Top 10 Alternative Christmas Films

Getting burned out from the same tired retinue of holiday films played on a cycle year after year? Have you had your fill of leg lamps, jam of the month club, and Cindy Lou-Hoo? Well, don’t go all bah humbug quite yet. There’s still plenty of Christmas flicks that hit that candy cane sweet spot. You’re going to want to make these films part of your holiday tradition. In no particular order.


1) Batman Returns (1992):

My personal favorite Christmas movie. Michael Keaton and Tim Burton return as the Dark Knight matches wits against Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer as the Penguin and Catwoman, respectively. Set during Christmas in Gotham City there is really no greater Batman film in terms of pure visual element. Not only a captivating plot, every actor brings their A game, including Christopher Walken who plays the slimy businessman, Max Shreck. A forlorn and lovesick Bruce Wayne reflecting on his inability to save Catwoman as the movie comes to a close as the snow falls on Gotham City saying, “Good will toward man… and women.” Perfection.


2) Iron Man III (2013):

Directed by Shane Black who consistently attempts to incorporate the holiday season into his films without being a direct plot device, this introspective installment of the Iron Man franchise opens on a Christmas flashback that sets the rest of the movie into motion as Tony Stark hunts down the Mandarin played (sort of) by the incomparable Ben Kingsley.


3) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005):

Another Shane Black entry, this is just purely entertaining beginning to end as Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer share barbs as they try to uncover a murder mystery during the holiday season. A tight compelling plot, incredibly entertaining dialogue and Kilmer delivering a stunning final and poignant scene.


4) Diehard (1988):

For a long while the jury was still out as to whether this was an official Christmas movie. Time has only proved this film a classic of the season. Watch Bruce Willis don his action hero status as John McClane walks on broken glass, climbs through air ducts and generally kicks ass. And let’s face it, there’s been a few Christmas parties where you would have rather fought a building full of terrorists. And if that wasn’t enough, Alan Rickman. Case closed.


5) Tangerine (2015):

Our newest entry into the list, Tangerine is a curio of a film among the holiday watch list as a transgendered prostitute tracks down her pimp on Christmas Eve in order to rekindle a fractured love story. Ya know, ‘tis the season.


6) Gremlins (1984):

There’s some debate whether Gremlins holds up. If nothing else, it holds up better than Gremlins 2. Either way, cuddle up with your favorite Mogwai and take in this Christmas schlock classic. Just don’t feed them gingerbread cookies after midnight, or water, or other stuff. They kind of play fast and loose with the rules.


7) Lethal Weapon (1987):

Another Shane Black film (sensing a pattern?) When “I’m getting too old for this shit” was still young. No one seems to consider Lethal Weapon a Christmas flick and that’s what makes this such a great two-fer. Sure, it’s a pretty formulaic buddy-cop flick but it’s also the archetype of the very genre itself. Some people find it hard to appreciate Mel Gibson considering his current tirades and that’s understandable but, hey, you get Gary Busey as a villain. So there’s that.


8) Trading Places (1983):

Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy are at the top of their game in this film of swapped identities. Vagabond Murphy switches with pompous rich dude Aykroyd and the hijinks ensue as the two reacclimatize to their new roles in society before coming together to upset the other old rich dudes that set this whole nonsense into motion. Apart from a classic comedy, this film really captures the Christmas spirit of lessons learned, charity, and empathy over greed and avarice.


9) The Ref (1994):

This is total wish fulfillment. How many times have you wanted to tie up your bickering family while visiting for the holidays. A frustrated, put-upon Dennis Leary is Dennis Leary in his element. Here, Leary plays the titular Ref, a cat burglar who plans on making an easy pick on a home during the holidays only to find a warring family whose petty bickering never takes a backseat to the tiny predicament of being held hostage; festively with garland to boot.


10) Less Than Zero (1987):

Oh man, this is no feel-good film, but hey, it is set during Christmas. Watch Robert Downey Jr. inadvertently play his future self (now his past self; time is funny) as a heroin addict slumming in L.A. Andrew McCarthy may get top billing but let’s face it, the magic is all in Downey desperate performance which he captures in chilling prescience to what would befall the actor throughout the nineties.


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    Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd