Christmas, a truly magical time of year. What’s not to love? Good food, good friends, quality family time, and presents… so many presents.
But for some of us, Christmas doesn’t always go to plan. Is your sub-par turkey game always letting you down? Do the holidays serve as a reminder of the distance — geographical or metaphorical — that separates you from your loved ones? Are you tired of the yearly charade whereby you spend too much money on things people don’t need in exchange for junk you don’t want?
Maybe it’s simply the sickly Christmas cheer that brings you down — the bright, happy faces that surround you, following and surrounding you every goddamn minute of every goddamn day.
Thankfully, there is respite to be found from your holiday woes. No matter the root of your festive malaise, we’ve compiled a list of films to counter the Christmas blues and turn your yuletide frown upside down.
For that sickly sweet holiday comedown
Bad Santa (2003)
If the manufactured Christmas cheer and manipulative seasonal appeal to hearts, minds, and wallets are wearing you down, there’s only one heavy drinking, philandering, pant-pissing Santa Claus fit for your holiday cynicism.
Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie T. Stokes is a man defined by his problems. Unapologetically low — as in rock bottom — on holiday spirit, his depravity and utter contempt for time-honored holiday traditions renders him the ultimate Christmas antihero.
Perhaps at the center of the film’s appeal is that, despite the liberal lashings of grand larceny, police shootouts, and copious amounts of unsexy sex, Bad Santa adheres to a fairly standard Christmas story structure. And the unrelenting flow of acidic one-liners ensures this will remain in the annual viewing schedule for years to come.
For when you’re bored of the rat race
The Family Man (2000)
Nicolas Cage in a Christmas movie is already a holiday grail, but Cage’s overacting isn’t the only highlight here.
The Family Man follows Jack (Cage), who wakes up on Christmas morning to find his lavish corner office Manhattan life has been replaced with an alternate family-orientated one with his college sweetheart Kate (Téa Leoni). Spoiler: like It’s a Wonderful Life (and most holiday movies, to be real), Jack realizes the true meaning of Christmas isn’t material gain, but those who love you.
Sure, it's a cliché, but the film’s takedown of capitalistic values is extremely needed to round off the hellscape that is 2020.
They don’t make Christmas like they used to
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The film equivalent of a warm hug, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a cinematic masterpiece. You might find Will Ferrell an overrated putz, or Tim Burton’s distinctive style irritating, but some films exist beyond the purview of subjective tastes. There's little more to say about It’s a Wonderful Life other than it is simply something you should see before you die.
In the film, we find the protagonist George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in his darkest hour, contemplating suicide. At that moment, he is met by an angel tasked with showing how much poorer the world would have been without his existence. Sure, it’s sentimental, but if this profound tale hasn’t won you over by the film's end, then yeah, you really don’t like Christmas — or life.
They don’t make Christmas like they used to: ’80s edition
Using its Christmas setting to the most destructive effect, horror-comedy mash-up Gremlins is arguably the ultimate Christmas popcorn flick.
More than three decades later, there are still a few unanswered questions. How do datelines affect gremlin feeding patterns? And am I a bad person for always LOL’ing through Kate’s "Why I don’t like Christmas" speech?
But the film was never intended to be scrutinized closely. What's important is that the effects are still great and the gremlins are equal part scary and hilarious, particularly when they get their drink on. A true late-night special.
See also: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
If you’re heartbroken this Christmas
Christmas, Again (2014)
Christmas, Again follows a heartbroken guy working as a Christmas tree seller in New York. While it’s hardly the cheeriest premise, let's be real — the holidays aren’t always a cheerful time for everyone.
The movie wonderfully reflects that wistful feeling of holiday longing, but to keep things from turning totally dismal, it also has just that right amount of holiday spirit.
If you're sick of major blockbusters and want to watch something a little more indie while still keeping things holiday-themed, Christmas, Again is one to add to your list.
If you're dreaming of a red Christmas
Black Christmas (1974)
There are plenty of Christmas horror titles out there, but the chilling Black Christmas remains one of the best. Preceding the golden age of slashers and with its story of a deranged killer picking off sorority girls one by one, Black Christmas was a big influence on both Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Two decades later, horror maestro Wes Craven gave the movie another tip of the hat with Scream — the caller is in the house! — while Black Christmas itself got a remake in 2006 (of course it did). Gory, depraved, and very influential.
See also: Calvaire (2004)
For a little perspective
Stalag 17 (1953)
Set in a German WW2 POW camp, Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 is a comedy-drama in which brutal scenes of punishment play against slapstick skits of the silliest order.
While the film can get a little Hogan’s Heroes at moments, the comic relief does leavens what could have been a tough movie to endure. Here, the POWs use Christmas as a way of distracting from the harshness and tedium of prison life. Despite the at times jarring approach, it’s a fascinating and beautifully written film, and a poignant illustration of Christmas' power.
For when you have to entertain kids
An American Tail (1986)
There seem to be very few movies set around Hanukkah, but for some Jewish representation, we can always look toward the Mousekewitz family (and apologies for being too late for Hanukkah itself).
Produced by Stephen Spielberg, An American Tail and 1991's An American Tail: Fievel Goes West are both worth watching, but to really get you in the holiday spirit, the OG is the one. The movie opens during Hanukkah, when protagonist Fievel’s dad tells him their Russian family is emigrating to the US.
If you’re stuck entertaining younger family members, instead of giving in and watching The Emoji Movie, educate them with a true animated classic.
See also: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
All I want for Christmas is a lump of coal
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton is a perfect antidote to the same predictable primary colored Christmas fare that gets rolled out year after year. Over the course of a dazzling three-film run in the early ’90s, Burton captured the thrill and wonderment of the holiday season in his own distinctively macabre style.
With Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, Burton used the holidays, a time of year synonymous with togetherness and inclusion, to explore the world of the outsider — yes, the Penguin was a victim all along.
But The Nightmare Before Christmas (created by Burton and directed by Henry Selick) is Burton’s true yuletide opus. Having grown weary of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington (aka the Pumpkin King) yearns for a holiday with more spirit and meaning. As these fables usually go, however, there's more to Christmas than the presents under the tree.
Much like Bad Santa, The Nightmare Before Christmas hits many of the same unseasonal beats, but it’s Burton’s twisted humor and the stunning stop-motion animation that set this film apart as a Christmas classic.
To counter another soul-crushingly boring Christmas lunch
Die Hard (1988)
The Christmas action film sub-genre is stocked with a healthy selection of classics, but nothing is louder or kicks more ass than Die Hard. Reluctantly in LA for Christmas to reconcile with his estranged wife, Bruce Willis’ NYC cop John McClane is forced to save the day when his wife’s high-rise office building is taken over by German terrorists/thieves.
With John McTiernan’s brisk direction, a script jammed with quotable one-liners, and Alan Rickman’s delightfully evil villain Hans Gruber, Die Hard is the sure-fire hit you need to soothe those Christmas blues. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers!
For when you're stuck at home instead of out partying on Christmas Eve
The Night Before (2015)
It never hurts to have a stoner comedy in your Christmas movie rotation, especially one narrated by Tracy Morgan.
Directed by Jonathan Levine, The Night Before stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie as longtime pals with a holiday tradition of partying their asses off on Christmas Eve. This year is a bit different, however, as Rogen's character Isaac will soon be welcoming his first child, leaving the entire crew with the inclination that this may be their final hoorah.
With their annual tradition seemingly coming to an end, the fellas set out to make this their best Christmas Eve outing yet, as they engage in a night of debauchery that will hopefully lead them to the Holy Grail of Christmas parties, the Nutcracka Ball.
The Night Before is best watched with a glass full of spiked eggnog (although, what other kind is there?) at your disposal.
See also: Office Christmas Party (2016)
Is this really a Christmas movie?
In Bruges (2008)
There are a number of films that resurface over the holidays that spark the "is this really a Christmas movie?" debate. Similar to pictures like Die Hard, Martin McDonagh's 2008 crime comedy In Bruges falls into this category.
In Bruges is set during Christmas, as two hitmen played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are ordered by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in Bruges, Belgium following a murder gone wrong. You probably could've guessed, but the movie doesn't revolve around spreading holiday cheer, rather it grapples with the season's pensive nature.
If the big guy in the red suit has you feeling uncomfortably jolly over the holidays, you can certainly offset some of that by watching In Bruges.