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!
For the Kids: Jumanji
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.
For the More Sarcastic Kids: The Addams Family
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.
For the Horror Fans: The Mothman Prophecies
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.
For the More Cuddly Horror Fans: Gremlins
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.
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.
For fans of dystopia and psychological thrillers: 12 Monkeys
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!
For the Romantics: While You Were Sleeping
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!
For the (Die Hard) Action Lovers: Die Hard
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.