Frederick Blichert / Android Authority
If you’ve spent a lot of time online, chances are you’re aware of the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Hot on the heels of the Die Hard debate was the claim that Lethal Weapon is also a Christmas movie. Both movies are set around Christmas, and they certainly touch on some Christmas themes, but they’re not alone. So what other alternative Christmas movies deserve a place among classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Charlie Brown Christmas or Home Alone?
Here are 10 of our favorite alternative Christmas movies to mix things up a bit this Christmas season. So help yourself to some eggnog, grab a plate of holiday cookies, and enjoy. And if you disagree with any of these selections, well, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? Happy holidays and happy viewing!
Top 10 Alternative Christmas Movies
The story of a drug deal gone awry, the 1999 crime comedy Go is told from multiple perspectives on a fateful Christmas Eve. Soap opera stars, narcotics agents, Las Vegas marriages, bankrupt grocery store clerks, and petty officers collide in this cult classic that’s not strictly about the parties, but featuring all your family ornaments. The ’90s saw many knock-offs below the level of Pulp Fiction and its interconnected story format, but few managed to break out of Tarantino’s shadow as completely and engagingly as Go.
Written by Shane Black, who has been in the habit of setting his police Christmas movies ever since Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was also Black’s directorial debut. It was also something of a career restart for Robert Downey Jr., before he became Iron Man. A petty criminal accidentally lands a role in a Hollywood movie while on the run from the police. From there, he is engulfed in a sordid world of conspiracy, murder, and spectacle as he, a private detective, and his childhood sweetheart delve deeper into their heads in this dark, hilarious, and clever take on film noir.
Places of exchange (1983)
Perhaps one of the more mainstream entries on this list, Trading Places is a brilliant comedy that harnesses the spirit of Christmas with its updated version of The Prince and the Pauper. A homeless man and a Wall Street broker trade places as part of an elaborate gamble. But when the main two find out what’s going on, they work together to turn around the two rich men pulling their strings, and all of this happens in the run-up to Christmas. Trading Places is a fun social commentary that looks at social inequality and reminds us that we are not that different when you level the playing field.
The Alien prequel, Prometheus, is one of the more recent additions to the “X is actually a Christmas movie” speech. In one scene, the ship’s captain, Janek, decorates a Christmas tree. The Christmas scene is certainly short, but let’s not forget the themes of the movie. There is something frankly biblical about the history of humans struggling with our origins. The Prometheus crew is on a journey to a kind of intergalactic Garden of Eden, hoping to discover our creator. There’s even some kind of bloody virgin birth – okay, the character Elizabeth Shaw isn’t a virgin, but the alien who “gives birth” isn’t exactly conceived by traditional means. The sequel Alien: Covenant continues these thematic concerns with a parable reminiscent of Noah’s Ark.
P2, like Trading Places, has a fairly straightforward claim to being a Christmas movie. It is explicitly set on Christmas Eve, with stress and holiday cheer as its central themes. However, as a claustrophobic horror movie, it rarely makes it to the top of anyone’s Christmas movie list, and it’s a downright underrated horror movie overall, earning it a spot here on our Christmas movie list. alternatives. When businesswoman Angela stays at work late on Christmas Eve, she becomes the last person in the office. As she pulls her car out of the underground parking lot to go see her family, she finds herself locked in the building’s garage with a terrifying security guard who has vacation plans of his own. Coming home for the holidays will mean surviving a hellish night underground.
LA Confidential (1997)
This 1997 neo-noir police film, based on the James Ellroy novel, is one of the best films of the 90s, and it is always worth including among the alternative Christmas films. The film takes place in the 1950s and tackles police corruption and the seedier sides of old Hollywood. Two unlikely detectives team up to get to the bottom of things when the facts refuse to square around a multiple homicide. One is a shy policeman who lives in his father’s shadow and has a bad reputation for betraying his colleagues in the “Bloody Christmas” case. The other is a tough guy with a penchant for punishing men who abuse women. Together they take on the police force and local government, all against a backdrop of Bing Crosby standards and bright Christmas lights.
The latest film from legendary director Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut is an erotic drama about a man who becomes obsessed with his wife’s admission that he ever contemplated an affair. He infiltrates a mysterious sex club where social figures have orgies. As he tries to learn more, the dark men warn him and threaten him. Although he never revealed himself, his identity is now known and he realizes that he is lost. The film takes place around Christmas time and is packed with Christmas footage, even though the narrative has little to do with the holidays.
Another Shane Black script set around Christmas time, The Long Kiss Goodnight is an alternative Christmas movie that is also a wonderful tribute to 1973’s The Long Goodbye. A happily married wife and mother living in Pennsylvania has spent most of a decade trying to discover her true identity after arriving ashore in New Jersey, pregnant and with amnesia. After a car accident leaves her with a concussion, she can suddenly recall mysterious combat skills and fragments of her past as a spy. Teaming up with a cursory private detective she had hired to help unearth her own story, she hits the road to get more answers on who she is and who wants her dead. Like Die Hard, the movie is set around Christmas, with the bloody grand finale leading up to Christmas morning.
A trans sex worker is released from jail on Christmas Eve in this independent film shot entirely on an iPhone 5S. When she discovers that her pimp and boyfriend have been cheating on her while she was locked up, Sin-Dee spends the night looking for him and the girl he’s been cheating with. Tangerine is a testament to how real life doesn’t stop during the holidays. Incarceration, infidelity, transphobia, poverty and mistreatment of sex workers continue unabated by the need for Christmas cheer. That does not mean that everything is bad, of course. Within that story are the bonds of friendship and family found, and the power of the community in the face of daily realities. Those are pretty timeless Christmas themes that make Tangerine a great alternative Christmas movie.
Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton is no stranger to the dark and twisted twists of Christmas movies. His 1993 stop-motion feature The Nightmare Before Christmas is a timeless classic. Just a year before The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton revisited the Dark Knight with a sequel to his 1989 Batman. This time, he featured a snow-covered Gotham City over the holidays. The entire aesthetic of the film is based on this juxtaposition. The bright and colorful cheer of the holiday season feels strange and out of place against the backdrop of sinister superhero action. The villains are stand-ins for classic Christmas figures like Scrooge and the Grinch, hoping to steal the magic of Christmas from the good boys and girls of Gotham. It’s an excellent Batman movie and maybe an even better alternative Christmas movie.