In the decades since folks in Hollywood began making movies, a certain number have been specific for the Christmas season. Up until the recent two or three decades, defining a “Christmas” movie was relatively straight forward. It had to be set during the holiday season, of course, usually involved some sort of magic (ie-Santa), was sappily emotional, focused on family, probably contained lots of snow, and always ended on a happy note with the entire town singing Joy to the World. I am being a bit cheeky, but essentially that was the standard formula for a true, indisputable Christmas movie.
As movie genres shifted, especially with movie makers and screenwriters taking chances with edgier or more real-life themes, the clear-cut distinction of precisely what classifies as a holiday movie have blurred. Movies such as Bad Santa and Gremlins, for instance, or our family favorite Die Hard, are excellent examples of not-so-traditional Christmas movies that, nevertheless, are within the genre. Be sure to read my blog about Die Hard, which posted today.
As the author of a 2018 article on Project Derailed put it:
The easiest way to classify these films is define them as “Christmas adjacent” or “incidentally Christmas.” Christmas adjacent movies are films that engage with Christmas in multiple ways. Normally, they’re set during Christmas, show a great deal of Christmas iconography (Christmas trees, Santa, etc), play at least one Christmas song, and implement at least one Christmas movie trope–usually dysfunctional families or returning home for Christmas.
I happen to agree with most of what is said in the above article. My only quibble is IN the quibbling over categorizing! In my opinion, if themes of love and family are central, and the movie is set at least in part during Christmas, it is fine to label it a “Christmas movie” and just be done with the debate. Little Women is a great example of what I mean. Not a movie or novel set exclusively at Christmas, obviously, but the drama begins at Christmas time with the familiar themes setting the stage for the entire story. Does that make it a firm “Christmas movie”? I would admit not, but can anyone argue that watching any version of Little Women would not ignite the Spirit of Christmas? Speaking of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, a new version of Little Women is releasing this Christmas!
With those broad distinctions clarified, at least as I see it, there are so many fabulous holiday-themed movies made over the decades since cinematic film-making began. Movies for the family, movies with humor, movies of faith, movies full of sentimentality, movies with romance, movies starring Santa Claus, movies with edginess or dark humor, movies with Christmas as a setting for the drama, movies filmed with live action, movies animated in some fashion, and on it goes. One could watch three or four movies a day beginning on December 1 and still never see ALL of the choices!
Below are those movies which top my personal favorite list. They are in no particular order, other than the first 6 being the most recent releases for the Christmas season. I really could list many more, especially with my more liberal interpretation of the genre and the many versions of some classic stories, but one has to stop somewhere! I even added Mary Poppins Returns, which was released over Christmas in 2018, simply because it was so good and while not remotely about Christmas itself, the themes of love, family, sacrifice, and magic are central. I also only noted major theatrical releases. Never forget that the Hallmark channel is replete with sappy Christmas movies, many of them romantic. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other online movie providers have literally hundreds of such options.
And even a few more. . .
Carrie Pilby (2017)
Christmas With the Cranks (2004)
Four Christmases (2008)
The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
Jack Frost (1998)
Holiday Affair (1949)
The Family Stone (2005)
Just Friends (2005)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
Meet Me in Saint Louis (1944)
Edward Scissorhands (2001)
The Best Man Holiday (2015)
Bad Santa (2003)
Trading Places (1983)
Babes in Toyland (1961 and 1934)
Mixed Nuts (1994)
Despite this extensive list, I have surely missed many others.
Do you have any favorite Christmas season movies I didn’t mention?
Share your movie-viewing traditions!