There are many people for whom the movie-going experience is as much a part of the holiday season as mistletoe and holly. It's certainly one of the busiest times of the year for Hollywood, which schedules many of its biggest releases around Christmas. Television networks also plot their programming accordingly, with marathons of classic films like Love Actually and A Christmas Story running throughout the day.
Still, there are some good folk out there who seek a change from the traditional holiday standards like It's A Wonderful Life and White Christmas. They want to see something different this year - something without Tim Allen in a fat-suit. At the very least, they would like something that is appropriate to this time of year that doesn't require secretly spiking your eggnog so that you can survive watching the Hallmark Channel.
To that end, we have compiled this list of great non-traditional Christmas movies (in no particular order). While some of these films will need to wait until the children are nestled all snug in their beds, there are still a wide variety of films here that will cater to all tastes and all ages.
10. Die Hard
Police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) flies from New York to Los Angeles to visit his children and to try one last time to patch things up with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Attending her company's holiday party on Christmas Eve, McClane is the only one at liberty when a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) seize control of the building and take everyone else hostage. With the local police slow to respond, it falls to McClane to wage a one-man war to save the day.
Die Hard is perhaps the most quintessential non-traditional Christmas movie in existence. The 1988 action movie still inspires heated debates as to whether or not it truly counts as a Christmas movie. For his part, Bruce Willis says Die Hard isn't a Christmas movie.
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Interestingly, 20th Century Fox disagrees, having released an official Die Hard Christmas trailer for the movie's 30th anniversary Blu-ray release, which presents it as a traditional Christmas movie. The debate may never be truly settled one way or the other. Still, this argument may be preferable to the usual family squabbles that come up during the holidays.
9. The Ref
Cat-burglar Gus (Denis Leary) is stranded in the suburbs when his getaway driver leaves him in the lurch. With the police setting up a cordon, Gus takes a husband and wife hostage in a bid for escape. Unfortunately, Gus quickly finds himself in over his head, as Caroline and Lloyd are as dysfunctional a pair as to be found anywhere. The rest of their family, who arrive at their home for a large Christmas gathering shortly thereafter, are little better. This leaves Gus in the unenviable position of posing as Caroline and Lloyd's marriage counselor and playing peacekeeper to a family whose behavior is far more criminal than his own.
While not a blockbuster when released in theaters, The Ref has become a quiet cult classic. The critics were far kinder than the audiences, giving it a 71% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is also notable for some amazing performances from Leary, J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski and Glynis Johns in one of her final film roles.
8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Caught in the act while robbing a toy store to get his kid a Christmas present, burglar Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) ducks into an audition and impresses the casting agent enough to fly him out to Los Angeles. It is here that Harry is paired up with private eye Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) in order to learn how to convincingly play a detective. Harry soon finds himself playing the role for real, however, when he runs into an old crush (Michelle Monaghan), who hires him to investigate her sister's death.
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The directorial debut of Shane Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang makes subtle use of its Christmas setting. The colorful decorations in the backgrounds act in ironic counterpoint to the Noir themes of the story and the Los Angeles location. This theme would come up again repeatedly in Black's later films, including Iron Man 3.
7. Batman Returns
The Dark Knight of Gotham City, Batman (Michael Keaton) finds himself facing a triple-threat heading into the holiday season. There is sinister businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), the deformed and depraved Penguin (Danny DeVito), and the sultry yet sinister Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Facing an army of disgraced circus performers, penguins with rocket launchers and accusations of murdering Gotham's Ice Princess following a frame-up by Penguin, Batman will be tested as never before.
The second Batman movie, directed by Tim Burton, there are many Christmas trappings to be found in Batman Returns. The sets are filled with festive decorations and a tree-lighting ceremony provides the background for one of the movie's biggest battles. And who can forget Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle's famous conversation regarding the dangers of mistletoe and kissing? The film also ends with Bruce and his butler Alfred Pennyworth wishing one another a Merry Christmas.
6. Lethal Weapon
Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is a by-the-book police officer. Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is a loose cannon. The two are paired together in a desperate bid to keep the suicidal and over-aggressive Riggs under-control. The two completely different cops must find a way to work together, however, when Murtaugh is approached by an old friend about his daughter's mysterious death and its connection to a shadowy drug-smuggling operation.
Another classic action movie that people forget was set in the days leading up to Christmas, Lethal Weapon is another of Shane Black's screenplays that blends the bright trappings of the holidays with a decidedly dark storyline. The movie ends with Riggs celebrating Christmas with Murtaugh's family, the two having become fire-forged friends during the events of the movie. Riggs also gives Murtaugh a decidedly disturbing yet sentimental (for him) gift - the bullet he was going to use to commit suicide, saying that he doesn't need it anymore.