16 of the Best Non-Christmas Christmas Movies (That Aren’t ‘Die Hard’)

16 of the Best Non-Christmas Christmas Movies (That Aren’t ‘Die Hard’)
Screenshot: Eyes Wide Shut/Warner Bros. Pictures
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Tired: “My favourite Christmas movie is Die Hard.”

Wired: “My favourite Christmas movie is Eyes Wide Shut.”

You could be forgiven for finding the now-annual seasonal discourse vis à vis Die Hard’s status as a holiday movie exhausting. What began as a funny bit of trivia has become an ice cold hot take from the “funny guy in the office — there’s even officially licensed, branded merchandise celebrating the film’s Christmas bona fides! Any discussion on the topic is purely academic at this point, and I think we’re all ready to move on.

The real question is: move on to what? Which only-technically-a-holiday-movie movie will emerge as the choice of “actually…” cineasts the internet over? Forgive me for suggesting that Die Hard could ever get old, but there will come a day, surely, when we’d like to watch a different so-called Christmas movie. Tastes and seasonal holiday celebrations may vary, but are 18 reasonable alternatives.

Cast Away (2000)

The opening scenes play like a textbook example of a Hallmark/Lifetime-style Christmas movie: Tom Hanks’ Chuck Nowland is a workaholic who abandons Christmas dinner in order to deal with a problem at work. Only his work problem is in Malaysia, setting FedEx executive Nowland off on a date with destiny (in the form of a soccer ball named Wilson). Following a harrowing plane crash, the rest of the movie takes place on a deserted island, but “this all could have been avoided if you didn’t go to work on Christmas!” remains the film’s overarching leitmotif.

Will it become your next holiday classic? Nowland’s isolation could seem like a desirable fantasy amid the chaos of a packed family visit, though nervous air travellers might wish to avoid it altogether.

Where to stream: Netflix

L.A. Confidential (1997)

What could possibly be more festive than a movie that kicks off with a Christmas party? At this particular “Bloody Christmas” shindig, based on real events, a bunch of LAPD officers got drunk and beat up several (mostly Mexican-American) prisoners — the kind of thing that could definitely only happen in the past and that clearly has no current-day relevance whatsoever. Bing Crosby’s music is a motif throughout the movie, all of which is set during the holiday season.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It’s as dark as Christmas movies come, but no more violent than Die Hard.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Babe (1995)

Babe offers a complex vision of the holiday season best summarized by the line: “Christmas means carnage!”…at least for the delightful anthropomorphic animals of Hoggett’s farm. On one level, it’s an entire movie about the title pig learning the dark secret of the season, and then doing whatever he can to charm his way out of the oven.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It’s delightful, but you might want to skip the ham at dinner afterward.

Where to stream: Netflix

End of Days (1999)

Channelling now quaint change-of-millennium anxieties, Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed with director Peter Hyams for the story of former NYPD detective Jericho Cane (beat that for an on-the-nose character name) battling Satan (in the guise of Gabriel Byrne) during the holiday season — and if the devil’s baby is born by New Year’s Eve, it will signal the titular end of days. It’s all a little (a lot) silly, but fun a fun way to smooth out the wrinkles in your brain on a sleepy holiday.

Will it become your next holiday classic? Suffused with Catholic imagery and taking place over the holidays, it could make for a fun Christmas watch — though it probably doesn’t stand up to annual viewings.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

The Ice Harvest (2005)

An entirely under-the-radar neo-noir from the late Harold Ramis, The Ice Harvest situates its action on Christmas Eve, a time when only the most interesting people are out and about in the world. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton play con men who just ripped off a mobster to the tune of $US2 ($3) million. All they want to do is get out of town, a goal complicated by an ice storm that’s closed the roads, forcing them to bide their time while avoiding their pursuers.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It’s a pitch-perfect noir following the cascading, complex events of a harrowing Christmas Eve, so it’s a great contender if you’re looking for something to put your personal holiday chaos in perspective.

Where to stream: Apple TV

Tangerine (2015)

Trans sex workers (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) set out across yuletide Los Angeles on the hunt for Rodriguez’ character’s cheating boyfriend and pimp. There aren’t a ton of queer holiday movies (unless Meet Me in St. Louis counts), and Tangerine compellingly explores a holiday on the margins. It’s set in sunny LA, so the festive trappings are muted — and for the leads, “family” would hardly mean group photos in cosy sweaters anyway — but it’s Christmas all the same. A haunting, gorgeous rendition of “Toyland” seals the deal.

Will it become your next holiday classic? This could be your queer Die Hard, no question.

Where to stream: Apple TV

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

A seasonal romance that culminates in a Hanukkah celebration, Call Me By Your Name’s sweaty Northern Italian setting doesn’t scream winter festivities…but who needs snow, anyway? You just need a a cosy fire in front of which to cry artfully.

Will it become your next holiday classic? The…problematic…stories surrounding actor Armie Hammer complicate this movie’s reputation, but Call Me By Your Name otherwise makes for a bittersweet holiday romance.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

There is an extremely limited number of dreamy, erotic mysteries that simultaneously qualify as Christmas movies — that number might in fact be one, and it’s Eyes Wide Shut. The movie begins at a vaguely naughty, adults-only Christmas party and ends with a more conventional bit of holiday shopping with the kids. Those scenes bookend a shadowy stroll through New York in winter and a ritualistic orgy, and so the film really captures every aspect of the season.

Will it become your next holiday classic? You could do worse than to spend the holidays with Kubrick…but maybe wait for the kids to go to bed first.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Batman Returns (1992)

The holiday season in Gotham is about as weird as you’d expect, with a moody penguin-man running for mayor and a seductive leather mama skipping around, robbing jewellery stores and stealing hearts. As Bat-movies go, Returns probably offers the best blend of the campy sensibilities of old with the psychological, sometimes obsessively dark, modern Caped Crusader.

Will it become your next holiday classic? The movie’s central Christmas tree lighting action sequence involves a woman thrown from a building, but it’s generally no less violent than Die Hard, and holiday themes persist throughout (mistletoe is deadly if you eat it, you know). It’s probably your best bet if you aim to have a superhero holiday.

Where to stream: Netflix

Star Trek Generations (1994)

How better to spend Christmas than with the 9th or 10th best Star Trek movie? Though the series typically avoids anything avoiding anything to do with religion, Generations finds Captain Picard briefly trapped in the Nexus, an extra-dimensional realm that traps you by allowing you to live out your fantasies. Picard, it seems, dreams of a large family at Christmas in a vaguely old-timey milieu. The result is a bit of a spin on It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jean-Luc witnessing vision of his what his life might be like if he’d never set out for the stars.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It’s the only one with anything remotely resembling a Christmas theme, but there are better Star Trek movies to watch over and over.

Where to stream: Stan

Go (1999)

By far the best of the post-Pulp Fiction imitators of the late ‘90s, Go also features the best cast (Taye Diggs, Sarah Polley, Jane Krakowski, Timothy Olyphant, etc.) and the trickiest script, telling the overlapping stories of a drug deal gone wrong during the holidays. Though there’s not much Christmas spirit on display here (there’s no learning, and none of the characters are even particularly good people), the movie reminds us frequently, and maybe a bit ironically, when this is all going down — the inclusion of a mid-movie Christmas-themed rave serving that purpose particularly well.

Will it become your next holiday classic? If you’re looking for an antidote to all that holiday cheer, then absolutely. (And, for the thirsty, shirtless Timothy Olyphant is about as hot a Santa as you’re ever likely to find.)

Where to stream: Apple TV

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Maybe don’t rob a toy store on Christmas? That’s about as close to a seasonal message you’ll get out of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but we’re not necessarily here for any of that. The muted seasonal trappings of an LA Christmas are on display here, personified by Michelle Monaghan’s tight-fitting Santa suit. Director Shane Black has a whole thing about setting his movies around Christmastime, so you could always pair this one with Iron Man III and settle down to dreams of holidays with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. This one, though, is almost certainly Black’s best.

Will it become your next holiday classic? As an action alternative to Die Hard with a similarly charismatic leading man, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang might be a perfect substitute.

Where to stream: Netflix

The Apartment (1960)

Set largely between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Billy Wilder’s film was wildly controversial when it was released — and also managed to score a ton of awards, ushering in a new era in Hollywood filmmaking. Jack Lemmon plays Bud Baxter, an insurance clerk who’s made his way up the corporate ladder by loaning out his apartment to higher-up coworkers for their extramarital affairs. In the midst of all this, a fraught affection develops between Bud and Shirley MacLaine’s Fran, the office building’s elevator operator, a woman who’s herself been in a loveless, joyless affair with Bud’s boss. As the holiday season is so often in real life, it’s as dark as it gets for each of them until a few tiny rays of hope shine through.

Will it become your next holiday classic? If the similarly dark It’s a Wonderful Life can become a holiday favourite, then there’s no reason The Apartment can’t follow suit. (Like that movie, this one involves themes of suicide, something for viewers sensitive to that type of content to keep in mind.)

Where to stream: Stan

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s surreal classic involves not just one, but several Santas, most of them pretty scary, honestly, but that’s hardly the point. The film involves Krank, an elderly being whose inability to dream has made him malicious and cruel, kidnapping children and stealing their dreams to survive. The father of one of Krank’s victims (Ron Perlman) joins forces with an orphan (Judith Vittet) to rescue the kidnapped children. There’s a strong overarching theme of family, found and otherwise, that cements the movie’s holiday feel.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It’s surreal and a little scary in places, but also a lovely fairytale, with warm holiday themes throughout.

Where to stream: Apple TV

The Proposition (2005)

It’s Christmastime in the old west (1880s Australia, actually, but western-movie style abounds), and there’s murder in the offing. In this case, it involves a choice given to renegade Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) by lawman Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone): Burns must either hunt down and kill his older brother, wanted for rape and murder, or his younger brother, already in custody for lesser crimes, will hang. That decision kicks off a contemplative journey through the outback, one drenched in tremendous performances and style, if nary a hint of festive greenery.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It might be a bit too quiet for sleepy Christmas Day viewing, but it deserves a spot somewhere on your holiday watchlist.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Die Hard 2 (1990)

Maybe you’re getting bored watching Die Hard over and over and over again, but aren’t looking to move too far from the “Bruce Willis shoots up terrorists” genre. It’s worth remembering that Die Hard 2 is also a Christmas movie — it’s set on Christmas Eve two years after the first film. Unlike so many sequels, it’s almost as enjoyable as the first, and it really gets how terrible it is to travel for the holidays, so there’s no reason not to mix things up just a bit.

Will it become your next holiday classic? It probably won’t replace the first movie in your yuletide viewing queue, but it’ll at least make for a pleasant (by which I mean loud) double feature.

Where to stream: Disney+

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