“Just once, I’d like a regular, normal Christmas.” — John McClane, Die Hard 2
For whatever reason(s), I have never been a big fan of “classic” Christmas movies (e.g., It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol) Once upon a time, I’m pretty sure I saw It’s A Wonderful Life all the way through; probably some version of A Christmas Carol, too. They are certainly great stories, and I can see the old-timey appeal. Still, I rarely-if-ever have a desire to watch them — especially the black-n-white stuff. I’m just not that sentimental, and I rarely go for “heartwarming”. I don’t care for a lot of what passes for humor these days, either, so National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (or any NL films, for that matter) are off my list. A Christmas Story is a modern classic, but I think I only ever watched part of it. May have to give it another try….
What I have for you today, though, are a few of my favorite genre films that, while not exactly “Christmas movies”, they do take place on or around Christmas. As The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen calls them, they are “Christmas-adjacent” films. The holiday aspects may factor into some scenes, but the plot or “message” is hardly of a Yuletide flavor, either secular or religious. I like them because they are fun, genre flicks, regardless of any Christmas connection.
So,… shall we begin?
Young Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is stranded at home by himself, while his large family goes on Christmas vacation in Europe unknowingly Kevin-less. When two bungling crooks attempt to burglarize the supposedly empty house, they have no idea who or what they’re up against in the mischievously creative 10-year-old. I doubt director Chris Columbus or Fox knew the hit they would have on their hands, either, or the near-iconic status Home Alone (1990) would reach. What a lot of people forget about now, though, is the Christmas link. (I vaguely thought I remembered it but had to verify.) Obviously, this is not exactly sci-fi/fantasy, but it does sort of fit the action-adventure genre (at purely PG levels), which is why I included it in this list. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids or those who already tend to get into trouble, but it is fun for us older kids. Time for me to throw it on the re-watch list!
The (mis)adventures of L.A. cops Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon (1987) surely launched stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover to superstar status. (Although, Gibson had already hit it big with the Mad Max franchise, and Glover had done The Color Purple and a couple other notable films.) It was the first of four movies in the film series, which eventually led to a now-airing TV series. The somewhat eccentric Gary Busey’s role as the formidable villain “Mr. Joshua” probably helped his career, too, for a time. The film is an ’80s action classic and beloved by millions. But, sometimes we forget that the events of the movie occurred around Christmas-time. Remember the wreaths at the police station, and the tree, lights, etc., at Murtaugh’s house? Heck, the music accompanying the opening credits is “Jingle Bell Rock”! Anyway, an awesome, action-packed, genre-defining, Christmas-adjacent buddy-flick!
I love the Rocky films! (Well, less so the last two.) The blood, sweat, and tears, but also the themes of personal growth, perseverence, integrity, redemption, pressing on despite tragedy, etc. Of course, I always get a thrill when good-guy Rocky “rises up” to teach the arrogant “bad guy” a lesson. Finally, the theme music in these films is terrific! (The main theme and “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III are the best!) Of course, Rocky IV (1985) also introduced us to Dolph Lundgren as the towering Soviet fighter Ivan Drago (aka “The Siberian Express”), whose devastating punching power later earned him the nickname “Death from Above”. Not only was the movie a great action-drama, but it served as a fun microcosm for the U.S.A. vs Soviet Union of the late Cold War era. But, let’s not forget that the film’s unsanctioned fight in the Soviet Union took place on Christmas Day, and we can see the decorations at the Balboa home back in the States. Счастливого Рождества!
Keep him out of the light, don’t get him wet, and never, ever feed him after midnight! If ever there was an object lesson for the importance of following instructions, this would be it. Alas, when young Billy got his new pet Mogwai, he wasn’t very careful and, um, bad stuff happened. Namely, he unleashed a horde of diminutive but “malevolently mischievous monsters” on his home town. Naturally, it is all played to comedic effect, even when property is destroyed and people are seriously injured or even (presumably) killed. That’s why the film, which spawned a sequel a few years later, is classified as “Comedy, Fantasy, Horror”. It’s a somewhat unusual mix, but it fits, and it works for this particular adventure in scary-silly violence and wanton destruction. Featured talent include Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Judge Reinhold, Keye Luke, and Hoyt Axton. And, yes, it’s Christmas, as evidenced by, for example, the opening credits over scenes of the holiday-festooned center of town, Christmas trees being bought and decorated, and all accompanied by the sounds of Christmas seasonal tunes. (“Baby, come home…!”)
There was no way I could do this list without including every action fan’s favorite “Christmas movie”, Die Hard (1988). Bruce Willis’ turn as the perpetually-smirking, smart-mouthed, tough-as-nails NYPD cop, John McClane, earned him the love and respect of a generation. It was a role he was made to play, and I’m sure he has (mostly) loved playing him in all five films in the franchise. (There is a rumored sixth on the way, too.) There are also memorable performances by Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, et al., as well. Of course, as fans of the film know, the action begins when McClane flies to L.A. on Christmas vacation to join his wife at her company’s Christmas party. Mayhem ensues when a group of well-armed, yet high-tech, thieves take everyone (except McClane) hostage, while they carry out a major heist. Or, try to, ‘cuz McClane starts kickin’ butt (and punching and shooting everything else) and generally ruining the bad guys’ Christmas. Yippee-ki-yay!! (P.S. The first sequel, Die Hard 2 (1990), is equally entertaining, imho, and also takes place around Christmas. So, consider it packaged in with the original on this list.)
OK, I decided to throw in a couple bonuses that are more… traditional:
I’m not really a Will Ferrell fan. Most of his stuff is just too silly for me. And his “Buddy” character in Elf (2003) is incredibly silly, naive, etc. So, why do I like this movie? Despite it all, “Buddy” is still somehow charming and lovable, as the big-hearted goof who retains the child-like innocence most of us have lost and need to get in touch with again. Or, something like that. Throw in wonderful performances by the enchanting Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Peter Dinklage, and others, and you have a wonderful, feel-good movie for the holidays. (Plus, I just love the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” scene.)
Now, The Nativity Story (2006) is neither action-adventure nor sci-fi/fantasy. (Though, I’m sure some would say the source material is, at least in part, fantasy. I disagree.) However, perhaps the supernatural aspect of the virgin birth and later events in the story of Jesus of Nazareth are sufficient to qualify it here. Still, my appreciation for it lies in that it is one of the most historically accurate and true-to-the-source-material of films based on events described in the Bible. It’s not perfect, but it comes close. It is well-done, and the casting does not suffer from “whitewashing”. Genre fans will also like that it features Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ciarán Hinds, and Alexander Siddig.
There are several more Christmas-adjacent movies, of course, and I’ve even seen and enjoyed a few — e.g., Batman Returns, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Edward Scissorhands, L.A. Confidential, et al. In fact, those five I just mentioned might very well go on the list (though probably not in that order), if I expanded it to a Top 10. What are some of your favorites? (Check out this handy list for some help.)
Oh, yes,… “Welcome to the party, pal!”