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Image / Living / Culture

8 non-traditional Christmas movies we always watch during the festive season

by Jennifer McShane
13th Dec 2020

Aside from revelling in the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry, the holiday season means flaking out and sticking on your favourite Christmas film

We’ve chosen eight films that may offer a skewed take on the season of traditional joy, but are worth watching nonetheless. Some dabble with the idea of goodwill toward men, others not at all, but every year you’ll likely see at least a few in the post-Christmas day TV listings. Santa won’t be climbing down any chimneys here (well, not without swearing).

1. Groundhog Day


This isn’t set around Christmas time but on February 2nd, Groundhog Day. Bill Murray is hilariously brilliant in what is perhaps his finest role — a local weatherman doomed to relive the same day again and again. Viewers will be forgiven for thinking that it is the festive season throughout as the snow-covered setting and cosy surroundings do nothing to suggest otherwise.

There are some genuinely magically tender moments throughout, and the dialogue is second to none. Andie MacDowell plays the very likeable love interest, Rita, to Murray’s initially arrogant Phil Conners, and they work well on screen. Over two decades old, the flick has lost none of its appealing qualities. Its underlying message that a little kindness in life goes a long way towards feeling fulfilled will resonate with everyone. Trivia: The film’s screenwriter said Murray’s character lived the same day for just under 10 years.

2. Die Hard


The debate for ‘is it or isn’t it’ wears on every year but regardless, it’s synonymous with the festive season. As Christmas party nightmares go, this is one of the worst: glamorous, festive setting suddenly interrupted by deadly terrorists. Bruce Willis is endearingly great as the cop forced to think on his feet to defeat the bad guys (led by the charismatic late Alan Rickman) and save his family at the same time. It made Willis a bona fide action star and cemented our love for Rickman, for then, now and ever. Almost everyone can quote at least one line from the film. “Yippee ki yay…”

3. The Muppets Christmas Carol


This one isn’t far from being on a classic Christmas list, but unusually, it frequently seems to miss out on a place in many festive film Hall of Fame reviews. It’s the Muppets at their finest with Scrooge played utterly convincingly by a brilliant Michael Caine. It is he who carries the movie; after a while, you forget you’re watching muppets re-enact a very faithful, thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of the Dickens classic. It’s a musical, but a very, very good one and if the ending doesn’t bring you joy, not much else will.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas


This animated movie made us all wonder what Christmas was really like at creator Tim Burton’s house. It’s another flick that has stood the test of time managing the odd feat of being shown on TV screens at both Christmas and Halloween. It’s innocently creepy without being overly so.

Jack Skellington accidentally opens up a portal between Halloween Town and Christmas Town and becomes obsessed with the idea of re-enacting festive cheer in his spooky home. There’s cracking songs, a scary Boogieman and repercussions when things don’t go to plan. All the family will enjoy this one.

5. Gremlins


So, the decorations are up, the snow is falling, and the carol singers are round. The scene has been set, but all isn’t what it seems. Enter a hoard of scaly creatures determined to put Christmas traditions on the back burner.

For everyone who’s ever felt oppressed by the enforced seasonal jollity, Gremlins offers the perfect antidote: an assault on the advertising industry’s vision of Christmas. As a child, I was terrified of this one and wouldn’t let the VHS anywhere near our video recorder, but in later years, Gizmo made up for all that. Just look at him!

6. Trading Places

Trading Places has all the elements of a good alternative Christmas movie: a festive setting, the underlying fable about money not being the be-all and end-all and, of course, an unconventional take on love and family.

Mix that with a drunk, salmon-stealing Santa and it’s nearly perfect. The film’s three leads: street hustler Eddie Murphy, arrogant yuppie Dan Aykroyd and the brilliant Jamie Lee Curtis don’t exactly represent all that is well within the world, however, the trio makes up the film’s unlikely heroes. All in all, it makes for a great watch.

7. Bad Santa


It’s often called the undisputed leader of alternative Christmas fare. Bad Santa features Billy Bob Thornton as the kind of lewd, crude Father Christmas you certainly wouldn’t want attempting to go near your chimney.

This makes our alternative list because it is not one you could watch with the family; there is swearing and plenty of it. But it’s become increasingly popular over the years and is genuinely funny. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s Christmas, so there is no better time.

8. The Long Kiss Goodnight


The only thing festive about this one is that the plot happens to take place at Christmas. After that, Geena Davis ensures all hell breaks loose. Davis had just achieved worldwide fame thanks to her role in Thelma and Louise and in The Long Kiss Goodnight, she kicks serious ass as a deadly assassin suffering from amnesia.

Her memory slowly returns, and Davis takes on a split personality role and is scarily brilliant. Upon repeated viewing, it remains painfully clear that she is one of the most underrated and underused actresses working today. Trivia: The movie was penned by screenwriter Shane Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Last Boy Scout — all set at Christmas. Strange coincidence? We think not.