With the festive season fast approaching, everything is beginning to look a lot like Christmas: the decorations are up, Whamageddon is inescapable and your distant family members keep asking you a thousand questions. While the holidays bring a lot of joy and warmth to many, it can be a difficult and overwhelming time of year for the rest of us. But there’s no need for us to feel left out!
Here are ten Christmas films for you to watch if you’re not a huge fan of the holiday – they’re not heavily focused on family or the true meaning of Christmas, but they’re all set during this period. This list includes films from the horror, action, drama and comedy genres so there’s something in here for everyone, but they all still provide the company and escapism we’re all searching for.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Robert Downey Jr. shines as thief Harry Lockhart in Shane Black’s directorial debut. When a burglary goes wrong, Harry stumbles into an open audition where his genuine distress is mistaken for impressive method acting. He’s flown to Los Angeles for a screen-test, where he’s told to shadow Detective “Gay” Perry (Val Kilmer) for his role and is reunited with his childhood friend Harmony (Michelle Monaghan). Set around Christmas, Harry explores both the glamorous and the seedy crime-infested parts of LA, which are unsurprisingly connected. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a genuinely funny black comedy, with an interesting murder investigation at its center!
Home Alone (1999)
While Home Alone is one of the biggest films associated with Christmas, it’s actually perfect for this list. The McCallister family, who are made up of about twenty people, are preparing to spend Christmas in Paris – but when eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left behind, he makes the most of his situation by having his own vacation. If he went with his family, this film would’ve been far too family-focused for this list. Instead, we get to watch Kevin defend his territory with fun booby-traps when two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) plan to rob his home.
Black Christmas (1974)
Bob Clark directed A Christmas Story (1983), a popular family film, but he’s also responsible for creating Black Christmas – one of the earliest slasher films ever made. During Christmas break, a sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes frightening and macabre phone calls before murdering the women one-by-one. Even though it was released 45 years ago, the eerie atmosphere of Black Christmas still goes strong – even despite its campy quality which turns it into a black comedy. There’s also a 2006 remake of the same name which is surprisingly decent, while a new remake (directed by Sophia Takal) is in cinemas from December 13th.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Based on the novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, The Legend of Hell House is another ’70s horror that retains its eerie atmosphere some 40-odd-years later. Inspired by Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the film tells the story of physicist Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) who is hired to investigate the possibility of life after death at Belasco House. He puts together a team to arrive a week before Christmas, which consists of his wife Ann (Gayle Hannicutt), mental medium Florence (Pamela Franklin) and physical medium Benjamin (Roddy McDowall) – who is the only survivor of an investigation conducted 20 years prior. The film’s fascinating mystery and haunted house atmosphere keep you hooked right until its ultimate reveal.
The Ref (1994)
In this black comedy, Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey (sorry!) play a couple – Caroline and Lloyd – who are in marriage counselling on Christmas Eve. Their Christmas plans are disrupted when they arrive home and are taken hostage at gun point by Gus (Denis Leary), who had been trying to steal their jewelry.
The Ref is genuinely hilarious, with Gus acting as a referee during the couple’s petty arguments as he tries to keep things under control when people start showing up for the festivities. Many of us just want to yell at our family members over Christmas, and this definitely provides some catharsis alongside its humor. Gus may have a gun to threaten compliance, but his threats aren’t always effective when it comes to dysfunctional families who just can’t stop bickering – even when they’re hostages.
Bad Santa (2003)
Another black comedy? Yes, because dark humor is how we survive during Christmas! In Bad Santa, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and his assistant Marcus (Tony Cox) are professional thieves who pose as Santa Claus and His Little Helper ever year so they can rob the store on Christmas Eve. Their plan starts to fall apart from when the mall manager (John Ritter) and chief of security (Bernie Mac) catch onto their intentions, and a kid (Brett Kelly) becomes attached to Willie – much to his reluctance.
Bad Santa is a rude and offensive comedy that has a lot of fun with Willie’s character: a foul-mouthed, sex-addicted alcoholic. He’s a complete misanthrope, which is highly relatable. He might be dressed as Santa Claus, but his attitude is the entire opposite of Christmas spirit.
Santa’s Slay (2005)
Santa’s Slay is a slasher with an amazing concept that, unfortunately, isn’t executed nearly as well as one would like. Here, Santa Claus happens to be a demon (played by professional wrestler Bill Goldberg) who lost a curling match to an angel and was forced to spend 1,000 years handing out presents with cheer – but his punishment is over, and Santa is ready to go back to his old ways. Santa’s Slay is little more than a violent and silly slasher, with a kill count of over 30! It’s worth a watch if you want some unadulterated, mindless fun.
It’s Carol season! Set in 1950s New York, aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) develops an intimate relationship with an older woman (Cate Blanchett) after the pair meet at the department store where Therese works. The film’s gorgeous cinematography manages to capture the Christmas season without it being the film’s entire focus. It only serves as backdrop to this forbidden, lesbian love story, but its subtle inclusion of Therese’s Santa hat, the stunning winter snow and the Christmas decorations add an element of festive warmth to the story that takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions.
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Move over, Die Hard! It’s about time we focused on a different action thriller. In The Long Kiss Goodnight, Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) is found washed ashore on a New Jersey beach – pregnant and with amnesia. Eight years later, she’s now a schoolteacher living with her boyfriend Hal (Tom Amandes) and her daughter Caitlin (Yvonne Zima). During the Christmas holidays, a car accident forces her to slowly remember parts of her original past, as she finds herself possessing masterful skills she cannot explain. Soon enough, with the help of PI Mitch Henessey (Samuel L. Jackson), Samantha’s past comes back to find her – and the film takes us on a wonderful, kick-ass ride as she figures out her real identity as a top-secret agent.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut, is an erotic thriller set in ’90s New York. After attending a lavish Christmas party – where Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are both flirted with, but neither act on their impulses – the pair discuss Bill’s narrow-minded views of female sexuality. Alice reveals that she once fantasized about a naval officer so much that she considered leaving him. Bill is so disturbed by this that it leads him to discover a secret society of powerful men in masks, who partake in ritualistic sex with accommodating women.
Eyes Wide Shut is such a beautiful film despite its dark, sexual themes – each shot is simply stunning as the illuminating Christmas lights give the film an otherworldly, dreamlike glow throughout. The visual excellence of this film is no surprise coming from perfectionist Kubrick and cinematographer Larry Smith.