5 Ultimate Christmas Films that Aren’t Actually About Christmas at all

As we head into December (or October for you keen beans) the sight of Home Alone, Elf, and Love Actually will get even the biggest humbugs among us in the holiday spirit. But not all Christmas films are born equal. In fact, some Christmas films aren’t even Christmassy at all. This will probably lead to further raging debates across the Twittersphere but here is my list of the ultimate Christmas films that aren’t actually that Christmassy.

By Jordan Osborne – MA in Creative Writing at The University of Portsmouth


Die Hard (1988)

It’s a simple premise that has been rehashed and redone many times. Die Hard follows Bruce Willis’ John McClane, who has to save a group of hostages, including his pregnant wife, after a Scrooge-like (maybe pushing it a little) villain (Alan Rickman) and his gang of criminals storm a Christmas party in a skyscraper. Apart from being set on Christmas Eve at a Christmas party, Die Hard has a strong emotional core that screams Christmas. There’s McClane’s redemption and his tear-jerking friendship with Sgt. Al Powell who only communicate via radio throughout the film before finally meeting at the film’s close. But mostly there’s unabashed violence by the truckload. After gorging on Christmas goodies for an entire day, there’s no better way to finish Christmas than seeing Bruce Willis bring holiday cheer via an assault rifle.

Up (2009)

Not an obvious one and maybe a bit of a surprise inclusion, but Up has a lot to offer when it comes to feel good Christmas cinema. Without being too cliche, Up is a true definition of an emotional rollercoaster. It’s poignant, heartbreaking, and roaringly funny, and emphasises effectively the importance of love, family, and friendship – an idea that sometimes gets lost amongst the swarm of consumerism that’s become so synonymous with Christmas. And like John McClane and Elf’s Buddy, Up has some truly memorable characters to add to its timeless narrative. Like all good Christmas films, Up is a film you can watch over and over again without diminishing returns.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

For all of you lovers of auteur cinema looking for something far removed from the typical turkey fare, one cannot go wrong with a classic from the whimsical world of Wes Anderson. Anderson is best known for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr. Fox but there is a strong argument for The Royal Tenenbaums as a great alternative Christmas flick. With its grey, sombre tone and the magic of a New York backdrop, Anderson plays on the classic Christmas trope of a disjointed, dysfunctional family dynamic who are brought together when they need it most. And to soothe the purists it actually has a moderately Christmassy moment too – a scene featuring ‘Christmastime Is Here’ from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Yes, Tim Burton’s films are always macabre affairs more suited to Halloween but Edward Scissorhands in particular works well as a Christmas film because of its themes of kookiness and isolation. The protagonist, played by Johnny Depp in his first collaboration with Burton, is an extremely odd, but lovable loner taken in by a typical American nuclear family. For those of us who dislike the holiday season and find it awkward, or those of us who just hate Christmas full stop, Edward Scissorhands is the ultimate alternative Christmas film. Through its poignant narrative and message about the importance of accepting people despite their differences, Edward Scissorhands  provides a Chrismassy escape for those that are not fond of Christmas.

Any of the Harry Potter films

The Harry Potter films qualify just for the one Christmas scene per film in the Great Hall but beyond that Christmas is an unusual, magical time of the year. So with that in mind, it makes sense to spend some of December in the alternate reality of Hogwarts. Even without the obligatory Great Hall Christmas scene, the Harry Potter franchise triumphs on a basic level of warmth and charm. And of course, watching the transformation of naive, British children into accomplished, spellbinding wizards all under Hogwarts’ snow-capped spires captures the magic of the holiday season.

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