We all know the Christmas classics. Whether it’s something from way back like Frank Capra‘ seminal It’s A Wonderful Life or something far more recent like Will Ferrell’s true breakthrough performance in Elf. But there will be none of that on this list. No schmaltz, no overdone Christmas plot lines, and no Santa. So if you want something a little different to watch at Christmas this year enjoy my picks for the Top 10 Unconventional Christmas Films. As always I would love to hear what your favourite Christmas films, both classic and unconventional, are in the comments.
10) Iron Man 3 – A name that you’ll see pop up on this list a few times is that of Shane Black. And that’s because as a director with a number of recurring traits, with the most important for this list being that many of his films are set at Christmas. Iron Man 3 was a very interesting Marvel film because it was one of the first times that they were allowing a director to make a film in their own style and it proved very divisive. But if you are a fan of other work Shane Black has done, then it is certainly one that’s worth revisiting this Christmas without the burdens of expectation, because it has some delightful Christmas touches and some of the most imaginative ideas in the MCU.
9) Gremlins – Krampus is a pretty fun Christmas horror film, but it doesn’t touch Joe Dante’s 1984 comedy horror Gremlins. It has been a long time since I last watched Gremlins and it took me by surprise just how much it leaned into the horror aspect and wasn’t just a straight up comedy. It’s got some laughs for sure, but if you are looking for a proper Christmas based horror film, the Stripe and his band of Gremlins will absolutely provide. It is also fair to say that Gremlins will leave you a little disappointed come Christmas morning, because no present will be as good as the Mogwai Gizmo.
8) The Great Escape – There is nothing specifically to do with Christmas in The Great Escape as far as I can remember, but it is always on British TV during the Christmas holidays, to the point that it has become a staple of afternoon entertain at some point during the festive season. And that has made it into one of the unconventional Christmas films, at least over on this side of the pond. The actual film is a classic of the war genre and features a star studded cast as British Commonwealth Prisoners of War as the plan and attempt to execute a mass breakout from a German Prisoner of War camp. Honestly it never truly feels like Christmas until you see Steve McQueen as the ‘Cooler King’ trying to jump those barb wire fences.
7) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shane Black’s first time stepping from a screenwriter to a director of course brought another big dose of Christmas with him. However Black moved away from the action flicks and instead made a neo-noir crime film, something that is very much a throwback, but with all of Black’s modern sensibilities thrown in. It features a great Robert Downey Jr. performance during the period he was seen as untouchable by Hollywood, but I believe this film has got to be one of the reasons that Jon Favreau pushed for him in the role of Tony Stark. Many people argue that it’s the best of Black’s career, and will definitely offer you something different this Christmas.
6) Monty Python’s Life of Brian – There are still many people out there who would argue that Christmas is still about the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian calendar, and so what could be more fitting for that than Monty Python’s seminal holiday classic The Life of Brian. The film opens with the birth of Jesus, although the three wise men end up in the wrong stable and are bestowing their gift onto Brian when they realise their mistake. The hilarity just goes on from there and Life of Brian contains some of the great comedy moments ever written. OK the film is more of a satirical take down of organised religions, but that still counts as fitting with a Christmas theme, even if it is there to send it up.
5) Batman Returns – The second Christmas based Superhero film on this list, and it’s Tim Burton’s classic Batman Returns. Christmas time is perfect for Burton, the cold winter aesthetic just works perfectly with his style. And the Penguin is clearly the perfect villain to terrorise the snowy Gotham city. This is the only one of the original run of four Batman films that I really like (although I enjoy Batman and Robin for what it is) and this is one of the times where Tim Burton’s dark Gothic sensibilities really works. Edward Scissorhands would probably be another option, but given that it has a shocking lack of Batman I’m recommending Batman Returns on this list.
4) Carol – Todd Haynes’ beautiful lesbian romance is built around Rooney Mara’s Therese Belivet, who is working at the department store, meeting Cate Blanchett’s Carol Aird as she is searching for a Christmas gift for her daughter. The film most takes place over that festive season in 1952. Whilst the majority of this list revolves around action or comedy, Carol is a powerful and understated drama, led by two powerhouse performances from Blanchett and Mara. This is a must watch if you want something a little different over the Christmas holidays.
3) Die Hard – I know that this is the film everyone was waiting for. Die Hard has become a rallying cry for unconventional Christmas films. The debate eternally rages on, and let me just say that there is a lot of Christmas in Die Hard. The entire films takes place at the Nakatomi Corporation’s Christmas party, John McClane’s final line is Merry Christmas, and the film ends with ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ not to mention the inclusion of a number of other Christmas songs and references. You already know whether or not you count Die Hard as a Christmas movie, but let those who do enjoy it.
2) In Bruges – Martin McDonagh’s film about two hitmen sent to hideout in Bruges is another of those films that takes place at Christmas, but has little else to do with the holiday beyond that, and thus a perfect candidate for this list. McDonagh’s script is so sharp and darkly funny whilst Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson turn in such wonderful performances that the film has taken on great cult status and is looked back on as one of the best of 2008. So if you want something that is near enough the opposite of all the Christmas films out there, then this dark comedic crime film may well be the one for you.
1) Lethal Weapon – If you saw my big collection of people’s favourite Christmas films last year then Lethal Weapon topping this list is no surprise. Directed by the legendary Richard Donner and written by, you guessed it, Shane Black Lethal Weapon is really the archetypal buddy cop movie. And like all great holiday movies it is about family, because that is what Mel Gibson’s Riggs finds in Roger Murtaugh and his family. It’s smart, funny, action packed, and has this really heart to it, a perfect Christmas film with a twist. Oh and a shirtless Mel Gibson brawls with Gary Busey, which is truly the essence of Christmas.