The way I see it, there are three distinct types of Christmas movies.
1 – The cheesy romance/Hallmark Christmas movie
I’m talking about the type of movie that quite often features a woman who returns to her hometown for whatever reason and ends up falling in love with a man though not without some setbacks and misunderstandings. This is the type of movie that is generally made for TV and is shown in the afternoons or on a dedicated Christmas movies channel.
The movies are usually low budget and quite often feature some terrible casting choices. One I recently watched, featured a leading lady who barely looked over the age of 14 but we’re supposed to believe that she is a seasoned historical romance novelist. The two love interests usually have zero chemistry and are quite often quite mediocre in terms of looks (yeah, I know, looks aren’t everything but they are meant to be in these kinds of movies).
The rest of the characters are usually upbeat and can spot the blossoming romance way before the main characters. The writing and direction are okay but nothing special.
Every now and then, a gem of a movie pops up but mostly, they’re something to watch when you want some mindless Christmas cheer.
2 – Any movie with Santa Claus/Father Christmas or specifically centred on Christmas
Ef, The Santa Claus, Santa Claus the Movie, Arthur Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street – all examples of this kind of movie. These are the kind of movies that I play every year as, for me, they make me feel festive. If anything, it’s about the only thing I look forward to in the Christmas season. They’re feel-good movies and a wonderful form of escapism.
These movies are the type that the whole family can enjoy. For the adults, if you’re anything like me, you get transported back to that magical feeling that you used to have as a kid around Christmas time. They feature many wonderful interpretations of Santa and usually centre around our heroes helping to save Christmas in some way. When the weather outside is cold and miserable, and the nights are dark and long, a Christmas movie of this type will warm your heart.
3 – Those movies that have some sort of Christmas connection and usually cause arguments about whether they are a Christmas Movie or not
I’m talking about Die Hard and Gremlins. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie as it was set at Christmas? There’s no Santa Claus and no cheezy romance. It’s not exactly a feel-good movie so does it deserve the status of a Christmas movie?
I was confused when someone mentioned that Gremlins was a Christmas movie. I had never considered it a Christmas movie before but the tenuous link is that it is set at Christmas. Home Alone, however, while again it is set at Christmas, does feel more like a Christmas movie to me. There are some feel-good moments in Home Alone which make it seem more deserving of the accolade of Christmas movie than Gremlins or Die Hard.
My go-to list of Christmas movies
Every year I have a list of movies that I watch around the festive season. They usually feature from the second type of Christmas movie but some of my choices may surprise you.
The Santa Claus
Tim Allen finds his life changes dramatically when he dons Santa Claus’s red suit. This is a fun and feel-good movie with a good interpretation of the North Pole. It’s also a novel concept on how Santa Claus has been able to keep going for hundreds of years. Sorry, should that be Santa Claus or the Santa clause? Semantics turn out to be important in this movie.
Santa Claus the Movie
David Huddleston brings to life Santa as most of us have probably imagined him to be. This is a wonderfully charming tale that features Dudley Moore as Patch the Elf who almost manages to ruin Christmas. This was one of my favourite Christmas movies growing up and I still love the magic of it to this day.
Will Ferrell is Buddy the Elf who turns out to not be an elf after all. Towering several feet above the other elves was apparently not a big enough clue. Once Buddy finds out who his real dad is, played by James Caan, Buddy decides to travel through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly, twirly gum drops, and through the Lincoln tunnel to try and find him in New York City. Buddy’s childlike innocence from having been raised by elves is very out of place in NYC and adds to the charm of this movie.
Miracle on 34th Street
The version I like is the 1994 remake starring Sir Richard Attenborough as Kriss Kringle who is put on trial by the courts to prove he is not really Santa. Or is he? It is a wonderful movie and Sir Richard Attenborough really could be Santa.
The Polar Express
Forget the Hogwarts Express, the Polar Express is where it’s at – a train that only has one destination – the North Pole. A young boy hops on board and learns to believe in Father Christmas once more after a pretty wild ride on a train where the only adult supervision is in the form of the ticket inspector, voiced by Tom Hanks.
The Muppets Christmas Carol
What’s not to love in this retelling of the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemption, who is played by none other than Michael Caine. If you loved the muppets then you’ll love this and even if you’re too young to know who the muppets are (something I cannot claim sadly), then you’ll probably still love it. The story of Scrooge never gets old (despite the fact that it was written in 1843)!
Speaking of Scrooge, the 1998 version starring Bill Murray is an original take on this much-loved classic. Murray plays Frank Cross, a mean and cynical television exec who gets a harsh reminder of how to be a decent human being again. It’s fun, funny and is set at Christmas time so it still counts as a Christmas movie.
Another animated movie and one that I only discovered a couple of years ago despite it coming out in 2011. Arthur is in the family business – his father is Santa. And when things go wrong on the deliveries one Christmas Eve, Arthur finds a way to save Christmas. A highly enjoyable movie and one to watch, especially if you’ve always wondered how Santa delivers all those presents in one night.
The Christmas Chronicles
A Netflix original starring Kurt Russell as the unlikely choice for Santa but is actually a great choice. Siblings Kate and Teddy set out one night to catch Santa in the act of delivering their presents and end up on an unexpected adventure. Just when I thought that there were no more great Christmas movies that could be made, along came this one with a second movie out last year.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
If you know anything about the Griswald family then you’ll know that things are never straightforward for them. When the Griswald’s decide to host Christmas you just know that things are going to go wrong. This is probably the best film in the National Lampoon’s series and is always fun to watch.
Kevin is an eight-year-old boy who accidentally gets left home alone and looks set to be celebrating Christmas on his own. His family are desperately trying to get back to him and his mother, quite rightly(!), feels guilty about forgetting about Kevin who was sleeping when the rather large family set off on their holidays. So large a family that Kevin was easily missed. Not only does Kevin have to look after himself but he also finds himself battling two thieves trying to rob his house. It’s a classic film and Macaulay Calkin (Kevin) is just perfect for the role.
Christmas with the Kranks
Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis decide to go on a sunny holiday and escape Christmas for once but their neighbours are not happy about this, especially when the Kranks refuse to put up their Christmas decorations. When the daughter decides she’s coming home, the Kranks have to race to put on their usual Christmas party and forget about that lovely holiday. Not one of the best Christmas movies but a fun one to watch.
Jingle all the Way
Who doesn’t love a Schwarzenegger movie? And it’s a Christmas movie as well! Schwarzenegger plays Howard who is too work-focused and not family-focused and finds himself coming unstuck when the shops are all out of the Turbo Man action figure he was supposed to have already bought for his son and time is ticking on the Christmas clock. Howard goes to great lengths to try and track down the toy and anyone who has tried to buy a popular and scarce present at Christmas time can empathise. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Schwarzenegger movie without some hero action which we do get treated to. A fun one to watch and a good reminder to buy your presents early.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Wait, what? This is a movie set at Thanksgiving and not Christmas so how is it on my list? For me, the sentiment of this movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy has everything to do with the spirit of Christmas and there are many laugh out loud moments. A classic John Hughes movie. So I don’t care it’s not strictly a Christmas movie, it is a feel-good movie with snow and set at around a major holiday and it makes me feel good! The end scene always gets me even though I’ve seen it countless times.
Yet again another non-Christmas movie. Yet again, another John Hughes movie. Yet again, another movie that I always like to watch around Christmas time. It’s set in winter and there’s snow so it could almost pass for a Christmas movie, despite the fact that there is no mention of Christmas at all. You can’t even argue that it’s a Christmas movie as it isn’t!
So, there you have it.
Christmas is a time for joy to the world, decking the halls with boughs of holly, and treating yourself to the delights of a Christmas movie or three. There’s a lot of great movies to choose from and something for everyone!