5 Christmas Movies for all the Christmas Haters

Christmas, there’s no time of the year quite like it. Except for Easter. Valentine’s Day. Halloween. Thanksgiving. I could go on. Scratch that. Christmas is that time of the year where you are led to believe that Jesus was born so you could waste your hard-earned money on mostly obsolete presents and congregate with every member of your family, where all every one wants to do is go home and talk about how horrible everyone is. Don’t get me wrong, I have only recently began to abhor the idea of Christmas. I do get the idea of ‘giving’, but it all seems too misguided by corporate agendas and exponential profit. While I do not mean to offend anyone, if you are getting sick of seeing It’s a Wonderful Life every year, here are 5 movies which may expose a new side of the ‘Christmas spirit’ which you may not have seen before.

5. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Aykroyd as Louis Winthorpe III
Dan Aykroyd as Louis Winthorpe III

This might be one of the most pro-capitalist films ever, but it is also a comedy classic. The message that this movie ends on is like the antithesis of that of Robin Hood. While it is hard to argue that this is a straight-up Christmas movie, it is hard to leave it off the list, when it shows the absolute worst of capitalism (or rather capitalism at its best). Dan Aykroyd is Louis Winthorpe III, a wealthy managing director of a commodity brokerage who does not know what real work is. Eddie Murphy is Billy Ray Valentine, a homeless con-man pretending to be crippled and blind to get money off the Philadelphia streets. The two accidentally bump into each other, while Louis thinks he is trying to steal his briefcase. Rather than pressing charges, the owners of the brokerage make a bet that they could make Billy Ray as successful a managing director as Louis and make Louis turn to crime and squalor.

This may be Aykroyd’s best performance and definitely Murphy’s most subtle. However, this movie undoubtedly supports the very essence of Christmas or commercialism; that money and financial superiority corrupts everything. Billy Ray becomes instantaneously selfish and desperate to make the most profit as possible and protective of things which he did not earn.  On the other hand, Louis crashes hard and it is with him where we see the true meaning of Christmas, as he finds help and eventually love from a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis). However, the film really takes another backflip, as Louis and Billy Ray take down the owners by beating them at their own game, tricking them out of all their money. Then, the film ends not with them giving up their fortune for a simple life, but living in luxury, perfectly happy, despite the arcs they went through during the first half.

The scene which most subverts typical Christmas movie scenes is Louis, dressed up in a dishevelled Santa Claus costume, stealing food from a party at his former job and threatening his former bosses and Billy Ray with a gun. While there are some brilliant set-pieces, it lets itself down in the ideological potential within the premise. Rather than truly analyse the origins and results of the ‘nature versus nurture’ theory, ultimately, it is the epitome of true capitalism. As long as you can cheat and charm, regardless of other’s feelings, whether it be in the stock exchange or for that last game console, you can end up happy on a isolated island.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Jack dressed up as 'Sandy Claws'
Jack dressed up as ‘Sandy Claws’

Like with most of Tim Burton’s projects, there really isn’t much of a point to this film. But, at least, it is consistently fun. It is easier to call this the perfect anti-Christmas film, because it is more of a Halloween movie. Taking place in ‘Halloween Town’, some sort of world in between the human worlds among worlds of all holidays. The leader, Jack Skellington is becoming sick of the routine of Halloween, wishing for a deeper meaning in his life. In a depressed trance, he accidentally comes across the portals to other worlds and enters ‘Christmas Town’. He consequently becomes obsessed in wonder at the foreign concepts of Christmas, even going so far to get the town to take over Christmas. By kidnapping Santa Claus from ‘Christmas Town’, he gives children demonic toys, which begin to attack the children.

First of all, it is a musical, with the majority of dialogue being sung in similar, Broadway-like songs, where exposition is hidden in nice, little ditties, which you gradually get used to. Secondly, it is animated via stop-motion, and the shot composition is really something to behold. Beyond its visual beauty, however, like most musicals, there isn’t enough substance in the premise to justify the length. At its centre, it appears to be about Jack’s search for happiness and love in the ugly and evil world which he inhabits. Yet, it is all filled with songs which do not progress his own arc, but rather are static, like writing a song called ‘This is What I am Thinking’ or ‘I Just Realised Something’. Bar ‘This is Halloween’, the songs are just distractions from what little the story has to offer.

Yet, there is a lot of cynical cheer to be found throughout this film, especially where Jack tries to find out the meaning of Christmas via scientific experimentation. However, where the film really shines in the sequence where Jack hands out the presents. There is nothing quite like seeing a child running away in terror from their presents. More than that, the film, like so many others does not try to confront Christmas as similar to Halloween or born from fear, but rather shoehorns a villain, a love interest and a final kiss scene. While one can interpret that ‘Halloween Town’ discovers happiness through snow and Jack discovers love after barely getting to know Sally, the film, as a whole, leaves you empty. Still, for the few subversive scenes and the innovative use of stop-motion animation, it is worth a watch for those who hate the idea of presents.

3. Toys (1992)

Leslie and Leland Zevo having to wait
Leslie and Leland Zevo having to wait

Toys is a truly underrated film and a beautiful ride which glances at the essence of Christmas; innocence. This wacky Robin Williams vehicle, directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man), is so 90’s it hurts, as we enter Zevo Toys, a surreal, other-worldly toy company. Its creator then dies, handing over the reins to his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon). Despite having a British accent (don’t ask), he emanates American nationalism, and applies his regimented leadership to the free and fun nature of the factory. Leslie Zevo (Williams), on the other hand, is a chip off the old block, a creative inventor and an advocate for the childish. As is inevitable, the General takes over, forcing a dictatorial open military, using toys as a method for death.

While the film does contain the usual Robin Williams schtick, an unnecessary love interest (Robin Wright) and a somewhat outrageous ending, it is utterly beautiful. No matter how silly it gets, any film buff has got to appreciate the set design, shot composition, and music, despite its clichés. Often taking inspiration from the art of Rene Magritte, and, in one brilliant sequence, Talking Heads, it surprisingly creates its own mostly believable world. Mind you, this is a world where it is normal to sleep in a bed shaped like a massive duck, dress up in clip-on doll’s clothes and where LL Cool J is Michael Gambon’s son.

However, more than being a visual spectacle, Toys comes so close to being more meaningful than your typical ‘good overcoming the powers of bad’ story. Surprisingly, this film predicted the use of drones by the military, as General Zevo comes up with the idea of exploiting the dexterity of kids brought up on arcade games to unknowingly attack far-away cities. It is here where the film goes from being whimsical to being anti-war. Not only is it anti-war, but anti-commercialism and exposes Christmas and innocence as being slowly corrupted by authority and nationalism. However, in the film’s final act, it commits a baffling ideological backflip, when you see Leslie repeatedly punching his uncle in the film’s climax. The conclusion does kill the film, as it suddenly turns from a deep commentary on the obscuring of typical Christmas values to a battle exactly like every other action movie.

Despite its several downfalls from unnecessary plotlines, hammy acting from Williams and LL Cool J and a contradictory ending, this film is a hidden gem of the early 90’s, which could please both kids and adults. It comes the closest to being true to the meaning of Christmas, a time period where all are allowed to return to innocence, where happiness and fun are pure and unadulterated by the world of adults.

2. Bad Santa (2003)

Willie in his element
Willie in his element

Meet Willie (Billy Bob Thornton): a very unprofessional thief, who, along with his partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), steal from department stores by working as Santa and an elf at different cities every year. However, Willie is a chronic alcoholic, sex addict and is depressed about where his life has ended up, after years of supposed abuse from his father. This year, they end up in Pheonix, Arizona, where the manager (John Ritter) and the security chief (Bernie Mac, who is hilarious) become suspicious of their activities. Willie befriends a boy who believes he is the real deal, and with a father in jail, he exploits the boy’s innocence and his senile grandmother.

Nobody hates Christmas more than Willie, as is made obvious by his excessive drinking to obscure his pathetic situation. However, the central arc is his relationship with the kid, who makes the most out of his less than perfect life, by trying to find a friend in Santa Claus. Although Christmas is depicted as a financial venture through the eyes of the adults, once again, it is the purity of the view of children which creates the true meaning of the film; that as long as you have loved ones, money and possessions do not matter.

This movie is much more than an adult black comedy, but comes close to being a meaningful tale of redemption. However, like all the movies on this list, it just misses that point. It eventually tells the audience that you can solve any problem by either admitting to your wrongdoings or hitting someone in the balls. Perhaps, looking for some meaning in this movie is misguided, but, despite a beautiful last act, it just seems that Willie learns nothing. Yet, this movie ultimately displays Christmas as not a time for growth, but re-evaluation and new beginnings from the climax of the commercial, physical and emotional cycle.

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

The Griswold family
The Griswold family

Forget about It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the ultimate Christmas movie. Not only a Christmas staple, but a comedy classic, this shows Christmas at its absolute worst. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), (Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and a young Johnny Galecki) takes his Christmas very seriously, dragging along his family (Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and a young Johnny Galecki) for the ride. However, nothing seems to go right as Clark tries desperately to make this Christmas perfect, despite living with the rest of the family who hate each other and his wife’s cousin’s husband Eddie (Randy Quaid) constantly messing it up.

However, it is hard to pick what message about Christmas this film is trying to convey. It seems that it says that if you do stupid, illegal things, everything will always turn out fine in the end. In addition, there is not much of a plot, just several unrelated comedic sequences. Regardless, the film is not about leaving you with something to ponder, but is really a satire of the idea of the modern Christmas, as exemplified in the Christmas Eve dinner. It explores exactly how Christmas strains the family dynamic, a time where people can air their grievances or sit silently, and then talk about them behind their back afterwards. It eventually becomes a parody of Christmas movies in the final scene, as Clark’s sappy, well-meaning monologue about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ being the ‘Christmas star’ is interrupted when told it is the light of the sewage treatment plant.

Despite it being devoid of a real problem for Clark to solve, this movie is full of laughs, while also poking fun at the superficial and commercial nature of Christmas, with Clark spending hours to light up his house, travel for many hours to find the perfect Christmas tree and getting a pool. While it may not be the perfect family Christmas movie, it should be a Christmas tradition, which presents the holiday season in its basest form: people yelling at each other to feel better about themselves, as well as get stuff they don’t need.

To reiterate, I do not wish to incite any hatred for any anti-capitalist or anti-religion sentiments. While all bias is included, I have evaluated the movies on their subversive views on these ideological systems, rather than perpetuating the usual Christmas movie. Merry Christmas (or if you hate it, Merry Festivus) and a Happy New Year!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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My name is Matthew Sims and I am a third-year journalism student at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. I am passionate about film, television, gaming, literature.

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38 Comments

  1. You forgot the Best of them all… ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS!!!!

  2. My favorite are:
    1. Christmas Vacation
    2. A Christmas Story
    3. Everything Else

    Oh, and Muppets Christmas with Sesame St. is way better than the Christmas Carol one.

    • Philip Nano
      0

      My favourite CHRISTMAS films are:
      Jingle All The Way
      The Santa Clause 1 & 2
      Christmas With The Kranks
      Elf
      Disney’s Once Upon a Christmas (quite sweet really, especially with kids)
      Miracle on 34th Street
      Bad Santa (happy to see it in this list)

      • Matthew Sims

        Have to love Elf, although the ending is very silly, never seen Miracle on 34th Street(blasphemy, I’m sure), need to get on some essential Christmas viewing, it seems.

    • LITHELLS
      0

      No matter what anyone says these are must watch christmas films:
      1. Die hard
      2. Elf
      3. Jingle all the way
      4. Scrooge
      5. A muppet’s Christmas Carol
      6. Santa Clause
      7. Santa Clause 2
      8, Santa Clause 3
      9. It’s a wonderful Life
      10. Die Hard 2
      11. The Grinch
      12. Polar Express

      • Matthew Sims

        Considered seeing Jingle All the Way for this list, but didn’t get around to it, have never seen Scrooge, or a Muppets Christmas Carol. Agree with all the others, although I’m not too sure about Santa Clause 3 (even though I have never seen it, just because I know there’s Jack Frost as the bad guy).

      • Lucas Stokes
        0

        Great list…. Love them all. Here’s a couple more that’d be on my list.

        Home Alone 1&2
        The Santa Clause
        Jingle All The Way
        A Wish For Wings That Work
        Polar Express
        The Grinch (Both)
        Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
        The Snowman
        Mickey’s Christmas Carol
        Goof Troop Christmas
        Die Hard
        Gremlins
        The Year Without A Santa Claus
        Charlie Brown Christmas
        …..just a few.

        im a sucker for these damn things

    • Matthew Sims

      I wanted to see ‘A Christmas Story’, as I had never seen it before, but couldn’t find it at my local video store. Also, haven’t seen any Muppets Christmas things, sorry.

  3. Bad Santa is quality… This and the original Home Alone….and the grinch!

    • Matthew Sims

      I considered including the Grinch, but the ending was too happy and pro-Christmas to do so. Home Alone 1 and 2 are Christmas classics in my book too.

  4. Leticia Schultz
    0

    From my list of annual viewing, I’d add such classics as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and two very personal favorites of mine: Mickey’s Christmas Carol (with Uncle Scrooge!) and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. All have their own brand of Christmas message to cheer one’s heart. Merry Christmas, everybody!
    – Leticia

    • Matthew Sims

      Have never seen Lethal Weapon, considered watching Gremlins for this list, A Charlie Brown Christmas was very good, but a bit too sappy at the end, have never seen the animated Grinch before (must get onto it). Have never heard or seen the Mickey ones, sorry. Merry Christmas!

  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas was released two days before Halloween (on my 10th birthday =P ). The vast majority of the film takes place in Halloween town and revolves around Halloween themed characters. The themes that govern the story are not those normally associated with Christmas. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the best children’s films ever made and a personal favorite, but it is not a “Christmas Movie.”

    • Matthew Sims

      I would have to agree with you, yet, nor did it advocate any pro-Halloween sentiments. Maybe I have lost that childish wonder, but it just seemed like another love-story/bad guy story, covered in nice animation, pointless songs and a protagonist with barely any arc at all. It was still nice, though.

  6. Connie Kelley
    0

    I always make sure to watch ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’. Everyone can watch it wether you love or hate Xmas, and have a laugh. 🙂

  7. What the fuck. Who watches christmas movies, drunk with their friends?

  8. Taylor Ramsey

    Toys is easily one of my favorites, Christmas or not, but I cannot fault the number one on the list.
    Nice article, thanks!

  9. Die Hard = Best Christmas Movie

    • Die hard=great movie, not a Christmas movie. Sorry, just because it takes place around Christmas time, does not make it a Christmas movie. Get over it!

  10. Kathryn Talbot

    Hmm, must admit I was a bit turned off my the negativity at the beginning there. There are a lot of religious and capitalist issues surrounding Christmas, but it seems a little harsh to say they people don’t like being with their families and that presents are needless. It seems more of a personal opinion than a stated fact.

    However, I really do love Nightmare Before Christmas! There is always that issue of whether to watch it on Halloween or Christmas- we usually end up doing both!

    • Matthew Sims

      I sincerely apologise for any offense taken from this article. I considered just doing a straight-out top 10 Christmas movies, and write it objectively, but I felt I wanted to do something different. I regret inserting my anti-everything diatribe, but I don’t think it would be possible to make this list without stating why Christmas is or should be hated. In retrospect I should have cut down the introduction to a simple statement that Christmas is often taxing, because of the extreme amount of organisation and over-eating that must take place. Once again, I am sorry that you disliked the tone I took, but I was trying to rush it before it would be too late to publish. I promise my next article will be more up to the objective and academic standards to which this publication upholds.
      It would be hard to choose, both seems reasonable.

  11. Gwendolyn
    0

    I’d have to say that Home Alone is my most memorable childhood Christmas movie. This and Toy Story as well.

    • Matthew Sims

      Home Alone is a must-watch classic, I must agree. I see where you are coming from with Toy Story, but, really, only the end takes place during Christmas, yet it does promote the themes of corrupted innocence and growing up quite well.

  12. Michelle Webb

    Love Actually? Haha! This is a great article, nicely put for the festive season! Thanks for a great read, and Merry Christmas.

    • Matthew Sims

      Love Actually would have to be one of my biggest guilty pleasures during Christmas, but it was too soppy and perfect to put on this list. Hope you had a very merry Christmas, and thank you for your comment.

  13. Kevin Licht

    Scrooged would be a good one for this particular list I think. You can’t really go wrong with Bill Murray, can you? It would be a good contrast with It’s a Wonderful Life since it’s a take on the Christmas Carol with a very different attitude.

    • Matthew Sims

      Haven’t seen it, yet, I just thought it was the original Christmas Carol, but with Bill Murray, but I guess I will have to give it a watch next year.

  14. KeshiaLynn13

    I watched Bad Santa when I was much younger and remember being mortified by the state of the movie, and now years later I adore it. I think it’s better to have Christmas movies that are truer to life rather than the cheesy, melodramtic, ends with a spinning kiss scene stuff that is shown today.

  15. Joe Foster

    Trading Places, a hugely underrated Christmas comedy! Great film! Die Hard deserves a mention and Gremlins too! Nice article.

    • Matthew Sims

      Once again, I considered Die Hard, but it’s hard to advocate it as an anti-Christmas or anti-commercialism film. Rather, it is an anti-capitalist film which happens to take place during Christmas, but it is, at its heart, a straight-up action flick. Haven’t seen Gremlins in a while, probably would have made No. 6.

  16. Alice Bishop

    Great list and perspective. Brazil is my favourite Christmas film. I also think it fits in nicely with the theme of anti-Christmas movies, the ending couldn’t be more grim ! I still cannot get my head around the Love Actually hype, if it wasn’t a Christmas film it would have been discarded long ago with many other trashy rom-coms.

    • Matthew Sims

      Have to watch Brazil again, although I don’t remember it having to do that much with Christmas, bar the guy at the end dressed up as Santa. The world is divided into three categories; those that love Richard Curtis films, those that hate them and those that consider them a necessary evil. I succumb to the third.

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