Our Favorite Non-Traditional Holiday Movies

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It’s a fact. TV networks love the holiday season. It’s their chance to program endless Christmas Story reruns and James Bond marathons. More importantly, it’s a time when the whole family is at home and sitting down in front of the TV. Let’s say you’re tired of the normal selection of holiday films that cycle throughout the day on TV. You’re tired of hearing “Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings!”. You’ve had enough of Macaulay Culkin’s self-defense antics, and Ralphie just maybe deserves to get his tongue stuck to that pole. You are very familiar with how many sizes too small the Grinch’s heart is, and maybe Frosty the snowman is just another migraine waiting to happen. 

Don’t get us wrong. All those movies and TV programs are special experiences, but if you’ve been around a while their charm has definitely worn thin. Cinelinx hears your plight, and we have a solution. There are many different movies out there that are related to the holiday season, yet aren’t the same ones that you’ve seen ad nauseum. These are movies that are entertaining not only because they are about the holidays. They are entertaining on their own merits and they just happen to mention or brush on holiday-related topics. Our movie experts put our heads together to come up with this list of films that you just might be able to argue are holiday-related, and therefore you hopefully won’t be obligated to watch Miracle on 34th Street for the umpteenth time. 

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Garrett – The Life of Brian

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but Life of Brian isn’t about that guy. It’s about the guy who is mistaken for Jesus. It’s best for viewers who don’t mind religion being satirized and is definitely NOT a family movie. Due to its controversial and blasphemous topic, it’s not something that you’ll see often, if at all, on TV. That, if anything, is a good thing. You may not be able to quote it line for line like every other traditional holiday film, but afterwards the brilliance of the writing will stick to your brain so that you can’t help yourself from reciting the best lines and phrases. This is a film that pokes fun at history in a way that could only be accomplished by Monty Python. Some may argue that it is the best Python film, but it is by no means as approachable or easy to watch as Holy Grail. Fans of the British style of comedy will be laughing the whole time, and even if you don’t find the concept of the film to be very funny, there will be moments that you can’t help laughing out loud. That’s what makes it such a great non-traditional holiday film. As one of the funniest films ever made, it is very enjoyable to watch. So, sit down with your mature relatives and/or spouse and revel in the brilliance that is “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy! Now, piss off!”

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Mike Petty – Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Steve Martin and John Candy are at their best in this film of one unfortunate happenstance after another while the main protagonist is attempting to get home for Thanksgiving.  When I think of traditional holiday films I think of the aforementioned Miracle of 34th Street or It’s a Wonder Life.  Planes, Trains and Automobiles takes those concepts and tosses them out like yesterday’s trash making it one of my top five favorite films of all time for holiday viewing.

Nightmare 

Nick Vollmer – The Nightmare Before Christmas

For my family (and maybe we’re just weird), this was a traditional Christmas movie, but I’m guessing that for most people it’s probably more of a Halloween tradition if it’s a tradition at all.  Personally, I prefer watching it at night beside the glow of the Christmas tree and it gives Christmas the same kind of edge that I feel every time I listen to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra play “Christmas Eve Sarajevo”.  It offers a great counterpoint to all the overly nice Christmas cheer while still being a great family film, filling you with Christmas spirit, and ending with a good message.  Tim Burton’s tale of mixing Halloween with Christmas has fantastic songs, memorable characters, and it makes you stop and think about what Christmas should really be.

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Olly Bennett – Die Hard 1 & 2

Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like “Ho ho ho”, and nothing says ‘non-traditional Christmas movie’ like “Now I have a machine gun” prefixing it. That immortal line, so eloquently delivered by Alan Rickman in the role of Hans Gruber, is what reminds us of these films’ seasonal holiday setting; amongst the bullets, and the death, and the explosions. The second installment in the series’s Christmas-themed iterations gives us simply: “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice”. This reference to the prequel is enough to remind us of Santa, big meals with the family, a warm open fire, and the gaudy season in all its traditional repetitive glory. Cheesey ancient action films are as much a part of Christmas as turkey and presents, and none are more over-shown, yet always-appreciated, than the first two Die Hards.

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Jordan  – Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton’s strange tale of Edward Scissorhands is one of my favorite films in general and among those I have to sit down and watch any time it happens to be on a station.  During the holidays, however, it becomes a must-see for me.  The movie centers around the idea of family and looking out for one another, while also seeking acceptance.  Pretty much this is how all holidays go down in real life too.  While it’s elements are fantastical, they make strong points about sticking by one another no matter what.  

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Dustin – Gremlins

I knew Die Hard would already be taken, so I tried hard not to choose that. That being said another movie that popped into my head was Gremlins and I thought that was perfect! I love a dark humor story and for some reason watching these around Christmas time makes them more fun. I mean come on, Christmas invaded Halloween more and more every year, it’s time to get payback! Gremlins is what I would call an “entry level” horror film for kids. It isn’t too scary, but will still get the thrills. What make the film so fantastic is it’s dark nature. It will make you laugh, but if you step back and realize what you are laughing at you will see just how dark the film is. That being said a kid can see the Gremlins as goofy, cute, and fun until they reach an age and realize just why this movie is supposed to be scary. All that, plus we have a dog that looks like a Gremlin so it makes me laugh every time! 

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Kelly – Batman Returns 

Much like how Dustin’s original was already taken, so was mine (Gremlins!). But then I remembered Batman Returns. Batman Returns is a pretty impressive sequel and it continues the weird flow of nearly every other movie being a Tim Burton movie on this list (maybe Christmas is his thing?). The film takes place during the holiday season as well, the chilly winter scenes make the movie and the villians (The Penguin and Catwoman specifically) even creepier. It also helps that as a child, I was obsessed with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and do recall getting the Catwoman doll and slippers for Christmas. It’s not cheery or happy like most Christmas movies, it’s strange and gives a pretty interesting commentary on the holiday season and politics, which is what makes it so great.

Rare Exports 

Eric “Fathergamer” Gibbs – Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Pretty much every one of the movies listed above is in my yearly yuletide roster. A few years ago I added a new film that definitely fits into the non-traditional camp.  Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a Finnish horror-comedy that focuses on a group of local reindeer herders whose Christmas is disturbed by excavations on the mountain. A scientist has ordered a team of workers to dig open what he calls “the largest burial mound in the world”. What they find leans heavily to the naughty. 

Reindeer and a few villagers are mysteriously killed, and children and supplies begin to disappear from the town. It emerges that the occupant within the burial mound is the source of the original Santa Claus myth; a supernatural being whom, rather than rewarding good children, punishes the naughty…severely. One family, however, manages to catch the culprit in a trap. 

I wouldn’t consider this a scary movie by any stretch, but it is definitely creepy. The movie has an eerily creeper of a Santa while also managing to be a flick that’s also a sack full of charm and humor. 

Yes, it is subtitled, and I know that bothers some people. However, I think if you can get past that feeling of dread, you just might find yourself enjoying your new cult holiday classic.


While they’re not exactly what people think when it comes to the Christmas season, these films are nonetheless amongst our favorite for watching in December.  What are some non-traditional holiday films that you enjoy?  Let us know your picks in the comments below! 

-The Cinelinx Team