All My Favorite Holiday Movies Aren’t About the Holidays

It’s a holidaytradition in my family to watch movies that take place during the Christmas holidays but are not actually about Christmas. These films may feature shopping and lights and Nativity plays but no kind old man who is secretly Santa, no Christmas (or Hanukkah) miracles, no flying reindeer, no Linus quoting the Bible to drive home the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is the location, but the story is something else.

My brothers and I love to consider and reconsider the list every year. You’d be surprised how many “Christmas Classics” might make the cut.  For example, is Miracle on 34th Street a legal drama or does it transform into a genuine Christmas story because it’s implied Kris Kringle is the genuine Santa? We decided the cane reveal at the end tipped the film into Real Holiday Movie territory.  But White Christmas has no Santa and snow in Vermont doesn’t really count as a miracle. There’s a lot of Christmas but it’s not the point of the story; we’re still debating that one.

Here are some suggestions if you want to watch along!

Poster of Jumanji; Fair Use
Poster of Jumanji; Fair Use

For the Kids: Jumanji

Released: 1996
Rated: PG

An adventure story about a magic board game is fun for the whole family and ends with a happy holiday scene. It’s perfect for when you’re tired of carols and crowds and the holiday hoopla but still want to feel festive watching a flick with the kids.

 

Poster of The Addams Family; Fair Use
Poster of The Addams Family; Fair Use

 

For the More Sarcastic Kids: The Addams Family

Released: 1991
Rated: PG-13

The Addams family’s first feature film is great for the kooky one-liners and Christina Ricci’s star turn as Wednesday. Also good for people who can’t stand Christmas spirit in general — the film includes the family dropping hot oil on carolers.

 

Poster of The Mothman Prophecies; Fair Use
Poster of The Mothman Prophecies; Fair Use

For the Horror Fans: The Mothman Prophecies

Released: 2002
Rated: PG-13

I don’t want to give anything away but this movie is quite clever with its use of the holiday as location. Based on real events and old legends, the film is super creepy and surprisingly heartwarming.

 

 

 

Poster of Gremlins; Fair Use
Poster of Gremlins; Fair Use

For the More Cuddly Horror Fans: Gremlins

Released: 1984
Rated: PG

Are you the parent of a kid who wants a puppy for Christmas? Watch this movie with the family if you want to dissuade them! The takeaway is pets take a lot of work, and require a lot of supervision. Gizmo is adorable but this film is scarier than I remembered and has a few dark moments. Still the monsters aren’t too scary and the good guys win.

 

 

Batman Returns
Poster of Batman Returns; Fair Use

For the Superhero crowd: Batman Returns, Iron Man 3

Released: 1992 (Batman Returns); 2013 (Iron Man 3)
Rated: PG-13 (Both)

Do you like your superheroes brooding or brooding at Christmas? Both films feature romance, trauma, falling snow, and pretty twinkling lights. These are my two favorite Not Really Holiday Movies.

 

 

Poster of 12 Monkeys; Fair Use
Poster of 12 Monkeys; Fair Use

For fans of dystopia and psychological thrillers: 12 Monkeys

Released: 1995
Rated: R

Most of the world’s population has succumbed to a plague and the survivors live underground. Bruce Willis is chosen to go back in time on a mission to gather samples, but he decides to stay and try to stop the apocalypse (because he’s Bruce Willis). A melancholy film with twists and turns and Brad Pitt acting crazy. Have a Merry Christmas!

 

Poster of While You Were Sleeping; Fair Use
Poster of While You Were Sleeping; Fair Use

For the Romantics: While You Were Sleeping

Released: 1995
Rated: PG

I adore this film. Sandra Bullock plays a lonely subway worker whose crush ends up in a coma when she saves him from being run over by a train. She’s accidentally misidentified as his fiancee and his family adopts her for the holidays. It’s a sweet little story about found family and perfect for a quiet but festive evening at home.

And of course, there is always Love Actually!

 

Poster of Die Hard; Fair use
Poster of Die Hard; Fair use

For the (Die Hard) Action Lovers: Die Hard

Released: 1988
Rated: R

Die Hard is the Not Really Holiday Movie everybody knows and loves. A classic, I watch it with my brothers and older daughter every Christmas Eve.

If Anika had a million dollars – she’d go back to school for marine biology, sell her house and pack her daughter on to an (internet ready!) boat, and sail the world saving marine life and writing a truly wonderful memoir about being a whale-saving-mommy-on-a-boat. Or she’d get her master's in Clinical Social Work and work as a children’s therapist with an office that features quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland colorfully painted on the wall. Or she’d start her own production company to put out fandom inspired albums, comic book musicals, and fund her Star Wars ballet. But if Anika had a billion dollars, she’d be Batman.