We all love Christmas movies. From classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street to new gems like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Elf, these films instantly put us in the holiday spirit. Every year they’re run on loop from channels one through 899, and television stations know exactly what they’re doing. Who doesn’t get in the mood for nog when Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer comes on? Or get glued to the couch during the yearly Christmas Story marathon? Every time Home Alone and The Santa Clause fires up, it unearths an immediate longing for a childhood filled with tinsel and presents that’s just too good to resist.
But what happens when this particular Christmas, you get a little sick of the schmaltz? When 8 years straight is too much for Jingle All the Way? Or you’re suddenly dating someone who’s of a different faith, and doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that Bing Crosby sort of way? For that, there’s an entirely different category to look up on Netflix.
These are the edgier Christmas movies. The ones that aren’t exactly about Christmas. They might take place around the holiday season, but they don’t hinge on Santa coming down the chimney, making it home for the 25th, finding the right gift or Ebenezer Scrooge. You won’t find “Christmas” in the title of any of these films, and there’s no one in a fluffy red suit yelling “Ho ho ho.” There’s not an elf to be found, you’ll never see the Grinch, and sometimes there’s not even snow. These are the new Christmas classics, and they’re taylor made for the 21st Century audience.
These are the best non-Christmas Christmas movies that you’ll be adding to your holiday queue for years to come.
10. Die Hard 2
We know – not exactly an action movie classic, and a bit silly. And with lines like “Just the fax, ma’am,” it certainly has its share of corniness. But the sequel to the legendary Die Hard (another Non-Christmas Christmas Movie that we’re pretty sure we’ll run into later on this list) is 100%, damn unadulterated fun, and we can get on board with that around the holidays. When New York cop John McClane gets stuck in Dulles International Airport on Christmas, he inadvertently finds himself involved in a plot to free a captive ex-colonel. The threat? To bring down every plane in the sky until he’s released. Oh, and McClane’s wife just happens to be in the air at the same time. Throw in some great action, Dennis Franz, an amazing William Atherton (who plays a perfect dick in every movie) and a pretty decent twist at the end, and you have a holiday film worth watching.
9. Iron Man 3
Very new to the party and odd to see a superhero movie on this list, but Iron Man‘s best sequel certainly belongs among this holiday 10. When the reigns of the franchise were handed to Shane Black (who will deservedly find his name all over this list), Tony Stark’s adventures immediately took a turn for the creative – and the festive. The movie strips the hero of his iconic armor and sets him out on his own during Christmas time, focusing on character instead of explosions and small town instead of big city. All huge left turns from the last time we saw The Golden Avenger. The particular highlight is Robert Downey, Jr. dragging his lifeless suit through the snow and befriending a young boy in middle America at Christmas, which doesn’t go great from the start. If you’re a fan of Marvel, humor and action, this one is fun around the holidays.
8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
An underrated and often forgotten gem. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang saw the return of Robert Downey, Jr., Shane Black and Val Kilmer, after years of inaction, and proved an enormous win for them all. A funny sendup of film noir and whodunits, the movie is absolutely fantastic from start to finish, and is one of the most rewatchable films of the last 15 years – which means it’ll be great to add to the every-year holiday list. When a failed and bumbling New York thief inadvertently runs into a casting office trying to escape the police on Christmas (and gives the accidental performance of his life), he gets shipped to Hollywood to compete for an A-List role. When he gets embroiled in a murder however, his life gets thrown completely upside down. Dry humor makes the whole thing laugh-out-loud funny, and is worth many, many viewings for years to come.
7. Eyes Wide Shut
For the mature audience at Christmas time. Let’s say put the kids to bed before this tradition starts up. In Stanley Kubrick‘s final film, Tom Cruise goes on an odyssey of orgies and graphic sexual encounters around the holidays when his wife, Nicole Kidman (his actual wife at the time), reveals she almost had an affair a year earlier. With the iconic images of the masked sex party and the secret society living in everyone’s memory, this is definitely one of the more unusual and bizarre Christmas movies. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a new tradition. Let’s say an either-or to It’s A Wonderful Life.
6. Batman Returns
A true Tim Burton experience, from beginning to end. Batman Returns, sequel to 1989’s groundbreaking Batman, finds Michael Keaton returning to the cape and cowl, this time for Christmas in Gotham City. Coming face to face with a smoldering hot Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, along with Danny DeVito‘s Penguin and a perfectly Christopher Walken-y Christopher Walken, this movie had loads of hype back in 1992 and lived up to all of it. Although it’s been remembered as a bit dark and weird (the kamikaze penguins, terrifying carnies and strangely sad DeVito origin story come to mind), it’s undoubtedly a unique Batman tale and a fun trek through Gotham City in snowy December. Worth watching at Christmas.
5. Trading Places
An absolute legend from every angle you look at it. Trading Places goes down in history as a coming out party for Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, one of the best comedies of all time, memorable and hysterical from the very first frame…and a really great Non-Christmas Christmas Movie, as it memorably takes place right around the holidays. Featuring an insanely hot Jamie Lee Curtis to boot, there are more quotable lines in this movie than you can count. Any excuse to watch Trading Places over and over again should be taken greedily, and it’s so much better than The Santa Clause 2 or Jim Carrey‘s Grinch on Christmas Eve.
This classic makes fantastic use of Christmas, while simultaneously being forgetful about the holiday. A rare feat. Even rarer is the fact that it successfully makes a Christmastime horror movie using puppets that’s legitimately frightening. If you don’t think so, we invite you to throw the remastered Blu-ray on after your Christmas feast. It’s loads of fun, but not exactly a mellow digestif. Still, it’s got everything you could want in a classic – it’s extremely interesting and funny, very imaginative, has memorable lines and scenes up the wazoo, and brings a distinctly ’80s feel into your living room that you’ll welcome with nostalgic arms (though it can feel a bit dated at times – just part of the charm). Creepy critters terrorizing a small town, a mogwai you can’t feed after midnight, and a goblin melting in a Home Depot fountain? Count us in. Fire this one up this Christmas and every one thereafter.
3. Edward Scissorhands
Now here’s a movie that needs no introduction. Yet few recall that it takes place around Christmas, and thus more than belongs on this list. Along with Beetlejuice, Tim Burton‘s true coming out party was also Johnny Depp‘s, as he mesmerized us while barely saying a word. There are very few movies that can be considered “creepy” and “magical” at the same time, but this one does it in spades. Edward Scissorhands has more memorable moments than it knows what to do with – including the ice sculptures, the Vincent Price cameo, shrub trimming and Depp hysterically wearing a dress – and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of it from start to finish. Should be – no, must be – watched at Christmas from now on. A new holiday classic.
2. Lethal Weapon
One of our favorites in any category – action, comedy, buddy cop flick – but especially “unknown Christmas classic.” Once again, Shane Black works his magic, bringing detectives Riggs and Murtaugh into a Los Angeles Christmas, right in the middle of an unsolved murder. It was a game changer, right from the start. What few remember though is just how dark and gritty it could be, as Mel Gibson‘s Martin Riggs had some real issues to get off his chest. The man was a wild card (or, a “lethal weapon,” if you will), and you never knew what he was going to do. Add that to a truly evil performance from Gary Busey and a memorably climactic final fight on the front lawn of Murtaugh’s house, amidst destroyed Christmas decorations and a busted fire hydrant, and you’ve got yourself a classic you’ll never want to miss around the holidays, no matter what.
1. Die Hard
Finally, the number one movie on this list. And it should come as no surprise. “Come to the coast, have a few laughs.” “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” Hans Gruber and Reginald VelJohnson. Yet another “perfect asshole” in William Atherton. And two FBI agents named Johnson (no relation). Die Hard has it all, and changed the game forever doing so. Launching the career of Bruce Willis into the stratosphere, the 1988 original is one of – if not the – greatest action movie of all time. And it takes place on Christmas to boot, meaning it deserves to be watched over and over again, every December 24th, 25th, and possibly 26th, just for good measure. No Non-Christmas Christmas Movie means more to the genre, or to films in general, than the John McClane classic. It spawned 3 great sequels (and 2 awful ones, but whatever), and deserves to be number one on this list. Put this in your Blu-ray player immediately this holiday season, and thank us later.