If you’ve ever lazed around the house watching TV over the holidays, you may have experienced an epiphany: Christmas movies can be a bit much.
Sure, there are plenty of new Hallmark Christmas movies to watch on the W Network in 2019. But if you’re looking for something more nostalgic or offbeat, there are many unexpected options available.
After all, there are only so many Santas, Christmas carols and puppets a person can stomach before they start craving an escape from all that holiday cheer.
You might feel particularly trapped if you’re surrounded by family members who want nothing more than a good holiday flick — and only a holiday flick — to watch at the end of the night.
But there’s still hope. You don’t have to sit through Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for the umpteenth time this year, and you don’t have to binge the Home Alone series if you don’t want to. Instead, you can reach for something more unusual — and perhaps more entertaining — while still maintaining a faint link to the Christmas theme.
The next time you’re forced to put on a Christmas movie, consider one of these “secret” options. Many of these films are tried-and-true audience favourites that also have a loose tie to the holiday season, so you can easily defend them as a valid thematic choice.
These are the best offbeat Christmas movies to help you survive the holidays.
Batman Returns positively oozes with the Christmas spirit — if you run that spirit through the dark lens of director Tim Burton.
The film is a direct sequel to Burton’s 1989 hit Batman, with Michael Keaton reprising the lead role opposite Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman), Danny DeVito (Penguin) and Christopher Walken (businessman Max Shreck).
The entire film takes place in the lead-up to Christmas, with various holiday events serving as targets for the criminals of Gotham City. It also features several low-key nods to the holiday season.
For example, Batman gestures to a sprig of mistletoe while flirting/fighting with Catwoman. “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it,” he says.
There’s also a dramatic Christmas tree-lighting scene involving Christopher Walken, a Christmas-themed beauty queen and lots of holiday decor throughout Gotham City.
In fact, if the finale of a movie is meant to drive the point home, then the end of Batman Returns proves that it is absolutely a Christmas movie.
The final scene shows Bruce Wayne rescuing a stray cat from an alleyway, then climbing into his limo before Alfred the butler drives him away.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Wayne,” Alfred says.
“Merry Christmas, Alfred,” Bruce replies, looking at the cat. “And good will toward men. And women.”
If you’re looking for a Christmas-related superhero movie, this is a solid choice.
You’ve Got Mail
Holiday movies often lean on nostalgia, and what could be more nostalgia-inducing than You’ve Got Mail, a romantic comedy based on the novelty of email?
The film unites late ’90s-era Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for a script penned by Nora Ephron, the writer behind Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally.
Hanks and Ryan play a pair of rival booksellers who fall in love online despite hating each other in real life. The film plays out over several months, but there’s one part where Meg Ryan’s character is wistfully hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree in her shop.
The film has a very loose tie to Christmas, but it was still enough for Mindy Kaling to host a You’ve Got Mail-themed holiday party a few years ago.
If nothing else, you can whip up a few treats from her menu and watch this rom-com with someone special over the holidays.
Steven Spielberg’s take on an adult Peter Pan has just enough Christmas material to make the list — and plenty of childlike wonder and nostalgia to entertain people of a certain age.
The film stars Robin Williams as Peter Pan, though he’s grown up into a bitter businessman and forgotten his past adventures in Neverland. He needs to reclaim his old identity (and squeeze back into his smashing tights) before he can save his kids from the evil Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
Most of the action takes place in fictional Neverland, but the film starts with Peter and his family heading to London to visit Wendy for Christmas.
One of the most influential Rocky films also happens to be a Christmas movie.
Rocky IV is perhaps best-known for its Cold War-era showdown between Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and the Soviet Union’s killer boxer, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). The film pits Rocky against Russia’s Soviet superman in a grudge match over the death of Rocky’s friend, Apollo Creed.
That grudge match takes place on Dec. 25 — meaning the most important action in the film happens on Christmas Day.
There aren’t a whole lot of Christmas themes in the movie, but it does follow the tried-and-true, rags-to-riches style of the first Rocky movie. Rocky gets knocked down, he works hard, stays humble and eventually prevails over a seemingly unbeatable opponent.
The film also ends on a hopeful note, as Rocky admits to a once-hostile Russian crowd that he’s managed to see past the hate he once felt for their country.
“If I can change, then you can change,” he tells them. “Everybody can change.”
You might want to put this one on if your family fights about politics around the dinner table.
Nothing says “Christmas” like Mel Gibson in a gunfight with drug dealers in Los Angeles.
Lethal Weapon is a classic California Christmas movie, in that it features hardly any snow (except for cocaine). Nevertheless, this buddy cop movie has plenty of holiday-specific elements, including a coke deal at a Christmas tree lot that turns into a shootout.
WARNING: The following video contains harsh language.
The film opens on a dark note with Gibson’s cop character, Riggs, attempting suicide. However, he backs out of it right after Bugs Bunny appears on his TV screen and shouts “Merry Christmas!”
Riggs eventually finds life purpose again by teaming up with Murtaugh (Danny Glover), his new partner on the police force. They forge a strong friendship, stop some drug dealers and crack a few jokes along the way. Riggs even joins Murtaugh’s family for Christmas dinner, thereby cementing the film as a feel-good story for the holidays.
Reindeer. Santa. Christmas.
Reindeer Games is a slam-dunk holiday movie, if only for the title. This thriller from 2000 stars Ben Affleck as a reluctant ex-con who must rob a casino to save his girlfriend, played by Charlize Theron. It’s a fairly straightforward heist film filled with double- and triple-crosses.
The whole thing plays out over Christmastime, and Affleck and his crew end up robbing the casino while wearing Santa costumes.
Long before Furby or Baby Yoda there was Gizmo, the adorable “mogwai” in Gremlins with the big eyes and bigger ears.
This 1984 film is all about what happens when Gizmo’s owner, Billy, breaks the only two rules for taking care of him: don’t get him wet and don’t feed him after midnight.
Billy violates both of those rules on Christmas Eve, causing Gizmo’s body to erupt with gross little balls that turn into the lizard-skinned, evil Gremlins. The Gremlins terrorize his town through a variety of gleefully evil Christmas-themed activities, such as caroling and dropping off presents.
The film is also notable for featuring a particularly dark Christmas story about one character’s father dying in a chimney while pretending to be Santa Claus.
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is the Christmas-themed movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s also a solid action comedy from the same writer behind Lethal Weapon, Shane Black.
The film takes place in December, Tony Stark’s home is decorated for Christmas and there’s even a part where he plays Jingle Bells while building one of his suits.
The film also ends with a nod to the holidays when Tony agrees to blow up his many Iron Man suits.
“Screw it, it’s Christmas,” he says.
It doesn’t matter what Bruce Willis says: Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas movie.
The entire film takes place over one night during an office Christmas party at the fictional Nakatomi Plaza building in Los Angeles. NYPD officer John McLane (Willis) uses his Christmas vacation to show up at the party in hopes of winning back his estranged wife, Holly, who works in the building.
A team of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) shows up to rob the building precisely because they know it will be nearly deserted for Christmas. The film also features several nods to the season, including a “ho ho ho” message written on a terrorist’s shirt, and a recitation of “Twas the night before Christmas.”
Just take it from 20th Century Fox, which put out a Christmas trailer for the film last year:
If you’re still in the mood after this one, you can Christmas Harder (and Die Harder) with Die Hard 2, which also takes place at Christmastime.
Yippee ki yay?