A list of the most iconic holiday films of all time
By Colin Macgillivray, Arts Editor
Sick and tired of reading lists that rank holiday movies each year? Well too bad! I’ve signed a contract with jolly old Saint Nick himself and he’s gnashing at the teeth for another list. Nonetheless, holiday movies are generally a waste of time. There’s only so many times I can watch another feel-good story about how the power of friendship will fix Santa’s sleigh.
We’ve all seen Home Alone. We’ve all seen Elf. You don’t want to watch those any more! What you do want to do is sit back, make yourself a nice glass of hot cocoa, grab your favourite fuzzy socks and check out some of the of the all time greatest Christmas movies according to a holiday expert.
The definitive Christmas movie in my household, Die Hard manages to sneak its way onto the holiday movie list despite having nothing to do with the holidays. It’s set on Christmas Eve and that’s good enough for me.
It’s the perfect blend of over-the-top one liners and a gratuitous use of guns and explosions, all neatly wrapped up by Hans Gruber, one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. Even though it just barely qualifies as a holiday movie, if it does at all, it manages to still capture the Christmas spirit of being with your family.
If you’re someone who has never seen Die Hard, get ready for your holiday traditions to change. Throw out that DVD of The Santa Clause and strap in for eye-rolling, action-packed adventure.
Bruce Willis, who portrays the charismatic, off-duty, cowboy-policeman John McClane, is on his way to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife and daughters with presents in tow, just like our good pal Santa Claus.
It’s a classic setup in which the audience knows almost immediately that something is going to go wrong. Fortunately for Die Hard, Gruber — played flawlessly by the late, great Alan Rickman — shows up and makes this otherwise classic ‘80s action film into something special.
Gruber’s plan to steal over $600 million from the business that McClane’s wife just happens to work for sets the scene, as McClane must not only rescue his wife from the clutches of the devilishly handsome terrorist, but must also rescue hostages, stop the heist and in the end, save Christmas.
Sure, Die Hard is incredibly predictable and it really doesn’t offer anything new to the genre either. However, it finds a home among other quintessential action movies due to two phenomenal performances by both Willis and Rickman. The action and banter between the characters is legendary, making Die Hard one of the most fun holiday movies out there.
If your family is missing a cinematic miracle this holiday season year, put on Die Hard and you can all reminisce about a simpler time in which Bruce Willis had hair.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Have you ever felt weary or sick of having the exact same routine every time the holidays roll around? The same food, the same decorations, the same obnoxious relative who insists you watch The Santa Clause over and over and over? Ever felt like switching things up?
Maybe throw on The Nightmare Before Christmas, a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation in which the protagonist, Jack Skellington, is feeling a little tired of his own Halloween routine. He’s a spooky skeleton man who stumbles upon a door that leads him through a portal into the aptly named ‘Christmastown,’ soon finds himself enthralled in the Christmas spirit.
Part avant-garde art film, part amusingly-morbid fairy tale, it is a delightfully ghoulish holiday musical that displays more inventiveness in its brief 75 minutes than some films can with a 3-hour runtime. Not only that, but just like Die Hard, Skellington’s adventure is a true Christmas classic, due to a cavalcade of quirky and memorable characters, marvellously-macabre visuals and an uncanny ability to transport us into an imaginative new world.
Produced by the ever-quirky Tim Burton, it is stop-motion poetry in its purest form. Nightmare is crammed with the daffy, childlike joy and witty effervescence that is to be expected with a holiday cinematic experience. Yet, the characters — a spidery-limbed crew of dashing skeletons, Frankenstein-esque ladies, mad scientists with detachable brainpans and big bad bug-bag monster — go above and beyond typical Christmas escapades. It’s a ridiculous fever dream of ideas that still manages to come together to form a holiday classic.
The sense of wonder and awe that is captured by The Nightmare Before Christmas is very similar to the childlike wonder many of us feel throughout the Christmas season. It’s almost redundant to put this on a list of best holiday movies, but it is genuinely one of the most visually stunning and originally told holiday tales around.
It’s a Wonderful Life
The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, you can’t make an iconic holiday film list without mentioning It’s a
Wonderful Life. For lack of a better word, the film is absolutely wonderful.
Based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern called “The Greatest Gift,” the film is masterfully designed to lift the spirits of its beholders, by first plunging them into misery at the sad plight of its protagonist, George Bailey, then having his fortunes, along with the audiences, improve tenfold by the closing credits.
Bailey is a small-town good guy who contemplates ending it all until his guardian angel shows him how the town would fare without him. It’s fittingly grim, as it manages to echo the sentiments we all seem to share around the holiday season.
I absolutely adore this film, corny as it may be, because it reminds every one of us that we all make contributions to the people around us, contributions we ourselves don’t even realize. I would go more in depth, but just watch the damn thing.
The Santa Clause
I absolutely hate The Santa Clause, but December is the only time of year that I’ll be able to write about my gripes with this ghastly film. I don’t even mind including it on this list, because this abhorrent, miscarriage of a film should be viewed solely for the fact that it is terrible.
Starring Tim Allen, who sucks, The Santa Clause came out in November 1994. It reached number one at the box office and is a failure as a holiday movie. It promotes negative aspects of the season and attempts to have you cheer for disgusting, irritating people. It’s a feeble attempt to revive the tradition of heartwarming family seasonal comedies.
Tim Allen, who sucks, plays a divorced dad named Scott who inadvertently kills Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and finds himself magically recruited to take his place. Sure, the premise is morbidly original and could have been a Christmas classic if it didn’t seem like it was written by a baby with a penchant for lowbrow humour.
The movie is definitely geared towards children, but that’s the problem. Classic holiday movies become classics because they offer something for all demographics, rather than hyper-focusing on dumb jokes that six-year-olds will hoot and holler at. Another staple for classic holiday films is charm. The Santa Clause brings with it arguably the least charming portrayal of Santa I’ve ever seen, which is kind of insane when the mythic archetype of Santa is that he’s a ‘good guy who delivers presents.’
Nonetheless, this movie sucks and Tim Allen sucks. If you like The Santa Clause, you’re entitled to your opinion, but maybe check out some of the other movies on this list so you can realize just how abysmal it is is.
Home Alone, Elf, and other classics
Okay, so maybe I lied.
Sometimes you do want to watch these, even though you’ve probably seen them at least thirty times like I have. Watching a young Macaulay Culkin plant dubious traps in Home Alone or Will Ferrell guzzle down bottles of maple syrup in Elf brings back countless memories of when I was just a young boy, carelessly wrapping gifts with my parents.
Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Coming together with friends and family and spending time together, reminiscing over the past year and looking forward to things to come? Classics like Home Alone and Elf might have lost some of their original charm for me personally, but the memories that I have made sitting around with people watching these movies are unforgettable. In the end, holiday movies are about capturing that magical feeling we are all longing for and some of these movies might help make the holiday season just a little bit more magical.
So, if you’re desperately looking for that perfect holiday movie, just remember, The Santa Clause is the worst. Happy holidays!