You know that longstanding joke that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever? Well, it’s not a joke. The film takes place during Christmas and features numerous shots of Christmas trees and decorations. How much more Christmas can you get? As someone that has long grown tired of the commercialization of Christmas and the fake sincerity people throw around during the holiday rush, Die Hard speaks to me as a truer representation of the season since John McClane won’t let a group of terrorists ruin everyone else’s day. He’s not in it for money or gifts or praise. John just wants to save his wife and get back home with her.
So maybe I’ve already spoiled the number one spot on this list (MERRY CHRISTMAS!), but did you know there are a bunch of other films with tangential relationships to Christmas just like Die Hard? No, I’m not talking Die Hard 2, either. Various different films exist that take place during Christmas time but aren’t explicitly about it.
As I like to see it, this list is for people that “hate” Christmas, but want to acknowledge that it does exist. You know Christmas is a thing and dread December coming, but also recognize that it’s a time of the year that typically brings out the worst in people’s greed. Sometimes, the things we do aren’t related to gift-giving or caroling, but better capture the spirit of Christmas than those activities could.
This is the DEFINITIVE list of Christmas movies for people that hate Christmas.
10) American Psycho
I bet you forgot American Psycho takes place during the holiday season. Arguably the perfect film to make a statement about the holiday season, American Psycho follows crazed killer Patrick Bateman’s various murders and frames it as the natural endpoint of capitalism. When you have literally everything you could ever want, the only thing that will make you feel anything is taking a life.
I’m not sure I even really need to point out the parallels here. While Black Friday isn’t a Christmas event, per se, it does mark the beginning of the holiday rush and often results in people getting injured or killed. Back in 2008 in New York, a Walmart employee was trampled to death during a Black Friday sale just so shoppers could get some cheap ass TVs. That’s not exactly the same as murder, but American Psycho was definitely onto something.
9) Batman Returns
The sequel to Tim Burton’s highly acclaimed original, Batman Returns ups the cast to four main characters and shifts the tone a bit to be a little more comic booky. Set during the holidays, Returns isn’t offering any critique of the season or making any statements about society being greedy, but instead is juxtaposing the colorful sights and sounds of Christmas against Batman’s traditionally dark veneer. It’s an expert clashing of styles that arguably brings out Batman’s dark nature well.
One of the best parts of this holiday set dressing is when henchmen jump out at Batman from within giant presents. I might be reading too much into this, but to me, that shows the darker side of the holiday. Gift-giving can be a subtly powerful expression of our true feelings toward one another and nothing says “I hate you” more than jumping out fully armed to deal some ass-kicking.
8) Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon stands 35 years later as one of the best buddy cop films ever made. Redefining action filmmaking for the late 80s and 90s, Lethal Weapon won viewers over with its witty writing, intense action, and now classic pairing of Mel Gibson alongside Danny Glover. Do you know what else helped with that formula? The fact that, at its heart, the film is a Christmas movie.
This beating heart of Lethal Weapon lies in the character of Martin Riggs, a down-and-out rookie cop that wants to end his life. After the death of his wife and with the holiday season reminding him of everything he’s lost, Riggs is ready to throw it all away just to catch the crooks. It takes Roger Murtaugh’s gruff attitude and relatively happy family to bring Riggs back from the dark side, showing him that even in the worst of circumstances, life isn’t worth throwing away. Tell me how that doesn’t embody what Christmas should be about.
7) Edward Scissorhands
This is maybe the only film on the list that you could say isn’t completely a Christmas movie. Edward Scissorhands is a kind of reimagining of old fairy tales with a dark, gothic twist. It follows the life of its titular character as he attempts to integrate into average society, often with negative results as people are horrible shits. Where the Christmas part comes in during the last third of the movie, which contrasts against the brighter and more colorful opening.
Putting aside the religious origins of Christmas, the Americanized version of the holiday season is supposed to be about family and togetherness. The ending of Edward Scissorhands shows exactly why capitalism and consumerism have tarnished the holiday. While he was generally accepted in the first half of the film, the town seemingly turns against Edward at the end just in time for old Kris Kringle to come into town. There is a greater meaning behind this message, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at snow the same way again.
Okay, so maybe there are two films on here that aren’t entirely Christmas-themed. At any rate, Martin Scorsese’s eternal gangster classic Goodfellas has numerous scenes that take place during the holidays, so it could be considered a Christmas film. Scratch that: it is a Christmas film. Nothing showcases that better than the famous party scene.
After scoring the biggest heist in US history, lead man Jimmy Conway becomes paranoid that the cops will be breathing down their necks any day. At a Christmas get-together with his friends and family, Jimmy is floored to see that everyone is blowing their share of the take on frivolous gifts. Brand new cars, fancy clothes, expensive booze: Jimmy explodes. I guess when you have more money than God and live in a consumerist society, common sense goes out the window. Sounds just like Christmas to me.
5) Police Story
You just know I had to throw a Kung Fu film in here. There are actually two on the list, but I have to put Jackie Chan’s Police Story relatively high as the action is just incredible. Nothing about this film explicitly screams Christmas, but it does take place during the holiday season. During the final mall brawl, we’re treated to various shots of decorations that wind up flying all over the place as Chan and his stunt team proceed to destroy every piece of glass in their immediate vicinity.
If I had to make an analogy to Christmas here, Chan’s role as Chan Ka-Kui could embody the “never surrender” attitude that a lot of shoppers have. It’s very easy to feel defeated by the holiday season and retreat to your home for comfort. That doesn’t wind up solving anything, though, and Ka-Kui knows that. Despite going against the advisement of his superiors, Ka-Kui continues on the case and eventually captures the criminal he has been chasing the whole film. In some way, that is a Christmas miracle.
4) Catch Me If You Can
Honestly, I put this on the list simply because I love this movie. Spielberg’s career has been pretty consistent ever since he began directing, but there was some reason to doubt Catch Me If You Can would be successful following the release of A.I. Artificial Intelligence in 2001. Thankfully, this film not only reaffirmed that Spielberg was a master of his craft, but it propelled Leonardo DiCaprio past his teen heartthrob phase and gave us one of Tom Hanks’ best performances ever.
This film is a biopic, so it encompasses more than just Christmas. Following the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., a con artist that successfully bluffed his way into becoming a pilot, the very famous scene where his antics finally catch up to him takes place outside of a church on Christmas eve. Set to the haunting chorus of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” it left an indelible mark on me as a teenager. It’s one of those moments where even though we’re supposed to be in the happiest time of year, the world can be falling apart for someone else right outside your window.
3) First Blood
I realize this list is maybe action movie heavy, but I also don’t care. Action films are more than just dumb films where you look at the flashing lights and clap like a trained seal. First Blood is one such movie, an almost anti-action film that has a strong anti-war message and a deep look at the trauma that veterans can face. Set during the cold month of December in the small town of Hope, Washington, the titular character thrusts the town into chaos after police officers treat him like garbage and trigger his PTSD.
Again, what makes this stand out to me is that juxtaposition of the happy holiday against the cruel reality of the world. Rambo has done nothing wrong other than potentially resisting arrest, but the police feel like they can kick around a veteran simply because they hold a badge. As I said above, this is a film that shows how not everything is so rosy during Christmas. It’s also a reminder that we can’t know the pain someone is going through, so we should be treating each other with kindness instead of malice.
2) The Iceman Cometh
Haha! The second Kung Fu film on this list! Weirdly, the name for this movie comes from a 1946 play by Eugene O’Neill but has nothing to do with that. Localized names for Hong Kong movies often have no relation to their respective stories. It’s just a happy accident that this movie features a play on coldness while also taking place during Christmas. Thankfully, The Iceman Cometh does take place during the holidays, so it lands on this list.
While the film is more of a fish out of water story, there is a prominent scene in the middle where Yuen Biao’s character is talking to Maggie Cheung’s character while attending to Christmas gathering. Decorations are littered across the room and things are relatively cheery. We don’t get many more holiday trappings beyond that, but you could put this on and celebrate the holiday with some badass Hong Kong action. That’s never a bad way to celebrate anything.
1) Die Hard
I mean, come on! Die Hard is not only one of the most important action movies of all time, but it embodies the spirit of Christmas like no other. John McClane is an everyman cop that would rather be anywhere else in the world, but won’t let a group of terrorists ruin the holidays for anyone else. If John’s day is caput, he’s going to make damn sure the people responsible for ruining it get their just desserts.
The film begins at a Christmas party and even features a Run DMC song called “Christmas in Hollis.” How much more do you need to convince you of its holiday spirit? Does the fact that John’s wife’s name is Holly count? As I said in the beginning, John fighting off the dastardly terrorists feels more to me like the embodiment of the Christmas spirit than some sappy Hallmark films ever will. Nothing better captures the essence of the holiday than fighting for the ones you love.