Nothing beats a Christmas movie – at least, at Christmas time. Most people think there is a time and a place for festive movies, and that time is December. But the buzz about the Holidays tends to get earlier each year. It might be the height of summer right now, but just watch as Netflix starts to sneakily add Christmas movies to its line-up with months to go until the Big Day.
Christmas is, of course, a useful thematic tool for movie producers. It can provide a backdrop for the main plot, an architecture for the characters to move around without necessarily being the main aspect of the story. On the other hand, putting Christmas central to the theme is a money-spinner; otherwise, studios wouldn’t do it.
We can point to so many films that are directly about Christmas, like Elf and the Miracle on 34th Street, and even titles like Let it Spin attract players because Christmas is the central theme. Yet, we wanted to pick out five Christmas-themed movies that you could easily enjoy all year round. The point of these movies is that you could remove the Christmas elements, and they would still be great. These five can be enjoyed any time of the year:
- Die Hard
Yes, yes, we are starting with the “Christmas” movie that has become an internet joke. But that’s the point of this list. It’s a moot point as to whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Had it been set in the heart of summer, it would still be one of the best action movies ever made. The John McClane movies spawned several sequels; some good, some awful, but the original remains far superior to the rest. You know the plot, and you’ve likely seen it before, but there is always a good time to rewatch Die Hard.
- It’s a Wonderful Life
For many, watching It’s a Wonderful Life is a tradition every Christmas. Indeed, many television broadcasters schedule it on Christmas Eve. But like Die Hard, It’s a Wonderful Life would work just fine if there were no mentions of the C-word in the film. In fact, it’s not the plot that should draw you into the movie, it’s the towering performance of the brilliant Jimmy Stewart. The icon of the Hollywood Golden Age was so good that you could watch him read the phone book and still find it compelling. He’s great in a movie that is so saccharine you could mix it into your coffee.
A mainstay for those of us brought up in the 1980s, Gremlins has remained charming and funny through the decades. There is something of its time about the movie, as if it could only be created in the 80s. Nonetheless, it mixes horror and humor to brilliant effect. As for the Christmas element, the only need for it is to facilitate the giving of the gift that goes wrong. A funny, silly horror that clocks in at way less than two hours (remember when movies did that?). Stick it on any time of year.
- Bad Santa
Alright. It would be difficult for Bad Santa to exist without the thematic aid of Christmas, given it’s about a cantankerous and almost-nihilistic mall Santa Claus. But the movie is just so funny, thanks to star performances from Billy Bob Thornton and Bett Kelly. While the movie is famed for its black humor – do not let your kids watch this – it has a surprisingly sweet ending. It won’t make you long for Christmas in any sense, but you’ll laugh guiltily all the way through.
- Batman Returns
Perhaps joining Die Hard in the argument of what makes a Christmas movie, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns actually forms part of the director’s unofficial “Dark Christmas Trilogy”, joining Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Batman Returns is arguably the best Batman film not called The Dark Knight, with brilliant performances from Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and (in particular) Danny DeVito. Christmas plays a minor role in the movie, for atmospheric purposes only. But this brilliant sequel has aged well, and it still stands up 30 years later.