Not every holiday movie has to be as sugary sweet as the Christmas cookies you eat. Sick of the classics like Elf or It’s A Wonderful Life and want something completely different? Maybe something a little more appropriate for Santa’s naughty list? Here are a few unconventional Christmas movies, either set during the holiday season or with at least one yuletide scene.
Perhaps the most notorious and most celebrated of unconventional Christmas movies. Die Hard is the king of the obscure action Christmas movie genre. Terrorists overtake a holiday office party, and it’s up to Bruce Willis to stop them. Replace that ho ho ho with a yippee-ki-yay!
Seeking a unique gift for his son, an inventor purchases a cute, fuzzy little “Mogwai” from Chinatown. While Gizmo is adorable, the son doesn’t follow the shopkeeper’s rules, and the cute little creature multiplies. The rest turn evil and wreak havoc in a Norman Rockwell-esque small town at Christmastime. And what better way to celebrate Christmas then by killing a gremlin in a blender? (Juxtapositionally and perfectly set to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” There’s even more anthesis to holiday spirits, as Pheobe Cate’s character muses that the suicide rate is higher around Christmastime, “While everybody else is opening their presents, they’re opening their wrists.” There’s also this harrowing, but also darkly comedic, monologue about how her character discovered there’s no Santa.
No movie blends dark raunchy humor and the magic of Christmas better than Bad Santa, starring Billy Bob Thorton as the potty-mouthed Old Saint Nick impersonator. It’s mean, vulgar, mildly offensive, perfect for the Grinch in everyone!
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a sharp tounge-in-cheek satire and neo-noir homage. The perfect crime caper to celebrate the holidays with. It opens with Robert Downey Jr. robbing a toy story, for the money and for his child’s Christmas wish list. He’s soon whisked into a convoluted adventure on the streets of L.A., with Christmas decorations abound, and ending with Michelle Monaghan in a sexy Santa suit.
If you’re looking for more L.A-centered holiday film noir, look no further than this Academy Award winning classic. This 1950s cop drama takes place after “Bloody Christmas”, a scandal where L.A. police officers assaulted several suspects. Also, Russell Crowe throws Christmas decorations off a roof and beats up a guy, so there’s more yuletide cheer for you.
Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s cold and cerebral examination of marriage during the holiday season. Tom Cruise wanders the streets of New York, illuminated under the bright Christmas lights while having an existential crisis. Brought on after his wife reveals her dreams where she happily commits adultery. It is richly atmospheric, and the multi-colored Christmas trees and strings of lights shine throughout the film, making for gorgeous imagery.
A mumblecore take on the holiday season, as Anna Kendrick visits her brother for the holidays. She ends up doing nothing more than smoking pot, getting blackout drunk. Also distracting her sister-in-law from writing great literature, instead convincing her to write a Fifty Shades of Grey-esque erotic novel. Oh, and almost burning the house down the night before Christmas. This is a low-key holiday dramedy for those seeking something a little more naturalistic.
The beautiful third act of Tim Burton’s classic takes place on Christmas Eve. This gothic fairytale can be dark, but also immensely sweet. The film opens and closes with an older Winona Ryder telling her granddaughter a story, “You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren’t up there now… I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it.” The snow dancing scene is one of the most beautiful sequences in the film. This film probably evokes Christmas magic more so than any other unconventional Christmas movie, but Edward Scissorhands is often overlooked for it’s inner holiday spirit.
Catch Me If You Can
This 60s set caper takes a different turn when the holiday season comes around. FBI Agent Carl Hanratty has been after con artist Frank Abangnale in an elaborate cat-and-mouse chase. Frank calls him on Christmas, to which Carl triumphantly replies “You’re calling me on Christmas because you have no one else to talk to.” The holidays can be a lonely time for people who have no one in their lives. That’s when Hanratty realizes his elusive target is actually a kid runaway. There is a moving scene where Frank visits his mother, sees her with a new family, decorating their Christmas tree in a lavish home, traditions that he will never be a part of.
This is a dark and twisted cult classic, perhaps the ultimate black comedy. Though not really set in the Christmas season, there is a holiday party scene. Reese Witherspoon puts a pair of reindeer antlers on the grumpy Patrick Bateman. “Stop scowling Patrick, you’re such a grinch!” She boasts. Oh if only she knew what kind of Grinch he really was.