Short answer: Yes, sort of.
Long answer: No, because it should be reclassified. Let me explain…
When we categorise anything, music, films, books, art there are general categories and then more specific categories. Napalm Death and Limp Bizkit are both technically metal bands, but they are about as far removed from being similar as a kitten and a lion! Take a step back even further into the world of general categories, Napalm Death could be classed as a rock band…So could Coldplay. Drink that in for a second. Call me crazy; go on, you know you want to, I’m trying to prove a point. Music has become massively divided and sub-divided and sub-sub-divided and sub-sub-sub-divided…we do the same with movies. There is a sub-genre of movies called Rom-Zom-Com! Yet for some crazy reason…when it comes to the festive season, we are left with just the big one category, is it a Christmas movie? Yes or No?
Fair reader; let me suggest 3 new (sub) categories of movie for the holiday season!
Number 1 – The Christmas movie.
“The Christmas movie” is defined as any movie where Christmas or Christmas figures are central to the plot of the movie. If you change the occasion or characters, replace them with something different, the story would make no sense.
Think of any movie about Father Christmas/Santa Claus, if you swapped him for zoo keeper, it would be a complete mess. Manic en masse shopping for Christmas presents, this doesn’t work at any other time of the year.
There are some more subtle elements that are open for debate, but the subtlety can be the divide between a Christmas movie and…
Number 2 – The Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
(I am fully prepared for a whole load of arguments about this)
The non-Christmas, Christmas movie is any movie where Christmas is central to the story, but could be replaced for any other occasion and the film would still be enjoyable.
There are countless examples of movies where the star(s) are trying to get home for Christmas, if you swapped Christmas for any other significant event, a wedding, a significant family party, a reunion, Thanksgiving, Easter, any holiday…the story would still work.
There is room for debate whether many of the movies in this category would retain cult status if they weren’t set at Christmas, but that is a topic for another time.
Number 3 – The Seasonal movie
I’m sorry this one is gloriously vague, but it has to be. Think about movies that can be watched at any time of year, but can be associated with Christmas. Perhaps it’s a story that takes place over a long period of time and Christmas happens to pop up in that time frame, even if only for a few minutes. It could just be a movie with lots of snow in it! There are plenty of movies that exist entirely outside of the holiday season and then conveniently, the last scene is at Christmas.
This could just be a movie your family always watched at Christmas. I’ve had people tell me that Star Wars feels like a Christmas movie simply because it “used to always be on at Christmas” and the release of the new movies has mostly been tied into Christmas. Bond, Carry On, Harry Potter, but this is totally personal.
Have I suitably ruined your ideas of Christmas movies yet? Yes? No? Well…I’m going to now as we are going to categorise some classics.
Let’s start with the big one…
Die Hard (1988) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
Here is comes… Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie.
I’m sorry, but it isn’t. It wasn’t even release at Christmas, July 1988 in the US and February 1989 in the UK.
Let’s dismantle it a little. John McClane is going to Nakatomi plaza to see his estranged wife, only to discover that terrorists have taken over the building. Where does Christmas come into that plot? The movie is set at Christmas and it’s a Christmas party! I hear you shout. Why couldn’t it have been a party to celebrate the opening of Nakatomi plaza? Or a big deal or anything? 80s coke fiends don’t need a reason to party.
I’m the first to admit, some of the classic lines don’t work, but it’s not a big change to say “Surprise mother fuckers! Now I have a machine gun!”
Die Hard 2 feels more Christmassy because it is set at Christmas and there is snow everywhere! Die Hard 3 isn’t even set at Christmas and it doesn’t detract from the movie. Skyscraper is virtually a remake of Die Hard, that isn’t set at Christmas and it is still loads of fun.
However, when it is late November and you aren’t ready to dive straight into something as festive as Elf, Die Hard is the perfect place to start.
It could be argued, and I’m ready to be shouted at for this one, that Lethal Weapon is more of a Christmas movie than Die Hard…but I’ll leave that one up to you.
Jingle All The Way (1996) – Christmas Movie
Let’s review…A workaholic father forgets to get his son the Christmas present, follow his adventure as he tries to get it.
The entire premise of the movie only works at Christmas, because it is the only time for en masse shopping. Also, what could be more festive than Arnie punching a reindeer?
Christmas Carol (Various Incarnations) – Christmas movie
I’m including this story as a Christmas movie, because the mounting details make it add up to a Christmas movie. BUT, and this is a big but, it could easily be a non-Christmas, Christmas movie.
The story of an aging miser, shown the error of his ways by visiting ghosts. That is the plot. You could set this story at any time of the year, show various time frames in the past, present and future and the story would hold up. However, there are so many elements that rely on Christmas tradition it might not hold up. Feel free to argue this one amongst yourselves.
Just in case you are wondering, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Scrooged and Mickey’s Christmas Carol are my favourites.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie.
I’m pretty sure I just ruined some people’s opinion of me. Let’s dig into this one a little.
An angel gives George Bailey a chance to see a world where he never existed.
This is definitely one of those stories where Christmas acts as a common theme for many of the incidents in the story, but they could easily be removed from Christmas and still be just as impactful. If you don’t believe me, feel free to look up Shrek forever after, whilst not the strongest outing for the franchise, it is based entirely on the premise of It’s a Wonderful Life, just not set at Christmas.
Love Actually (2003) – Seasonal
This isn’t even really a movie; it is 9 short stories about love set to the backdrop of December and Christmas. Does it work outside of the December/Christmas setting? Easily. An office party, a school play, an aging singer trying to make a comeback…Christmas is the secret sauce that ties the events together. Colin and the Americans and the nude body doubles, barely have anything to do with Christmas!
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – Christmas movie
This is just barely.
This comes into the grey area with A Christmas Carol. The cumulative elements add up to make it a Christmas movie, but considering the Griswold’s are seen as an iconic American family, many of the jokes in this movie would transfer to Thanksgiving and others could be reframed. Don’t believe me? Just think about Trains, Planes and Automobiles. That is considered a holiday movie, but the tropes that define it are the same as many “getting home for Christmas” movies, it is just set at Thanksgiving. Same feelings, different time.
Home Alone (1990) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
Did I just ruin your childhood a little? A family go on holiday, leaving their youngest child behind…why couldn’t the family just be going on holiday to visit their brother/uncle in France, it could be a Thanksgiving trip…and they forget Kevin.
This could be set at ANY time of the year and what makes it enjoyable would still hold up. Here is the funny thought, the iconic “Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!” is from Home Alone 2! What makes this even more ridiculous is that so many more elements of the Home Alone 2 story are centred around Christmas. Don’t believe me? Watch them both in quick succession and tell me that, much like Die Hard, the sequel is more Christmassy then the original.
The Nightmare before Christmas (1995) – Seasonal
Why have I said seasonal? Bear with me a second, the movie starts at Halloween, and rolls through to Christmas. Does this make it a Halloween movie? A Christmas movie? This is Halloween or Stealing Christmas?
I had a conversation with someone just the other day and described this as the “Perfect November movie”. You aren’t ready to let Halloween go, but you don’t want to dive straight into The Santa Clause, Nightmare is there for you. This leads me nicely into…
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966, 2000, 2018) – Christmas Movie
Where Nightmare becomes a seasonal movie because of its Halloween association, The Grinch was clearly a source of inspiration, but by centring the story in one time frame, it’s a no brainer.
I think the biggest debate will be which version you want to watch and why…
Gremlins (1984) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
Much like Die Hard, Gremlins saw a June release in the US (and a more logical December release in the UK). This is a story of a father buying a special gift for his son, why couldn’t it have been his birthday present? Beyond the Christmas present, there are virtually no Christmas critical elements to the story, Mrs Deagle’s Christmas decorations? Kate’s story about her father could be ANY story about the unfortunate loss of a parent.
I love this movie so much, I have Gizmo tattooed on me, but it would easily hold up at another time of year.
Trading Places (1983) – Seasonal
This story takes place over a few weeks. It is clearly winter at the start, passes through the Christmas season, into new year and just beyond. Is the meme grade moment of Eddie Murphy shouting “Merry New Year!” a more iconic than the drunken, gun toting Santa?
You can watch this movie at any time of year and it remains enjoyable, the gap between Christmas and new year just seems to make the most sense.
Movies involving Santa – Christmas movie
Whether we are talking about the Santa Clause, Bad Santa, Arthur Christmas, Santa Claus: The Movie, Miracle on 34th Street…how can these be anything but Christmas movies? Most Santa based movies involve some failure in the system at the North Pole and someone saving the day.
This is the classic Christmas movie format. No debate.
The Night Before (2015) – Christmas movie.
Just Friends (2005) – Christmas movie.
These movies centre around the idea of going home, bumping into old friends, traditions…etc. There isn’t another time of year that combines these at once.
Four Christmases (2008 – Christmas movie,
Deck the Halls (2006) – Christmas movie.
Christmas with the Cranks – (2004) – Christmas movie.
The Family Stone (2005) – Christmas movie.
Families, traditions, decorations….if you were really trying, some could come under the non-Christmas category, but it would be a push.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – Seasonal
While You Were Sleeping (1995) – Seasonal
Olympus has Fallen (2013) – Seasonal
Batman Returns (1992) – Seasonal
Harry Potter (various) – Seasonal
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) – Seasonal
Iron Man 3 (2013) – Seasonal
Toy Story (1996) – Seasonal
Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Seasonal
All of these movies have a scene or scenes set at Christmas, some more than others. I like to watch these in late November/early December, they are great to ease you into the Christmas Spirit.
The Family Man (2000) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
Lethal Weapon (1987) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
The Ref (1994) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
Trapped in Paradise (1994) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
Mixed Nuts (1994) – Non-Christmas, Christmas movie
There is a hook to each of these movies that manages to make them great without being to…Christmassy. Excellent for the early party of the holiday season or just when you want a break from all that feeling warm and fuzzy.
There we have it! Do you agree with my sub categories of Christmas movie? Even if you don’t agree with some of my categorisation.
The important thing to note is…if you want to watch Home Alone in August, go ahead. If you think it isn’t allowed to be Christmas until Hans Gruber has fallen off Nakatomi Plaza, that’s fine too. I am normally someone who prefers movies with explosions, terrible one liners and lots of violence, but there is just something about this time of year that brings out my softer side.
Now, using your new found sub categorisation of the Christmas movie genre, you can ease you and your loved ones into the festive season just in time to put The Muppets Christmas Carol on and wrap your presents.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!
P.S. I totally realise, I haven’t touched on TV specials or the Horror Christmas movie. I need something to write about next year!