By the end of every holiday season I’m pretty sick of hearing that Ralphie will shoot his eye out, and I’m more than well aware that a bell means an angel gets its wings. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets tired of these so-called classics. They’re so overplayed it’s sometimes easy to forget there are other options out there—movies that are arguably better, or at the very least less played out.
If you’re setting up your projector for a holiday film festival with your family, consider adding some of these movies to your list. They’re options that might not spring instantly to mind when you think about the Christmas season—or, at the very least, movies that don’t play 24/7 (on any channels we’re aware of).
Batman Returns (1992)
This entry from the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton era of the Batman franchise not only features the villain tag-team of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the Penguin (Danny DeVito), it also happens to take place during Gotham’s Christmas season, answering the question of what superheroes do for the holidays (the answer is apparently mope in front of the fireplace until there’s more crime to fight).
If you’re thinking about the more recent Christopher Nolan Batman movies, you’re probably wondering how any film in the franchise can fit into the holiday spirit. Michael Keaton’s Batman has a slightly more jovial demeanor than Christian Bale’s, though, and while this movie is a bit warped (and maybe not the best holiday film for the kids) it’s permeated by Burton’s famous dark humor, making it a fun and different choice for the holidays.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Speaking of Tim Burton, here’s a cult Claymation classic that should definitely make its way onto your holiday watch list. In this movie’s world, each major holiday has its own town where all the figures go the rest of the year. Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, is just trying to bring some cheer back to his people when he discovers Christmas Town. Unfortunately, his discovery of this jolly world leads to the kidnapping of Santa Claus, putting Jack and his creepy cohorts in charge of Christmas.
If you find yourself getting a bit sick of the relentless cheer surrounding the holidays, watching the Halloween crew try to do Christmas is a nice palate cleanser. As an added bonus there are a few musical numbers that will help you get rid of those Christmas carol earworms.
Love Actually (2003)
There’s so many things going on in this 2003 rom-com that it’s easy to forget it all happens the week before Christmas. That makes it a perfect film for a holiday watch list because it gives you everything you want out of a feel-good holiday movie without hitting you over the head with carols and tinsel.
What I love about Love Actually is how the interweaving storylines each look at a different form or aspect of love. There’s family love in Daniel (Liam Neeson), a stepfather left as the sole caretaker of his dead wife’s son; unrequited love in Mark (Andrew Lincoln) a man desperately in love with his best friend’s fiancée; and even jilted love in Karen (Emma Thompson), a long-married woman forced to face her husband’s affair—all forms of the emotion you don’t expect to find in the genre. By the end, of course, it’s all wrapped up with a happy bow and a Christmas themed rock’n’roll comeback to keep everyone in the holiday spirit.
Horror fans don’t only deserve love on Halloween. A family argument makes Max (Emjay Anthony) disillusioned with Christmas. This summons the ancient demon Krampus, who shows up around the holidays to punish those who lack holiday spirit. Once Krampus comes, Max and his family are forced to fight to survive an array of holiday-themed horrors.
Most Christmas-themed horror movies are on the extra-cheesy side—and don’t get us wrong; Krampus doesn’t take itself too seriously. While it’s a bit light on the blood and gore end of things (for horror fans, at least) it does have a couple of good scares, along with a surprisingly positive message of anti-materialism and the true meaning of Christmas—a lot more than you’ll get from other flicks with a scary Santa.
Bad Santa (2003)
There’s something inherently a little bit off about mall Santas in general. Put Billy Bob Thornton in the iconic red suit and you have the perfect figure to represent the titular character. Thornton plays Willie Soke, an alcoholic mall Santa who ends each season by robbing the store. The main opposition to his plans this year comes in the form of a store detective played by Bernie Mac. The interplay between the two is priceless.
I’ll admit I didn’t expect this movie to be all that funny—and I was pleasantly surprised. It helps that the Coen brothers were un-credited cowriters on the script, helping to give the dialogue that extra punch. This might not be one you want to bring out when the kids are around, but for the adults in the family it’s a fun romp that goes great with a few glasses of egg nog.
In Bruges (2008)
If you’re more of an action movie fan, In Bruges is a movie you’ll definitely want to add to your rotation—and it’s a pretty hilarious comedy, to boot. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, hitmen sent to Bruges to lay low after a bystander is killed during their most recent job. They kill time sightseeing while they wait for their new orders, setting off a hilarious sequence of events.
This is one of the rare Christmas-adjacent films that definitely benefits from being viewed on a big screen (Check this guide of affordable 1080p projectors costing less than $500) The shots of the idyllic city are beautiful and the action is even better when you can get really immersed in them. There’s some surprising depth to this film, too—a kind of existential angst that a lot of people will identify in the midst of the holiday craziness.
A new take on tradition
Most of us grew up watching certain movies around the holidays, and while tradition is a strong part of the season, there’s no reason you have to keep watching the same films every year. There are tons of great holiday movies out there, so it hardly seems fair the same half-dozen tend to get all the attention. Start a new tradition in your family with