Christmas films are typically saccharine, sentimental and shit. Movies like the dreadful Santa Clause series, or the eye wateringly bad Four Christmases threaten to turn even the cheeriest of souls into scrooges. Had Love Actually been set and released in October, its combination of predictable plotting, wooden dialogue and an unbearably upbeat tone would surely have induced nausea and vomiting, rather than see it rake in millions across the globe.
Fortunately, while most festive films are about as inspiring as a sack of coal, a few classics have slipped through the net. For anyone lacking Christmas spirit, the following ten movies are sure to perk you up.
10. The Snowman
It may be under 30 minutes long, and wordless, but The Snowman is a perfect Christmas film. The story of a boy’s brief friendship with his frosty creation, famously backed by the song Walking in the Air, has become essential viewing in any British household come December 25th. The track starts 16 minutes into this clip, but David Bowie’s inexplicable introduction here is not to be missed.
9. The Muppet Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol has a strong claim to be the quintessential Christmas novel, and there are a plethora of adaptations out there. Bill Murray’s role as a greedy executive in Scrooged is a highlight, but even he can’t top Michael Caine’s turn as the avaricious lead. Firmly in the “shouldn’t work but does” category, even Caine’s dreadful singing can’t derail this anarchic classic.
8. Home Alone
Home Alone is a dark, dark movie. Essentially, it tells the story of a boy abandoned by his family and left at the mercy of two local burglars. Yet rather than being intimidated, this boy takes the chance to unleash his sadistic streak, torturing the duo until they can take no more, before turning them over to the police. It’s basically a festive Funny Games, what more could you want from Christmas?
7. Trading Places
The nature vs nurture debate remains as divisive today as when it was first mooted. That was, of course, in 1983 when Trading Places was released. Yet not only is the film a seminal sociological work, it also happens to be quite Christmassy. The plot revolves around a man stripped of all that is dear to him, the collapse of his life, and his plot to get revenge. It’s compelling, gritty and very funny.
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas
A great film for Halloween and Christmas, Henry Selick’s wonderfully zany fantasy follows Halloween Town’s attempts to hold their own Christmas celebrations, attempts that inevitably start to go awry. Produced by Tim Burton, and presumably an inspiration for Corpse Bride, the combination of offbeat musical numbers and Selick’s trademark animation make this a seasonal treat.
5. Bad Santa
This list features a surprising number of suicidal, alcoholic Santas – two, to be precise – and Billy Bob Thornton’s eating, drinking, shitting, fucking Father Christmas is one of the great movie creations. In between robbing department stores and beating up children, he has time to befriend a bullied kid and start a friendship that changes both of their lives. And he gets punched in the balls. Brilliant.
4. Edward Scissorhands
Much of Edward Scissorhands revolves around the Christmas holidays, which means that it counts as a Christmas film. This is fortunate, because it gives you another excuse to watch what is probably Tim Burton’s greatest film. The concept is inspired, the visuals sumptuous and the story beautifully told. Horror nuts will also enjoy an early Vincent Price cameo as Edward’s creator.
Kids love presents. Except when they try to kill you. This rule, now universally acknowledged, can be traced back to Gremlins, when a kid gets a present that tries to kill him, his family and his entire town. Gremlins is a very black comedy, and director Joe Dante famously refused to leave out some of the bleaker and more violent scenes. The result: just the right amount of Christmas gore.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life
It had to be somewhere, didn’t it? Frank Capra’s Christmas Carol inspired masterpiece isn’t just a great Christmas film, but a full on classic. Despite a few of the cheesiest scenes ever committed to screen, much of the movie is pretty tragic. James Stewart’s George Bailey is a good guy beset by misfortune, whose dreams never quite materialise and who ends up teetering on the verge of suicide. Christmas can’t come too soon.
1. Die Hard
Yes, it’s official; Die Hard is the best Christmas film. It starts at a Christmas party, includes the line “now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho” and introduced the world to Alan Rickman, something for which nobody can be too grateful. When the mince pies are finished, everyone’s had a bit too much wine and the annual game of charades has finally ended, John McClane is the man to revive flagging spirits. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy.