Christmastime is here, and for many that means putting on a movie to help get in the holiday spirit.
Everyone has their favorite list of films to watch around the holidays. While I am not the biggest Christmas movie fan, I always find time to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and a few others.
Since many Christmas movies leave me feeling cold, I often turn to films that are Christmas-adjacent; they may have similar themes, take place around the holidays or simply evoke a wintery vibe, but few people would call them “Christmas movies.”
For those who are like me and want some variety in their Christmas movie diet, here are a few to help spice up those cold winter nights.
‘Die Hard’ (1988)
While the inclusion of “Die Hard” may seem redundant, it’s necessary as the king of debates over whether it’s a Christmas movie or not.
We can relitigate that argument another time, but wherever you fall on the spectrum, the film is still an undeniable classic. Easily one of the best action films of the ’80s, “Die Hard” is a tense, funny and thrilling experience every time I watch it. It also touches on an under-explored theme for movies set at Christmas: Sometimes Christmas parties suck.
“Gremlins” has been a staple of my holiday watchlist since I can remember, working as both a fun Christmas adventure and a genuinely good horror movie for kids.
The first half sets the stage for the mayhem to come as a boy receives a Mogwai (an unusual creature) as an early Christmas present. Eventually, the Mogwai spawns a hoard of maniacal Gremlins that terrorize the boy’s town.
There are so many incredible scenes throughout — the Gremlins going caroling, watching “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” getting wasted at a bar — that culminate in a final showdown at a toy store. “Gremlins” is the perfect holiday film for those looking for something with a little edge to it.
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Switching genres into soft, sad romance, “Carol” is for those lonely winter nights when you just need a good cry.
Following a worker at a department store (Rooney Mara) who becomes infatuated with an older socialite (Cate Blanchett), the film tells a story of forbidden love and painful desire. Taking place during the holiday months, “Carol” uses its Christmas aesthetic for fantastic ambiance, making for an unconventional but deeply affecting watch.
‘Little Women’ (1994 or 2019)
While the events of “Little Women” span across the whole year, some of its most notable scenes happen at Christmas, and the general warmth and cozy feeling of the various film adaptations make it perfect for this time of year.
Whether you prefer Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version with Saoirse Ronan or Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation with Winona Ryder, both offer a wonderful atmosphere for the holidays, perfect for decorating or to throw on at a Christmas party.
‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999)
Perhaps the most left-field choice on the list, Stanley Kubrick’s final film kicks into gear after a couple (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) attend a Christmas party and realize that they are both unhappy in their marriage. Cruise spends the rest of the movie wandering the streets, getting into increasingly bizarre situations.
“Eyes Wide Shut” is by no means a family film, but it is a thoroughly entertaining fever dream from one of cinema’s finest directors. It also perfectly invokes the feelings of the drama the holidays can bring.
On the heavier side, “Spencer” takes place over a few days surrounding Christmas as Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) visits her family and deals with feelings of isolation. As the film progresses, she contends with various family members — including her strained relationship with Prince Charles — and sees visions of her childhood.
Stewart’s performance as Diana is magnetic and helps paint a clear picture of this often misunderstood historical figure. Plus, the film can work as therapy for those who may be dreading seeing certain family members over the holidays.
‘The Holdovers’ (2023)
The most recent addition to this list, “The Holdovers” finds a private school teacher (Paul Giamatti) forced to watch over a group of children who aren’t able to return home for the holidays.
Aesthetically, the film emulates the style of films from the ’70s, but it still manages to feel fresh and modern. It’s funny, raw and emotionally complicated in a way where it already feels like a film that will justify revisiting several times down the line, and its found-family storyline makes it a great comfort film for the holidays.