10 Christmasy Movies That Might Not Be "Christmas Movies"
While action addicts love to extol the Christmas themes of 1988’s Die Hard every time December rolls around, the Bruce Willis-led blockbuster has plenty of company in the no man’s land between “Definitely a Christmas movie” and “Definitely not a Christmas movie.” From romantic comedies to rip-roaring thrillers, here are some other Hollywood hits that you can definitely justify adding to an upcoming holiday movie marathon (whether your guests like it or not).
1. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
The only thing that screams “Christmas movie!” louder than an image of Colin Firth in a Rudolph-themed knit sweater (a.k.a. jumper) is a final scene where the two romantic leads kiss amidst a backdrop of falling snow and twinkling Christmas lights. Renée Zellweger’s classic rom-com Bridget Jones’s Diary has—you guessed it—both those things.
2. Trading Places (1983)
If your conception of Christmas includes a boozed-up, belligerent Dan Aykroyd stealing assorted meats from an upscale holiday party while dressed in full Santa garb, then this ’80s comedy is your quintessential Christmas flick. The plot revolves around a social experiment in which a well-to-do broker (Aykroyd) is unwittingly forced to swap lives with a petty criminal (Eddie Murphy), and the movie’s June release suggests that the filmmakers didn’t intend for its Christmas setting to factor into the public reception of the film in any significant way. In America, it might not have—but Trading Places is broadcast in Italy every Christmas Eve.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
It’s hard to see the snow-covered forests and fields of Narnia without thinking about Christmas, but the White Witch’s meteorological curse isn’t really why the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s universally beloved novel is on this list. (After all, if an unforgiving winter is all it takes to make something holiday-themed, then 1980’s The Shining is also technically a Christmas movie.) Instead, the qualifying factor here is the scene where Father Christmas appears to hand out highly personalized gifts to the Pevensie children. Scored by a carol-esque children’s chorus and complete with a jingly, reindeer-led sleigh, the scene is so magical it makes you forget that the plot of the film is centered around ending Narnia’s endless winter.
4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
There are so many Christmas trees in Stanley Kubrick’s erotic thriller that, if you ignore everything else in the film, it could pass for a really festive, albeit R-rated, game of “I Spy.” In addition to the heavy-handed Christmas imagery, Kubrick opens the film with a ritzy holiday party and closes it with a feel-good (at least, relative to the other scenes) shopping trip to Manhattan’s FAO Schwarz. Interestingly enough, the characters in the source material, Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle, were Jewish.
5. Gremlins (1984)
The cackling, spawning, murderous demons make Gremlins a near-perfect contender for a Halloween horror classic—if it weren’t for the fact that all the chaos ensues over the holidays, and the original gremlin was purchased as a Christmas gift. Though Warner Bros. ultimately went with a summer release, the film was initially slated to premiere during the Christmas season, and Steven Spielberg actually considered Tim Burton—the man behind another confusing horror/holiday hybrid film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)—to direct it.
6. Batman Returns (1992)
And, just a year before Burton dove head-first into the deep end of the “Kind of a Christmas movie” pool with The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he wrote and produced, but did not direct), he got his feet wet with this follow-up to 1989's Batman, starring Michael Keaton. It’s not exactly overflowing with holiday cheer, but it does contain enough evidence of Christmas to justify making your family watch it this December instead of a traditional old talkie (or more accurately, shout-ie) like It’s a Wonderful Life. In addition to the ill-fated tree-lighting ceremony during which masked troublemakers burst forth from an enormous Christmas gift and wreak havoc across Gotham’s plaza, there’s also a Christmas-themed beauty queen called the Ice Princess, penguins who waddle around with candy cane-like torpedos strapped to their backs, and a pretty unforgettable mention of mistletoe.
7. While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Due to a comedy of errors, Sandra Bullock’s character ends up spending the holidays with a coma-ridden Peter Gallagher’s family—who believes her to be his fiancée—and falling in love with his brother (Bill Pullman). But even if this ’90s rom-com didn’t mention Christmas, the big sweaters, snow, and familial love give it a distinctly Christmasy vibe all the same.
8. Lethal Weapon (1987)
This classic buddy cop film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, has heroin smugglers, hand grenades, prostitution, and plenty of other R-rated, non-holiday content. However, the film opens to “Jingle Bell Rock,” features a drug bust at a Christmas tree lot, and ends with a rather heartwarming exchange between the main characters that happens on Christmas Day. Also, it’s written by Shane Black, famed for setting many a movie during the Christmas season—others include The Last Boy Scout (1991), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 (2013), and The Nice Guys (2016).
9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis covers an entire year in the life of the Smith family, so there’s definitely no shortage of spring-, summer-, and autumn-based scenes and musical numbers throughout the film. But not even the sunny atmosphere and vibrantly-colored ensembles of the trolley passengers in “The Trolley Song” can compete with the extravagant Christmas Eve ball, after which Judy Garland’s character, Esther, warbles “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister. It was actually the very first version of the now-classic Christmas song, and it’s also probably the reason that some people consider the movie musical a Yuletide classic.
10. Die Hard (1988)
Lastly: This list would hardly be complete if we didn’t include Die Hard, the internet’s favorite so-called Christmas movie to argue about. Not only was the film released in July, its action-packed plot has nothing to do with Christmas, and Bruce Willis himself actually said it wasn’t a Christmas movie. However, Die Hard does take place between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, contains countless Christmas symbols (plus a few Christmas songs), and, at its simplest, is really about a father trying to reconcile with his family in the spirit of Christmas. Furthermore, Die Hard screenwriter Steven de Souza is a die-hard member of the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” camp.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2021.