Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and those who do might not necessarily be that into it. For some people, holiday traditions can feel more like a routine than anything else. This time of year can also be emotionally difficult for people living by themselves, as they don’t have anyone with whom to celebrate the holidays.
Because of this, classic family Christmas movies may not be the right kind of “holiday cheer” for all. Furthermore, watching the same movies over and over again can simply get boring.
In response, here’s my list of a few unconventional “Christmas” movies that will hopefully warm your heart (or at least entertain you) this holiday season. In some way or another, they each have a connection to Christmas, the holidays, and/or winter in general.
Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
Let’s start by getting what might just be the quintessential unconventional Christmas movie out of the way. While the debate over whether or not Die Hard counts as a Christmas movie will probably rage on forever, I believe those who wish to appreciate this film during the holidays have every right and reason to do so. First off, it’s set on Christmas Eve, which is what brings everyman John McLean to Nakatome Plaza. If it weren’t for Christmas, this film wouldn’t work. Furthermore, McLean overcoming a band of would-be terrorists is nothing short of a Christmas miracle, one motivated by his love for the wife with whom he aspires to reconnect on this special day. While Die Hard is certainly a bombastic action film where air duct crawling and office ware destruction take centre stage, its heart lies in its “regular guy” protagonist, whose love motivates him to basically save Christmas.
Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
This one is a holiday tradition at my home. Edward Scissorhands is a beautiful film in that it takes the conceit of artificial life, as seen in Frankenstein, and reinvents it as a love story. Set in a dollhouse suburbia inspired by Tim Burton’s native Burbank, the film’s depiction of the middle class’s vapid celebration of Christmas will resonate with many. As residents cover their roofs in fake snow and line their houses with gaudy lights, the most authentic element in Edward Scissorhands is Edward and Kim’s growing relationship. Topping this off with vibrant colours, a mixture of ‘50s suburbia and Victorian aesthetics, and one of Danny Elfman’s best scores, this film hits the mark of being both heartwarming and quirky, making it an ideal unconventional holiday movie.
Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
This one is for the arthouse crowd. Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an elaborate, stylized study of sexual desire, shown through the holiday season’s dreamlike sheen. Christmas symbols are prominent throughout the film, with the likes of Christmas trees, lights, and decorated storefronts appearing in the backgrounds of many shots. However, while all of this visual symbolism makes Christmas physically present in Eyes Wide Shut, the holiday’s purported values are virtually absent. What we get instead is rampant consumerism, devoid of honest sentiment or affection, along with people acting in ways that never seem to fully satisfy them. The characters go Christmas shopping and to Christmas parties, but they seem to do so without any genuine pleasure. It’s Christmas in practice, but not in belief. If you’re alienated by holiday customs, Eyes Wide Shut will probably resonate strongly with you.
Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)
This film’s depiction of Christmas is basically the polar opposite of Eyes Wide Shut. While that film questions the possibility of ever feeling content, Love Actually wraps up all of its many character arcs into neat, emotionally satisfying little bows. In its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, it stuffs in as many A-list actors as it can, which has the benefit of making the audience invest in characters whose faces they’ll already recognize. Overall, the film plays out like a sumptuous Christmas buffet: in order to have a taste of everything, you can only take a small portion of each dish, making for an unsatisfying meal overall. However, that’s the price to pay to have this much content in one movie. In the end, Love Actually is a pleasantly funny and innocent film that, like a dancing Hugh Grant, is not without its charms.
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho, 2013)
Although it’s basically Die Hard set aboard a post-apocalyptic train, Snowpiercer still deserves its own spot on our list. Set in an everlasting winter, the film has snow in spades, along with tons of ice, and features a spectacular fight sequence set during New Year’s Day. The titular train is a sleigh gone out of control: it spans the globe as a means of survival for the last remaining humans, delivering its gifts to only the most privileged of passengers. Meanwhile, the lower class lives in squalor in the rear carts. Snowpiercer’s societal conflicts are more complex than they appear at first glance, making for a chilling study of class structures. Granted, the film is also a bonkers sci-fi fantasy film that rides along on a ludicrous premise. If you can suspend your disbelief, however, you’re in for one marvelously original trip this holiday season.