If you are searching for some traditional classic Christmas movies, like Home Alone (1990), Serendipity (2001), Love Actually (2003), or Frozen (2013), our “hateful eight” won’t help you. However, if you see Christmas as a time for family reunions and love, as well as seasonal depression, we have something to offer.
The first movies on the list are for the lightest touch of melancholy when you think there is a bit too much buzz, ads makes you spend a bit too much money, or the joy of the winter holidays is a bit too forced. Go further if your displeasure is more severe and your disillusion with Hallmark Christmas movies is obvious.
1. The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993)
This is a story about Jack Skellington who rules a fantasy town of monsters and beasts. One day after the Halloween feast, he strolls through the forest and finds doors that lead to various holiday-towns. Jack chooses Christmas and is fascinated with the unfamiliar atmosphere. When he returns to his native town, its citizens can’t understand the logic or meaning of the holiday but find Sandy Claws quite appealing. After some research, Jack proclaims that this year he and his town will do Christmas!
2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation by Jeremiah S. Chechik (1989)
Clark Griswold decides to have an old traditional Christmas celebration with his wife, Ellen, and their kids, Audrey and Rusty. However, both Clark’s and Ellen’s parents decide to join the celebration, annoying the Griswolds with their constant quarreling. To add some joy to the family reunion, Clark decorates the house and uses an enormous quantity of twinkle lights, which results in a power shortage for the entire town. Immediately after fixing the electrical supply, he notices that Ellen’s cousin, Catherine, has arrived with her husband, Eddie, their children, and their slobbering dog. They are broke and now live in an old, shabby recreational vehicle, which ran out of gas just as they coasted to the Griswolds’ house.
Meanwhile, Clark waits for his yearly bonus to be delivered; however, on Christmas Eve he learns that his boss, Frank Shirley, canceled the employee bonuses for that year. Clark angrily declares that he would like to have his boss at his house, wearing a large, red Christmas bow, so that Clark can vent his anger to his boss’s face. Eddie takes this wish way too seriously.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the starting point for the failed-family-reunion movie subgenre. If you want something more modern about the importance of family and how relatives can ruin Christmas, check out Love the Coopers (2015), The Family Stone (2005), and Four Christmases (2008).
3. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas by Todd Straus-Schulson (2011)
Need a brilliantly absurd stoner film? Then this is it! Seven years earlier, Harold and Kumar were rescued from Guantanamo Bay by pure luck. Harold gave up smoking, became a businessman and got married. Kumar still smokes, was kicked out of medical school, lives in an apartment he and Harold used to share, and has a pregnant girlfriend who decides to break up with him just before Christmas. Kumar gets a package addressed to Harold and decides to deliver it. Meanwhile, Harold’s wife’s parents are in his house, along with a Christmas tree that his father-in-law has been growing for eight years.
4. Batman Returns by Tim Burton (1992)
Tim Burton is the director and Danny Elfman is the music composer. Michael Keaton plays Batman and Michelle (love-of-my-life) Pfeiffer plays Catwoman. In addition, Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken are in the movie. If you can imagine a cast more profound than this, then name it!
This is a story about a poor boy, abandoned by his parents and raised by penguins. It is also about a fraudulent businessman, Max Shreck, and way-too-naive Batman. In addition, it includes gorgeous Seline Kyle, aka Catwoman. What does this movie have to do with Christmas? Only the season, actually. This dark and scary style of Christmas stories is just like Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol.
5. Bad Santa by Terry Zwigoff (2003)
With the Coen brothers as executive producers and Billy Bob Thornton as a sex-addicted alcoholic, this movie cannot be omitted from our list.
Willie and his partner dwarf are thieves. Every year they get jobs in a shopping mall as a Santa Claus and his elf and then rob the shops by night. This year, however, they have to work under a snobbish manager named Bob who doesn’t accept Willie’s eccentric behavior, which includes having sex in the mall’s dressing rooms.
By the way, both Bad Santa and Bad Santa 2 are going to be available as Christmas movies on Netflix this Christmas Eve, as well as the Christmas Chronicles. (Blessed be Netflix!)
6. In Bruges by Martin McDonagh (2008)
Ray is a beginner hitman. While completing his first order, he accidentally kills an innocent boy in church. This is unacceptable to his boss, Harry, so he sends Ray and his supervisor, Ken, to Bruges where both are to await further instructions. While there, Ray sees the movie shooting and spots Chloe, a charming drug dealer who says she is a production assistant. Ray takes Chloe to a restaurant where he has an argument with a Canadian couple. He knocks them down, and then Chloe takes him to her apartment. When the two begin having sex, Chloe’s ex-boyfriend, Eirik, arrives and threatens Ray with a gun. Ray disarms Erik, and Chloe confesses that they used to rob tourists; however, she really likes Ray.
The next day, depressed over having killed an innocent child, Ray is about to commit suicide, but he is stopped by Ken (who was told by Harry to kill Ray). Ken gives Ray some money and tells him to leave Bruges and start a new life elsewhere. On the train, Ray is spotted by the Canadians whom he had beaten earlier.
7. Joyeux Noel by Christian Carion (2005)
Joyeux Noel is one of the best Christmas movies ever produced, with the collaboration of France, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Romania. This war drama describes a famous Christmas truce in December 1914, through the personal stories of two Scottish brothers pleased with the beginning of the war, a priest from their hometown, a French lieutenant and his German colleague, and two famous opera singers.
This is a case where you might prefer that the phrase “Based on a true story” not appear at the beginning of the movie.
8. Stalag 17 by Billy Wilder (1953)
Stalag 17 is a war comedy-drama about American aviation prisoners who live in a camp near the Danube River. The lead character is Sefton, one of the prisoners who prefers to make his living as comfortable as possible in the camp. In an effort to do so, he makes deals with the Germans, bartering everything from cigarettes to food and some luxury goods, such as silk stockings and blankets. Other prisoners suspect that he collaborates with the Germans and is a whistle-blower.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Dunbar is taken to the camp, and the Germans discover that during his transfer to Stalag 17, he blew up a train. The prisoners decide that it was Sefton who turned him over and so they beat him severely, taking all his possessions for themselves. Sefton decides to find out who the rat is in order to take the blame from himself.
On Christmas Day, the SS soldiers come to take Lieutenant Dunbar for interrogation, and the prisoners decide to save him by organizing his escape. Sefton proves to be innocent and flees with Dunbar.
On first sight, these are not the most cheerful movies to view on Christmas Eve, but watch closer. They describe both someone’s personal misfortunes and world disasters: exactly what a person with a seasonal melancholia might need to understand how happy he or she is to be alive and have what he or she possesses.