We all know the holiday classics like Elf, Home Alone, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gremlins, and It’s a Wonderful Life. These are the cinematic treasures that feature Christmas trees, colored lights, and the occasional mention of Santa Claus in almost every scene. However, I’d argue that there are a number of not-so-obvious Christmas movies that rival some of the most beloved yuletide favorites. They might only make passing references to Christmas, but they certainly make up for this lack of holiday cheer in other departments. So check out these eight non-Christmas movies set during Christmas:
Meet Me In St. Louis
This beloved 1944 musical mainly takes place during the summer of 1903. However, it effortlessly shifts into holiday mode by the third act. The feeling of sitting by the fireplace with a cup of cocoa permeates this section of the film, making it easy to forget that it’s not really a Christmas movie. Oh, and it also features Judy Garland singing the seasonal favorite, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Here is another summer-turns-to-winter tale that sneaks up on you with both an emotional storyline and heavy holiday vibes by the end. It’s hard not to get that fuzzy feeling inside once Danny Elfman’s score swells as Winona Ryder dances through a flurry of ice shavings generated by Johnny Depp’s titular character. Or you’re me and you just sob uncontrollably through the whole thing.
Tim Burton and Christmas have been acquainted on film so many times, it’s a wonder he hasn’t actually directed a Christmas-themed movie. In any case, this excellent sequel to the 1989 box office hit depicts the Dark Knight (Michael Keaton), Penguin (Danny DeVito), and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) against a rich backdrop of snow, holiday lights, and some of the darkest imagery in blockbuster history. It’s also one of the most wildly off-kilter movies the superhero genre has to offer.
Eyes Wide Shut
It may have more Christmas iconography than other listed films, but Stanley Kubrick’s swan song is anything but cheerful. After nearly being unfaithful to each other at a Christmas party, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) hit a bump in their marriage when Alice reveals that she contemplated an affair during their honeymoon. This sends Bill spiraling out on the streets of NYC, finding himself in increasingly strange – and sexual – situations as the night goes on. Tense, dreamy, and a little scary at times, Eyes Wide Shut is my highest recommendation on this list.
Yes, this violent, sexually explicit slasher takes place around Christmastime. You might recoil at Christian Bale going around hacking up business rivals and prostitutes after hours, but you’ll definitely chuckle a bit as he wanders through a holiday party wearing reindeer antlers, completely unenthused by his fiancé (Reese Witherspoon) holding a cute little pig.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher’s steely, hard-R mystery is set over the course of a year bookended by Christmases. Although it’s the least Christmas-y film on this list, it’s easily the most graphic and intense. It also features one of the best performances of the 2010s from Rooney Mara.
The first in a series of Alien prequels doesn’t seem like it would take place during any holiday. Nevertheless, there is a scene where Idris Elba’s character decorates a mini tree to remind himself that “time is still moving.” In a way, this is oddly fitting for a movie where scientists search for humanity’s origin and question religious beliefs.
Iron Man 3
We tend to recognize superhero movies as full-blown summer blockbusters. The third (and best) Iron Man film is no different, but it is indeed set during Christmas. In fact, Tony Stark even drags his suit through a snowy forest like a Christmas tree at one point during the film. The rest is, of course, filled with solid action and humor that makes for one of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If you’re putting together a watchlist for the month, these films should add variety and a dynamic quality to it as you get into the holiday spirit. In case the idea of watching the more graphic films I have listed troubles you at all, just remember that Die Hard has been officially considered a Christmas classic for the last few years.
Feature Image via Screengrab