We all love the Christmas Classics: Elf, Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, A Christmas story, etc, but what about those regular movies that are actually Christmas movies?
They might not appear to be a Christmas movie, but at their core: they are still Christmas movies.
There’s the obvious one that we’ll get to in a second, but there are several others connected to the 1980s that need to be in the conversation. Some are quite obvious. And others need a little deeper digging–but all the signs are there.
What Are the Prerequisites For a Movie to Actually be a Christmas Movie?
The obvious ones are that they should set the movie at Christmas. It should also contain Christmas music. From there, it’s about exploring Christmas themes. They might not load the movie with Christmas imagery and music, but the essence of the holiday is still at its core.
A great modern version of this is Iron Man 3. This movie is as much a Charles Dickens Christmas Carol as it is an MCU film. Tony Stark can represent Ebeneezer Scrooge in this film, and he plays a ghost of Christmas future when he encounters that young kid. This kid may as well represent Tony when he was younger as he tries to teach him a valuable lesson.
Iron Man 3 also explores loneliness–which is heightened at the holidays–and it is ultimately about someone who is going through hardships and coming out the other side to see the error of his ways.
But don’t take my word for it; that last line comes from Marvel.com which considers Iron Man 3 to be a Christmas classic.
So that’s the basic prerequisites that are required. And if you look at filmmakers and studios, it makes sense to give your movie a Christmas undertone to it. That way, you’re more likely to create a longer-lasting film that is seen year after year.
If you take a formulaic movie: a heist movie, action, thriller, rom-com, etc, but give it a Christmas twist, you could have a longer-lasting classic instead of something that quickly fades away.
So with all this in mind, let’s look at 6 movies that are actually Christmas movies.
1. Die Hard
Let’s just get this out of the way or else we’ll be here for weeks. Die Hard IS a Christmas movie (official confirmation coming in just a second.)
But let’s just look at the obvious: Die Hard is set on Christmas Eve, features Christmas music, and even finishes on a cheery, Christmas note.
Die Hard is the perfect example of taking a formulaic movie (action) and plugging it into the holiday season. The movie was a big enough hit that it would have stood on its own, but was there possibly a bit of trepidation from its creators to distinguish it against all the other action/adventure movies of the 80s?
Either way, they went the Christmas route and even explored some holiday themes:
- It explores love and connection, which are heightened during the holiday season. There is the love John has for his wife and family, and then there is the goodwill to men reflected in his bond with Al
- It has a classic Scrooge in Hans Gruber out for himself and to ruin things for everyone else, but John is here to spread joy and cheer
- It explores the war on Christmas, and how hard the holiday season can be for many
Even if you hate the idea of Die Hard being a Christmas movie, the ultimate word comes from one writer of Die Hard, Seven de Souza. In an interview with Time Magazine, de Souza states that both he and fellow writer Jeb Stuart crafted Die Hard as a Christmas movie.
Now we can all move on…
If you ask me, Gremlins is more of a legitimate Christmas movie than “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Both explore some pretty dark themes, but Gremlins actually captures more about the Christmas season.
Gremlins is also a straight-up Christmas movie; there are Christmas songs, snow, decorations, and tons of holiday imagery. Even the red and green color scheme of the Gremlins represents Christmas.
But Gremlins is not a happy and joyous Christmas film: it explores the other side of the coin. Gremlins represent a few things:
1. Christmas has become a commercial juggernaut. The Gremlins themselves represent what happens when commercialism gets out of control. They represent the ugliness of the holidays that have tried to take over the true meaning of Christmas. The Gremlins run amok in the same way commercialism has run amok.
2. Gremlins represents how difficult the holiday season can be for everyone. We all love the classic feel-good Christmas movies, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Instead of having holiday cheer rammed down our throats, Gremlins takes a different approach. The movie explores how this can be a difficult time of year for many people. Just look no further than the horrifying story told by Kate of how she discovered there wasn’t a Santa Claus.
Gremlins isn’t an anti-Christmas movie–at all. It just looks to explore the other Christmas themes that we tend to push to the side. I think this makes it unique and more people should appreciate it as a true Christmas movie.
I’ve got a blog that goes much more in-depth about all this if you want to check it out here.
3. Batman Returns
Batman Returns came out in the early 90s, but still has a connection to the 80s. It is the follow-up to the great 1989 Batman and takes place not too long after. It’s the perfect example of a classic movie that’s actually a Christmas movie.
If you haven’t seen this movie in a while, it really is one of the best comic book movies ever made. In a pre-CGI era, we get to see much more craftsmanship in the sets and models. Since it’s a Tim Burton film, it has a wonderful, Gothic tone and feel to it. Gotham City looks incredible, and the film looks like it was lifted straight from the pages of a comic book.
When it comes to Christmas, Batman Returns takes a similar approach to Gremlins. It’s not anti-Christmas, but also explores some of the tougher themes that can appear quite dark. But ultimately, the movie ends on a note of hope.
First off, the movie is set right during Christmas. Throughout the whole movie, we see snow, Christmas decorations, and Christmas music. This should be enough right there to cement it as a Christmas movie. But wait, there’s more!
Here are some of the Christmas themes explored in Batman Returns:
- The Penguin represents a Christ-like figure, coming back 33 years later. The same age Jesus is supposed to be in the bible
- The obvious connection between the biblical Christmas story with Penguin planning to kill the first-born sons of Gotham in the same way Herod did
- Batman and Catwoman being the gifts to Gotham to rid the city of evil
The movie ends on that more upbeat note where Bruce Wayne wishes Alfred a merry Christmas, and goodwill to men–and women…
4. Rocky IV
A movie that’s actually a Christmas movie that you probably never even thought of as a Christmas movie. OK, that one hurt my head, but Rocky IV still deserves to be in the mix.
The first thing to look at is Rocky IV was based during Christmas and was released during the Christmas season. It came out on November 27, 1985. 1985 may be the best year of the entire decade, and I wrote an article all about that here.
Besides being set at Christmas, the final fight–the showdown with Ivan Drago–takes place on Christmas day.
There’s also Rocky training to lead up to Christmas. He prepares for the fight through Halloween and Thanksgiving to get him up to the big day. And when the movie ends, Rocky looks into the camera to wish his son back home a Merry Christmas.
5. Ghostbusters 2
Ghostbusters 2 never gets mentioned in the conversation about movies that are actually Christmas movies, but it should be at the top of the list.
It was hard to follow up the gigantic original, and I think Ghostbusters 2 is OK–just not mind-blowing. It didn’t make nearly as much money as the original and cost twice as much.
Ghostbusters 2 came out in June 1989, so many people never regarded it as falling into the Christmas category. Christmas isn’t specially mentioned in the film, but the events take us up to New Year’s Eve.
Along with that, there are Christmas decorations present throughout the movie. What we have lost through the years is that Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd intended this to be a holiday movie. The problem is, the script went through so many rewrites because of studio demands that it looked much different from its original intent.
However, that Christmas connection is still there. The ultimate premise of Ghostbusters is about bringing hope: and that’s clear in this movie, too. This is why the movie culminates at New Year, as this is the time of year when hope is at its highest.
Despite all the changes to the script, that holiday theme of hope and positivity remained.
6. Lethal Weapon
If Die Hard is the grandfather of whether or not a movie is a Christmas movie, Lethal Weapon is at least a great-nephew.
Die Hard has shouldered this Christmas movie burden for so long, and somehow, Lethal Weapon has got off scot-free. But it is definitely part of the conversation.
Die Hard may be a bit more obvious with the connection, but Lethal Weapon is still about having selfless devotion and the importance of a person’s commitment to family. The character of Martin Riggs is going through the same turmoil that characters in other Christmas classics have.
Riggs isn’t the happiest Elf-on-the-shelf, and it’s causing him grief during the holiday season. This is the same thing Scrooge, John McClane, George Bailey, hell; even Buddy the Elf go through.
Like all these other characters, everything Martin Riggs goes through makes him a changed–and better–person in the end.
So that’s the big themes of Lethal Weapon, but don’t forget, this movie has a lot of Christmas imagery:
- The movie opens to “Jingle Bell Rock”
- There’s a big action sequence in the middle of a Christmas tree lot (you may see this referenced in the Hawkeye series)
- Riggs spends Christmas with the Murtaugh family
Lethal Weapon was actually the movie that influenced Die Hard to become a Christmas-based film. And producer Joel Silver–who was involved in both Die Hard and Lethal Weapon–has said he liked the idea of basing these films at Christmas because of the yearly residual checks that come with it.
So basically, Lethal Weapon walked so Die Hard could run…
Wrapping it Up
I’m sure you have your regular favorite Christmas movies. If you’re like me, you also include a few movies that are actually Christmas movies each holiday season. I regularly watch Gremlins, and Batman Returns right alongside other staples such as Christmas Vacation and Rudolph.
If you haven’t seen any of these in a while, it’s time to start looking at them in more of a Christmas light.
Speaking of the 1980s and holidays, check out my guide to some of the best 1980s gifts you can still buy today on Amazon.