There’s more to Christmas movies than Miracle on 34th Street

The best-known and most revered Christmas movies are probably Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, and these films have established an image of Christmas films as heartwarming, uplifting family-friendly fare.  But there’s much more to Christmas movies than that.  Whether your favourite genre is comedy, romance, action or even horror, there’s Christmas viewing in this list for you:

Holiday Inn [Region 1]

Film buff factoid:  The song “White Christmas” actually makes its first appearance in Holiday Inn, giving the film its unshakeable connection to Christmas.  (The film White Christmas came 12 years later, taking advantage of the song’s unprecedented popularity).  Holiday Inn has plenty of star power, showcasing Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Irving Berlin at what they do best.  It is light-hearted, romantic, has memorable songs and spectacular production numbers – a classic musical from Hollywood’s Golden Age.



Joyeux Noel [Region 1]

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) is based on the remarkable true story of the Christmas Truce in 1914.  During that first Christmas of World War I, soldiers on the Western Front initiated an unofficial truce.  Troops from opposing sides came together in no man’s land, to talk, share food, sing Christmas carols, even to play football.  Seen from the view of Scottish, French and German soldiers, Joyeux Noel highlights a universal yearning for peace, home and human connection.  The film contrasts the humanity of ordinary soldiers with their commanding officers, whose strong disapproval of the truce is based on “toeing the line”.  Joyeux Noel is an emotional, even sentimental film, but elegantly understated as European cinema does best.


Life of Brian [Region 2]

This movie about a Very Naughty Boy was, for several years, a late-night TV treat on Christmas Eve in Australia – a practice that deserves to be reinstated.  Life of Brian – about a boy born at the same time as Jesus – is probably the most coherent and understandable of all of Monty Python’s work.  In the deeply-irreverent, typical Python style, it lampoons religion, politics, gender relations and just about everything (and everyone) else.  It also finishes on a ridiculously catchy song that will have you singing along with a grin on your face (especially if you’ve had a few drinks).  Lots of fun, even if (or especially if) you are not all that into “the whole Christmas thing”.


Elf [Region 4]

A Christmas movie about Will Ferrell as a gangly, dim-but-lovable human raised as an elf could have been so very, very bad – but luckily, it turned out to be very, very good!  Will Ferrell plays Buddy, raised as an elf by Santa, who heads to New York City to find his real family when he discovers that he is actually human.  The writer and perfectly-cast actors (including James Caan and Zooey Deschanel) have delivered an original and fun film through a masterful balance of wit, slapstick, irreverence, traditional Christmas sentiment and just a hint of romance.



Doctor Who Christmas Specials [Region 4]

I named The Doctor Who Christmas Specials as one of my Top 10 DVD Box Sets for 2015, and cannot resist mentioning it again this week.  These 10 episodes from 2005-2014 star David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi (aka Doctors 10, 11 and 12), and are a real tribute to the enormous creativity of the Doctor Who writers.  Within the confines of a Christmas theme and the need for series continuity, the writers have repeatedly come up with fresh scenarios and great characters.   Nothing is repetitive, and there is always a good balance of fantasy, tension, jokes and terror.  See for yourself why the Christmas Special are often the most-watched Doctor Who episode of the year.


The Snowman [Region 2]

Even if you have never seen The Snowman, you might be familiar with its haunting theme song, Walking in the Air.   Based on the Raymond Briggs picture book, The Snowman is about a little boy, the snowman he made, and the adventures they have together when the snowman comes to life.  The Snowman is funny, enchanting and poignant – all achieved without any dialogue.  It also has a stirring orchestral soundtrack.  This DVD version comes with a sequel from 2012, The Snowman and the Snowdog, created to mark the 30th anniversary of the original.



Bridget Jones’ Diary [Region 1]


Love, Actually may be the more famous Christmas-themed rom-com, but Bridget Jones also deserves recognition.  Inspired by Pride and Prejudice, the movie is brilliantly cast, and has the renowned in-joke of Colin Firth playing both Mr Darcy (in Pride and Prejudice), and Mark Darcy (the Mr Darcy-like character in Bridget Jones, inspired by Firth’s performance of Mr Darcy).  With its deft mixture of comedy, romance and sentimentality, Bridget Jones covers similar emotional territory to many classic Christmas movies.  And its finale – with Bridget Jones running after Mark Darcy in the snow, in her embarrassing underwear – is the sort of warm gooey Happy Ending that Christmas deserves.


Home Alone [Region 4]

When Macaulay Culkin is accidentally left behind when his family flies to Paris for Christmas, he continues a cinematic tradition of cute precocious kids wrecking havoc upon the (adult) world.  The idea of kids besting adults is aimed squarely at engaging a child audience, but the humour and those booby traps are clever enough to entertain adults too.  That it is written by John Hughes (master of the ‘80s teen movie) and directed by Chris Columbus (now famous for directing the first three Harry Potter films) should serve as further endorsement.


Tokyo Godfathers [Region 2]

Don’t let the animated format fool you – Tokyo Godfathers is not cutesy or kid-friendly – instead it is understated, bleak but incredibly uplifting. Arguably, this makes Tokyo Godfathers closer to true “Christmas spirit” than more saccharine traditional fare.  The film’s title is a nod to John Ford’s 3 Godfathers, with both films sharing the premise of three down-and-outers rescuing a baby on Christmas Eve.  As Gin (an alcoholic), Hana (a transvestite) and Miyuki (a teenage runaway) wander a snowy Tokyo in search of the baby’s parents, their life stories are gradually revealed.  A series of coincidences lead to an ending that is surprisingly tense, poignant, and heartwarming.  Tokyo Godfathers is deep, sophisticated “real cinema”, praised by the great Roger Ebert as “a story that will never, ever be remade by Disney”.


Die Hard [Region 4]
Die Hard is not your typical Christmas film, but has featured on a surprising number of “Best Christmas movie” lists, including those for Empire magazine, Forbes magazine and Rotten Tomatoes.  Bruce Willis stars as a maverick cop trying to foil a terrorist attack on Christmas Eve.  Die Hard is a trailblazer for movies with a regular-guy action hero, and is so iconic that many subsequent action films are jokingly referenced back to it (for example, Speed (1994) has been referred to as “Die Hard on a bus”).  Let this action-packed thriller shake you out of your food coma.

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a librarian working in public libraries. As a lifelong booklover, she loves having access to a library’s worth of books! As a librarian, an important (and fun) part of her work is about connecting people to new ideas and new books. Karen is a literary magpie who can't settle on a single favourite genre – she loves narrative nonfiction, historical fantasies and food writing.