Thanksgiving is already over, which means holiday season is already in full-swing. Christmas movies are playing on a near constant loop on our televisions already, but there’s only so much sickly-sweet Christmas fare that a person can handle. No one’s saying that A Muppet Christmas Carol isn’t a fantastic Christmas movie; it’s just that there comes a time when we need more adult-leaning entertainment choices. Luckily, not all Christmas movies strive to give you the warm-fuzzies during the holiday season. There are plenty of dark, hilarious, and even sad Christmas movies made with a more adult audience in mind.
Here are the 10 Best Christmas Movies for Adults in case you need an antidote to all the feel-good movies this holiday season. And for even more adult holiday movies, check out our list of Movies You Forgot Were About Christmas.
The Night Before (2015)
The newest of the adult-themed Christmas movies, The Night Before manages to be full of holiday spirit and a completely successful tale on the transition into adulthood. The film reunites stars Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt with 50/50 director Jonathan Levine and adds co-star Anthony Mackie into the mix for a strong blend of stoner hijinks and Christmas fun.
Full of ugly holiday sweaters, the movie follows Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (Mackie) on their annual holiday tradition of drinking the night away on Christmas Eve. While the tradition may have started as a way for Ethan to cope with the loss of his parents, Isaac and Chris have started to worry it’s actually preventing him from moving on. Witty dialogue and likeable characters keep the movie from becoming too bleak as the characters struggle with growing up and moving on. The humor is elevated by some great appearances from Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, Jason Jones, and Michael Shannon.
Joyeux Noël (2005)
This film takes place during the First World War, as an unofficial Christmas truce in 1914 brings together some French, Scottish, and German front-line soldiers for a short cease-fire and Christmas celebration. What starts as a bloody and brutal war movie turns into a heartwarming story of peace on Christmas—even if that peace was ultimately short-lived. Inspired by real events, the film tells the true story of a group of soldiers who engaged in an unauthorized cease-fire, meeting each other in No Man’s Land for a short respite from battle.
After the Scots began singing Christmas songs, the German, French, and Scottish officers agree to the cease fire, with the soldiers meeting and exchanging stories from home. Unfortunately, the brief glimpse of brotherhood fades quickly, as several soldiers are punished for the truce and the reality of war sets in again. A French film, Joyeux Noël won several international awards and was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Apartment (1960)
We’re all familiar with It’s a Wonderful Life, which is arguably one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. But if you’re looking for a classic movie that’s a little less mainstream and with slightly more adult themes, then Billy Wilder’s dark Christmas comedy The Apartment is a perfect choice thanks to its humorous cynicism but ultimately uplifting tone.
Starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, the film follows C.C. Baxter as he tries to work his way up the corporate ladder by allowing company executives to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs. Filled with sexual liaisons, suicide attempts, and drunkenness, the film isn’t a family affair. While it’s not your traditional Christmas movie, the events of the film take place around the holidays, with pivotal scenes happening at the company Christmas party and a New Year’s party. Considered controversial for its time, The Apartment was still a critical and commercial success, winning five Academy Awards.
The Ref (1994)
The Ref is on over-the-top comedy of errors that is full of Christmas hijinks. It follows the story of an unlucky cat burglar named Gus (Denis Leary) who, through an unfortunate twist, ends up having to take a dysfunctional suburban couple (played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage.
The couple, fresh from a rough therapy session, are unable to let their marital problems go, even in the midst of a hostage situation. Gus must act as a referee for the bickering couple, all the while trying to evade the police and dealing with the couple’s extended family as they arrive for the holidays. While it may not be full of glowing holiday spirit, The Ref is the perfect movie for anyone not looking forward to spending another holiday with their families.
Bad Santa (2003)
Much like The Ref, Bad Santa has very little in the way of traditional holiday clichés and warm-fuzzies, making it a great antidote to an excess of Christmas cheer. It stars Billy Bob Thornton as Willie T. Stoke, a professional thief who disguises himself as a department store Santa Claus every year in order to pull off the perfect Christmas Eve heist. But much to his assistant Marcus’s (Tony Cox) dismay, Willie’s alcoholism and sex addiction start interfering with his Santa duties. The heist is further complicated by a poor kid who believes that Willie’s the actual Santa, and a security guard who may be onto them.
The film seems to take pride in its offensiveness, with Willie’s Santa becoming basically the Santa of every parent’s and kid’s nightmares, as he shows up drunk, pees himself, and has sex with store clerks. But it’s not just an offensively funny movie for the sake of laughs; it’s also a great movie with some knock-out performances from Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, and Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton plays the drunk Willie so well that he even earned himself a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
Scrooged is a more adult and modern take on the classic Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, starring Bill Murray, which makes it one of the greatest adaptations by default. In this 80’s classic, Murray plays Frank Cross, a cynical television executive who is demanding his employees work on Christmas Eve so that the station can put on a live production of A Christmas Carol. After Frank sees the ghost of his old mentor, we are taken through the traditional Christmas Carol storyline, with the ghosts of present, past, and future all making an appearance.
Full of incredible performances from popular 80’s celebraties, including Murray’s turn as Frank, the movie also stars John Glover and Bobcat Goldthwait, with a host of cameos including Jamie Farr, Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton and Anne Ramsey.
Trading Places (1983)
Another 80s classic, Trading Places is set in the couple of weeks around the holiday season, even going into New Year’s. It stars Dan Aykroyd as a successful stockbroker named Louis and Eddie Murphy as a petty crook named Billy Ray, but the two are forced to switch places when the wealthy Duke brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) make them the subject of a bet. The millionaire brothers arrange for Louis to get arrested and lose everything as part of an experiment over whether a person’s environment or heredity determines their later success.
The holiday backdrop adds an almost tangible quality to the desperation felt by Louis, and some of the most stand-out scenes happen at holiday events, including a scene where Louis crashes a Christmas party dressed in a Santa suit. It’s a witty and fun movie that, despite being written for adults, still manages to convey the messages of a classic Christmas tale – like helping others in their times of need.
Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually is the classic Christmas rom-com that combines the holiday sentiment we all crave at this time of the year with humor and realism. Set during the extended holiday season, it follows eight couples as they navigate what can ultimately be a lonely and depressing time of the year for many people. There’s a husband who recently lost his wife; a wife with a cheating husband; a writer who can’t get any work done; a man in love with his best friend’s new wife.
As each of these stories play out and interconnect, the characters most overcome their own challenges with love and the holiday season. It brings together an all-star cast, managing to make good use of everyone, including Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, and Keira Knightly. Because there are eight stories, not all of them can have happy endings, but the overall message is one of hope and love.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
If your favorite childhood Christmas movie is Home Alone, than Christmas Vacation is the perfect, slightly more adult choice. While not totally inappropriate as a family movie, there is enough profanity and adult jokes to earn the film a PG-13 rating. Writer John Hughes (Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Vacation) returns with laughs and heart as the Griswold clan stays home to celebrate Christmas, with the traditional Griswold disastrous results.
Christmas Vacation is the third in the National Lampoon’s series, but the first where we get to see the Griswold’s in their natural environment: their home. Chevy Chase as the father of the Griswold family continues to bring laughs with his penchant for slap-stick comedy, having repeated encounters with precarious ladders. But of course, it’s not just a funny movie – it’s also a Christmas movie, with a family coming together and being reminded about the love they have for one another.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)
The third installment in the Harold & Kumar series, 3D Christmas continues their strong tradition of stoner comedy, but this time in 3D. Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are both back, with the film picking up six years after the events of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Over that time, they’ve gone their separate ways, but events conspire to bring them together for the holidays. When the duo accidentally burn down a prize Christmas tree, they must embark on a journey to find a replacement.
While the boys hunt down the perfect Christmas tree, they get up to their typical trouble-fueled adventures, including encountering the Ukrainian mob and getting kidnapped. But despite the missteps, the adventure re-unites the friends in time for Christmas morning, making it a surprisingly sentimental holiday outing for two of our favorite stoners.
Those are some of our favorite adult Christmas movies. Did your favorite make the cut? Which one do you like best? Let us know in the comments!
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