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Where Are The Good Holiday Movies?

A pleasant way to spend part of a Thanksgiving weekend? Watching classic holiday movies with my wife. The unpleasant leftovers? The realization that, somewhere along the lines, holiday movies really took a turn for the crappy. What happened?

If you think about all the classic Christmas movies – It’s A Wonderful Life, A Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas (or the superior earlier Irving Berlin holiday movie, Holiday Inn – Yeah, yeah, I know, but trust me, Holiday Inn is really, really good) – a couple of things should stick out to you. Firstly, they’re almost all in black and white. Secondly, they’re almost all devoid of any cynicism that can’t be won over by the end of the movie. Somewhere along the line – and I’m not sure where the change happened – holiday movies split in terms of tone, and became one of the following:

  • Movies In Which A Ridiculously Objectionable Character Learns That Christmas Is Really About Being Nice To Your Fellow Man and/or Woman
  • Movies About Characters Getting Too Into The Christmas Spirit That They Alienate Everyone Around Them Before They Realize That Christmas Is Really About Everyone Around Them
  • Movies About How Terrible It Is To Spend Time With Family Before Everyone Realizes That Christmas Is Really About Family
  • Any mixture of the above.

The only holiday movie I can think of from recent years that comes close to the innocence and joy of the movies that’ve held up for decades is Elf, which is a movie that fits into the first and second of the above categories, but somehow without seeming too obvious about it – or, perhaps more appropriately, too cynical about it. Because, while Elf may have cynical characters, it’s not a cynical movie by any stretch of the imagination; the transformation of its characters isn’t done ironically or knowingly, and seems so much more enjoyable to watch as a result.

To cynically do a holiday movie – to approach everything as if following a formula, or worse, parodying the formula before surrendering to it in the last minutes for a feel-good ending (You know what I mean, Bad Santa) – is to miss the point of a holiday movie altogether, I think. To try and do anything that isn’t aiming for the, for want of a better way of putting it, innocence and wonder that kids have about the season feels like a bad idea, because, when it comes to entertainment, I feel like that’s the ideal audience: Children, even if they’re just the kids inside ourselves. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about, in some way? So, yes – Let’s have less cynicism on all fronts: In front of the camera, yes, but behind as well: Creators for holiday movies, stop phoning it in and come up with something that people will want to watch seventy years later. Give us something that’s heartfelt and honest and magical and doesn’t just offer up the same old cliches all over again. If Doctor Who can get it right year after year, surely you can do it once.


  • Taylor Stauft

    A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Brilliant holiday movie. I watch it every year!

  • Johnnyhorror92182

    Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
    Black Christmas (1974)
    Christmas Evil (1980)
    Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)

  • Sept_28_2003

    Plus Gremlins, Hardware, and Batman Returns.

  • Jimmeans

    Seriously, the last really good Christmas movie I’ve seen is Satoshe Kon’s “Tokyo Godfathers”. Solid animation and a great story with characters we get to know more fully and care about as the movie progresses.

  • Bill Reed

    Jingle All the Way?


  • Jrau18

    Dudes! The Santa Clause!

  • scott

    Junky’s Christmas… more of a short, but wonderful – and not for kids

  • Jikorijo

    One of the problems I’ve heard from people is that Christmas films tend to be less about what the Christmas is about and more about the crass commercialism of the season.

  • chris


  • Kdoo23


  • Talmerian

    Maybe its because more people are realizing that there is no difference between ‘the holidays’ and any other time of the year. Why not always care for other people and enjoy being around your family? This ‘holiday’ ridiculousness is foisted upon us by the capitalist machine requiring every year to be more profitable than the last. It is sickening. I think it is hard for anyone to go back to the naiveté of the films you mentioned, nor should they. It’d be far better to see a movie about the corporate planning meetings of major retailers where they actually discuss how to herd stupid customers towards the most profitable items during major sales and buying times.

    Also the fact that these are only holidays for some people, not all. The rest of us, and the world, have to deal with this moronic concept being forced upon us year after year with little choice, or voice!

    …and if you work retail this season is absolutely horrible and nothing can change that!

  • Paleltuma

    Yup, one of my favourite holiday movies – has been for years.

  • Paleltuma

    Same here, it’s definitely my top favourite holiday movie. Heck, I sometimes watch it even when it’s not Christmas, it’s so good.

  • James J. Reaves III

    “Die Hard” is the holiday film i come back to year after year, personally.

    but it seems that as more and more of the profit side of the movie business comes from rental and video sales rather than box office, it makes holiday films less and less attractive financial propositions.

    leading to cheaper (and worse) holiday fare, since it’s hard to compete with the existing holiday canon. there are no directors sane enough to get financing that think they can outdo Seaton’s “Miracle on 34th Street” or Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

  • Alex Rogers

    Beavis and Butthead’s Christmas specials. There’s nothing better than listening to these guys talk about the Yule log and having Beavis NOT learn the true meaning of Christmas.

    Beavis never scored.

  • Uncle But

    Well, this Christmas there’s only one movie to see, namely Rare Export!

  • JMC

    National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is my all-time favourite Christmas movie. We watch it every Christmas. Only after I got it on DVD did I realise Chevy dropped the F Bomb near the end! Thank goodness for mute.

    Other greats are Scrooged, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, but I’ve always had a fondness for the Stop-animation specials like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and the Santa Clause one.

  • JMC

    Not a reply exactly dripping in Christmas sentiment. You both need to rediscover the meaning of Christmas!

  • Talmerian

    Meaning of Chrismas is what again? Buying gifts? Again, why not always be nice to people, and enjoy the company of friends and family?

    Whaddya think nik? Being nice to people is not something you like to do?

  • Moosehead

    ‘Thank goodness for mute?’ Seriously? That’s the funniest f*cking part!

  • Adamh12110

    Yes, being nice to people is something that people should do it all year long. However, sometimes people need reminders of these sorts of things and that’s what the holidays provide. In fact, the most famous of Christmas stories, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, refers to how Scrooge could “keep the Christmas spirit all the year”. So, it’s not an alien concept.

    Nobody likes cynical over-commercialization, but responding to cynicism with cynicism does not help matters.

  • Talmerian

    Pretty awful that we live in a world where people need to ‘be reminded’ to be nice. Is that what the gifts are for? To remind you to be nice to me…sad. This season is an example of how awful religion is for people!

  • Joemomma

    Christmas Vacation
    A Christmas Story
    there was also one about a lottery ticket with Mickey Rourke in it that I saw years ago that was really good… I can never remember the name…

  • Richie Simonsen

    NL Christmas VacationA Christmas Story (You’ll shoot your eye out) :)ScroogedThe Santa Clause (Tim Allen the funniest santa ever)
    I almost forget Ernest Saves Christmas

  • Jrau18

    Ironically, Scrooged is a great Christmas movie.

  • JMC

    yeah it is – but I’d prefer my 6 yr old not to hear it. Although I admit there is quite a bit of swearing in it. And the funniest quote IMO is the one from the SWAT Commander, “That’s pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you into a… ” Gets me everytime.

  • JMC

    We get it – you hate Christmas. You have my pity, now move along and stop bah humbugging the bejeezuz out of everyone!

  • Stathamciaran

    Scrooged is just a great movie full stop. It does nearly hit the same brick wall as Bad Santa in turning Frank Cross around and making him a nice guy, but it’s done in such a terrifying way for him that you absolutely understand WHY he wants to be a nice guy come the movie’s end. Such is the power of transcribing Dickens.

  • AudioComics

    “The Ref” with Denis Leary. Seriously. See this movie. The Christmas spirit is present, but not in a way where it bangs you over the head with constant reminders. Plus it is absolutely hysterical.

    Also have to throw in “White Christmas.” Christmas Day tradition.

  • Nieman

    A Christmas Story & NL Christmas Vacation are essential to me. I’m gonna watch Muppet Christmas Carol this year for the first time.

    Regular rotations Christmas movies:
    Home Alone
    Trading Places
    The Night They Saved Christmas

  • Nyc52707

    equal time for Jews: The Hebrew Hammer, Shabbot Shalom mother fu@#ers.

  • knivesinwest11


    Ernest Scared Stupid is also the best Halloween film. MIYAAAAAK

  • Dominic

    The Family Stone. Yep, it’s one of those ‘family are horrible but they’re yours’ movies but a definite cut above most.

  • oy

    Bad Santa is the movie i love to sit around the Christmas tree and watch. A Christmas Classic. Much better then A Wonderful Life or Elf.

  • CaseyJustice

    Pretty awful that we live in a world where oil spills ruin huge chunks of the earth, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t all spend a little extra time every year re-affirming that, although there are a great deal of horrible things in this world, there is far more that is wonderful. Forget the religion, forget the gifts… Christmas is all about embracing the best in humanity, and in ourselves.

  • Dan Wetts

    Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, Elf. In that order.

  • RockinRobin

    Merry Christmas, Talmerian. :)

  • Sijo

    Epic Fail.

  • Sijo

    I definitely see Christmas differently as an adult than when I was a kid. For example when I first saw Miracle in 34th Street, I was totally convinced the old guy was Santa all along; now I realize that there’s nothing , not even the cane in the end, that *actually* proves it. Still, I find it a wonderful movie, because its message of not letting Life get to you is still pretty much valid. Plus it has the best movie Santa ever. ;)

    Hollywood might never make anything as good again, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep trying.

  • kwed

    Love Actually. If you haven’t seen it, make time this year to spend a couple of hours and enjoy a great movie about all of the different kinds of romance, all leading up to Christmas.

    It’s kind of like the Pulp Fiction of romantic movies.

    Of course then you have the classics;
    Charlie Brown
    The Santa Clause
    Christmas Vacation

  • Ittousagi

    Love Actually IS my Christmas movie. While I enjoy the classics (esp the original Miracle on 34th St), most non-preachy Christmas movies just happen to have Christmas shoehorned in there. But Love Actually weaves its Christmasy spell so well that it makes any Christmas worthwhile.

  • Madman

    ELF was one of the worst pieces of crap that my eyes ever had to see. Worse than Kanye and GAGA in a 69. It was utter crap.

  • Super

    Talmerian’s right. Fuck you all !

  • Mike

    what a reference — I almost shot miak out my nose here @ work laughing at that ^_^

  • Mike

    well DUH, after that K/G fanfilm, nothing else will do.
    (And here I thought that one was just MY family’s xmas-eve viewing tradition!)

  • Anonymous

    one of my favorite quotes from this movie:

    “Why is the carpet wet TODD?”
    “I don’t know MARGO!”
    I love the neighbors…

  • Mike

    Agreed. I’m always surprised by how many dismiss it “some chick flick” by Hugh Grant’s presence alone. With a dozen or so interweaving stories (that don’t all wind up in happy hollywood endings) there’s something for everyone. Love the relationship between Liam Neeson & his stepson in that!

  • Mike

    “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” and “Bernard And The Genie”, anyone?

  • Jack Derunk

    Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, Henson’s lost classic. Great music, great characters, it’s the Gift Of The Magi expanded.

  • The_rear

    “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. It works as both a Halloween AND a Christmas movie and is one of my all time favorites. Not just favorite Christmas films but favorite films period. The stop motion is brilliant and the music is out of this world.

  • Brandon

    Hey fellow holiday movie fans!

    Keep an eye out for “Holiday Baggage” written/directed by Stephen Polk, airing on Monday, December 20th, at 5pm on Lifetime.