you. All ages.
7. Ghostbusters 2
I’m not saying Ghostbusters isn’t good. I am saying Ghostbusters 2 is better. Supposedly the post-success loser Ghostbusters we drop in on at the start were Aykroyd’s original concept, so it’s no big surprise that this film goes down so smoothly. While the climax takes place on New Year’s Eve (and, just, Morning), the film covers the Christmas season; jolly hats are worn. You want slime, you want practical effects, you want second-wind romance? ‘Course you do. You want to see mean, funny, cynical Venkman self-sacrifice for a baby? It’s a Christmas miracle. Rated PG, but if you’ve got little ones, hold them close once Winston’s alone on the train tracks, OK?
6. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 takes place during Christmas and makes good use of holiday trappings. Festive exploding Iron Man armor! But it’s also a true Christmas movie at heart. In Iron Man, Tony Stark figured out that he has a heart. In IM2, he learned that he doesn’t have to go it alone. What’s left for him to learn in IM3? Why, the true meaning of Christmas, friends! That, and a new kind of courage. IM3 sees Tony stripped of his armor, debilitated by PTSD, separated from his found family (Pepper and Rhodey, obvs), and haunted by the ghost of holidays past—a New Year’s snub remembers Tony, and boy does he want revenge. Tony must battle his way across America, with only his ingenuity and the help of a plucky young sidekick (a young Tony, or perhaps a less manic Kevin McAllister, who’s home alone … with power tools), and learn that even for Tony, true strength comes not from weapons, but from within.
* PS. If this doesn’t sate your Shane Black/RDJ Xmas appetite, there’s also their previous collaboration Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
*PPS. Shane Black also wrote The Long Kiss Goodnight. Dude knows from holidays.
Zany dark comedies that flirt with the horror genre probably aren’t the kind of movies that come to mind when considering the best holiday films, but that is what makes Gremlins such a standout film. The movie centers around one father’s attempt to get his teenage son a unique Christmas gift: an adorable creature purchased from an antiques store in Chinatown. Buying an exotic pet off of the black market proves a disastrous choice after the son fails to follow the strict instructions given to the new owners. Despite the mayhem caused by the Mogwai creature, you’ll be wishing to find one of your own underneath the Christmas tree. Rated PG, though I was pretty scared by seeing this at a young age.
4. Batman Returns
Superhero sequels love Christmas! Batman Returns is a dark, melancholy Christmas fantasy, with the Dark Knight facing the triple threat of Catwoman, the Penguin, and evil businessman Max Shreck. Gotham City has never seemed more haunting than when it’s covered in snow, and not even the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony is safe from supervillains. Best Scene? Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle attend Shreck’s masquerade ball—the only two people not wearing masks, for once—and realize each other’s secret identities while dancing under the mistletoe. Good will toward men—and women. PG-13.
3. Edward Scissorhands
Edward is the final, greatest creation of an inventor who died suddenly, leaving him with sharp blades instead of hands. He lives alone in the inventor’s gothic mansion on a hill, until one day Peg Boggs, an irrepressible Avon lady from the town below, takes him home to live with her family. Edward’s sweet nature and astonishing skills at hair-cutting and sculptural hedge-trimming make him friends with many in the community, including Peg’s daughter Kim. But not everyone in the community is impressed, and some are quick to take advantage of his naive nature to set in motion events with tragic consequences. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s first and arguably finest collaboration, with an all-star supporting cast that includes Winona Ryder, Diane Wiest and Vincent Price, and a gorgeous score by Danny Elfman.
2. Die Hard
New York Police officer John McClane has come out to Los Angeles for Christmas to see his estranged wife Holly (Holly! at Christmas! Hee!) and his two kids. Unbeknownst to them both, a group of natty thieves led by Hans Gruber has decided to take the building over. Notable for “Now I Have A Machine Gun! Ho Ho Ho” and for turning “Yippie Ki-Yay Motherf***er” into a meme. Rated R for language, violence, and gore. Blood’s red—it’s Christmassy. What?
There are certain holiday films that when one confesses to having never seen inspire incredulous disbelief—It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Home Alone 2, and, in our opinion, Scrooged. This modern retelling of the classic Dickens tale A Christmas Carol stars Bill Murray at his snarkiest as Frank Cross, television network tycoon and all around terrible person. If you enjoy tales of redemption and the quick witted humor of 30 Rock (Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy owes a lot to Murray’s performance), do yourself a favor and watch this on Amazon instant video. It is both heartwarming and hilarious; an oft overlooked Murray classic directed by none other than Richard Donner, best known for his Superman film(s). PG-13
Happy holiday viewing, folks!