Tired of the same old holiday lineup? That’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all seen the standard merry movies more times than we care to count, no matter how much we love them. It might just be time to shake things up like a snow globe with something off-kilter, but still “on brand.”
So if you’re looking for an unconventional way to get into the holiday spirit and/or broaden your yuletide rotation, why not give one of these alt-Xmas classics a whirl? Here are 25 of the best non-Christmas Christmas movies in existence.
Once in a while, I can’t help but dwell on how it all could’ve gone so differently for Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp). If only his creator had finished the gift of real hands! And I prefer to get swept up in this melancholy and ironic fairytale about love, loss, and sinister happenings in the suburbs during Christmas and Christmas alone. That’s exactly what Tim Burton wanted, I imagine. If you don’t believe me, go listen to the score.
The vision of a flurry-haired Winona Ryder twirling beneath the artificial snow created by her unlikely lover’s ice sculpting talents is forever fixed in my mind’s eye. And the happiest and saddest things happen during the holidays in this one. In the end, a seasoned Kim (Ryder) croakily reflects on why it didn’t work out and where sweet Edward might be, throwing us a morsel of bittersweet hope with, “Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did.”
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black is famous for his obvious obsession with the yuletide season, finding ways to incorporate it into pretty much all of his films over the years. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of the best examples of this, and if you haven’t added it to your snowy season rotation, I highly suggest you change that this year.
The 2005 dark comedy takes place in L.A. during all holiday happenings. A vivid Christmas movie in disguise, the spirit of the season is noticeably (and intentionally) absent, but the Christmas aesthetic is inescapable and the soundtrack is as Xmas-y as it gets.
Gremlins may be one of the most obvious on the list. After all, everything about it practically screams Christmas. There’s the snow, the carolers, the decorations, the toys, and the premise itself.
The entire plot revolves around a father buying a gift for his son at Christmas time. While many still argue it’s more of a Christmas alternative, it’s often deemed one of the most important Christmas movies ever made.
Lethal Weapon falls under the same umbrella as Die Hard, but some believe it’s actually the unofficial Christmas movie Die Hard wishes it was. While the debate may rage on, this yuletide-revolving action movie deserves a place on the list. And if we’re going off the soundtrack alone, Lethal Weapon is indisputably way more of a Christmas movie.
There’s also something seasonally relatable about its lack of cheeriness, as Xmas can be a tough time for many. “Lethal Weapon acknowledges that there’s a reason the Elvis song is called “Blue Christmas,” as beneath all the pretty paper, Christmas is one of the saddest, loneliest times of the year,” per Den of Geek. And let’s not forget all the mayhem that ensues on a Christmas tree lot.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Initially released in winter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has been a holiday staple ever since it bolted on the scene. Some say all HP movies are Christmas movies, and the arguments only get stronger. But the first stands out for obvious reasons.
I mean…what says “it’s Christmas” more than the sight of Hogwarts in the snow? Or those infamous Christmas jumpers? And there’s no moment more heartwarming than when we hear, “Happy Christmas, Harry. Happy Christmas, Ron,” is there?
Bridget Jones Diary
At the start of this rom-com, it’s Christmas. Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) meets her love interest Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) while he’s wearing an unfortunate Rudolph-themed sweater knit by his mother. But that’s just the beginning of what makes this a non-Christmas Christmas movie.
When our unlikely heroine decides to get her life in order, she starts by journaling her new year’s resolutions. Throughout the year, we watch how she sticks to them and how she doesn’t. Coming full circle, these star-crossed lovers/former enemies kiss in the falling snow with twinkling Christmas lights all around. Need I say more?
Perhaps the least cheery to make the cut, we follow Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) as he continuously rings in the holiday season in the darkest and most demented of ways. But in the least disturbing of scenes, the investment banker/psycho killer makes an appearance at his girlfriend Evelyn’s (Reese Witherspoon) Christmas party.
With her pet pig in hand, she calls her unenthused beau “a grinch.” Little does she know just how right she is. With Bateman donning reindeer antlers, they share a kiss under the mistletoe. It is perhaps the only “wholesome” moment in this satire slasher. It’s terrifying, it’s Christmas. Did I mention it’s terrifying?
Meet Me in St. Louis
There’s something about old Tinseltown musicals that just feel right this time of year. For many, watching this one remains a beloved Christmas Eve tradition. It might not seem “on brand” at first, but Meet Me in St. Louis blossoms into a full-blown Christmas movie as it unfolds.
Starring Judy Garland, we follow a year in the life of The Smith family as they weather all seasons. Technically, only about 30 minutes occur during Christmas, but it’s one of the most iconic holiday sequences in movie history. By the time Judy sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” I dare you not to cry!
Directed by John Frankenheimer, many consider Reindeer Games an undeniable, unavoidable Christmas action-thriller. Ben Affleck plays Rudy, and yes, he’s like Rudolph in his own special way.
In a nutshell, Rudy gets caught up in a scheme to rob a casino, but gradually realizes there’s much more nice in him than naughty. Deep down, anyway. Decider describes it as “the sexiest Christmas movie of all time.”
Mean Girls has a little something for every season, but some of the funniest moments happen as the winter rolls in. Most notably, one of the most iconic scenes takes place at Christmas time.
Would this teen comedy make the list without that unforgettable talent show performance? Probably not. But hey, that’s the jingle bell rock!
For horror fans, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining will always be ranked highly as one of the absolute best non-Christmas Christmas movies ever dreamed up. And the reasons are chillingly clear and crimson-covered. Redrum, redrum!
For starters, they’re snowed in. What says Christmas more than a family isolated from the world and hoping for the best but fearing the worst? Then, there’s hiding in the snow, the snowmobile, running from a deranged killer in a snow maze, and Jack Nicholson frozen with icicles coming out of his nose.
I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Mermaids a perfect winter-time watch, but if you binge with Christmas in mind, you’ll see what I mean. Perhaps it’s Charlotte’s (Winona Ryder) obsession with nuns and Joan of Arc. Or, after kissing Joe in the bell tower, she believes she’s experiencing an immaculate conception herself. She prays for forgiveness until her single mom Rachel (Cher) hilariously points out, “Charlotte, we’re Jewish.”
It could be the snow as the Massachusetts winter sets in, or the church bells, or simply the theme of transitions. Maybe it’s the star-shaped bologna sandwiches. Regardless, Mermaids remains one of those comfort films that’s brimming with nostalgia, familial bonds, battles, and a nine-year-old Christina Ricci holding her own with some acting heavyweights.
Raised an orphan, 18-year-old Anya goes on a snow-covered journey to discover her heritage. And she does so during a Russian winter. If the harsh weather wasn’t a big enough obstacle, she’s suffering from amnesia.
Luckily, Anya aka Anastasia receives some much-needed help along the way. Gradually, she remembers exactly who she is, her royal roots, and what really happened to her family… Once upon a December.
Okay, okay. I have a soft spot for dark comedies at Christmas time. But no alternative Xmas movie list could be complete without Goodfellas. It’s also frequently dubbed one of the best gangster films ever made.
Remember the Christmas party scene where Robert DeNiro is becoming more paranoid by the second? It’s all set to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman” and “Baby Please Come Home,” but you could cut that tension with a knife.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
If you’ve seen this one, then you know why it’s on this list. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the epitome of a Christmas movie that’s not really a Christmas movie, heavily due to the whimsical visuals and jovial overtone.
The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus says, “Typically stylish but deceptively thoughtful, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Wes Anderson once again using ornate visual environments to explore deeply emotional ideas.”
L.A. Confidential is a beloved Christmas-adjacent classic, especially for those who aren’t too keen on holiday-themed movies. And while it might be all about murder, Christmas is happening all around.
In fact, you cannot watch this award-winning crime movie and not think of Christmas. So why not just do it on purpose?
Christmas is woven through every fiber of Batman Returns, and not so discreetly. Not only does this Tim Burton classic take place during a very Gotham Christmas, but someone is shot out of a giant present in a key scene.
Not to mention, Christopher Walken’s portrayal of evil business tycoon Max Shreck seems not-so-accidentally Grinch/Scrooge-like. In the end, Bruce Wayne puts a bow on it by wishing Alfred a “Merry Christmas.”
Catch Me If You Can
The debate with this one continues, but there’s no arguing against the fact that Christmas is a central motif throughout the film. It even opens on Christmas. Also, the scenes that occur during “the most wonderful time of the year” are some of the most poignant and painful.
Steven Spielberg’s 2002 biopic/crime-caper recaps and somewhat reimagines the life of Frank Abagnale. It includes many Christmases along the way. Always on the run, Frank begins calling the FBI agent who is chasing him every Christmas Eve, highlighting the palpable loneliness they share, and their unusual bond.
As noted by The Independent, “The Apartment is the perfect Christmas film. Not Christmas as we’d like it to be – roaring fires, jingle bells, snow – but Christmas as it is in reality.”
The holidays are a time of reflection, introspection, and hope. The Apartment, above all else, is about hope, but namely, the fine line sometimes between being hopeful and feeling hopeless, especially in matters of love.
“Christmas means carnage!” Babe barely escapes his fate as Christmas dinner, but when he does, he sets out to redefine his existence on the farm and everywhere else.
Charming, quirky, and family-friendly, this lovable classic is the perfect yuletide choice for a plethora of reasons, but it may put you off your Christmas ham!
All adaptations of Peter Pan are Feliz Navidad flicks in their own right. And so, Hook is a non-Christmas Christmas movie if there ever was one, and not just because it happens in December. This ’90s classic about an all-grown-up Pan (Robin Williams) takes the spirit of the season far beyond its origin story.
After all, what says Christmas more than rediscovering one’s inner child long after you thought it was gone? As “the Pan” reignites his childlike wonder, he sparks his imagination and reconnects to all parts of himself, realizing he’s still one of the lost boys, and ultimately creating the most magical pseudo-Christmas feast ever.
Eyes Wide Shut
While some call it a dark Christmas film, others have declared it “an assault on Christmas.” No matter how you feel, there’s no denying that Christmas is a very big part of what’s happening in this stunning psychological drama about a couple engaging in extramarital affairs. And there’s a whole lotta Christmas decor to boot.
Eyes Wide Shut is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1928 novel Dream Story. The key difference is the book is set in Vienna during Mardi Gras, not Christmas in New York City. Critics have been picking apart the seasonal change since it came out, with some arguing it’s a remark on how material obsessions can corrupt the true meaning of Christmas. Others say it’s all about the pretty lights.
I’m not sure the exact point in my life that Steel Magnolias became a Christmas tradition, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’m not the only one who sits down for a good laugh and a good cry with this one during the holidays.
Okay, okay. Everything happening in this timeless tale revolves around one holiday after the other. But that makes it an even more appropriate way to wrap up the year. After all, a truly great alt-Christmas movie encapsulates much more than one season, often reflecting how far the characters have come and where they’ve been.
At its heart, Step Brothers is a movie about family. Also, some of the movie’s biggest turning points happen at Christmas. Near the end, the two 40 something step bros, still living with their parents, go on a very destructive sleepwalk, destroying Xmas gifts and the tree. At dinner, their parents announce they’re divorcing. They also announce it’s the stepbrothers’ fault.
Devastated and generally clueless, they know it’s time to grow up if they want their family to reunite. By this silly Christmas staple’s end, the parents have reconciled and it’s Christmas again. Only this time around, everyone is in a better place, no longer living under one roof, and exchanging thoughtful gifts rather than hurling them.
One of the most exciting aspects of Christmas is the anticipation of it, am I right? While there’s not much decking the halls in Jumanji, the wild and fantastical plot steadily rolls like an avalanche all the way to the holly jolly holiday party at the end.
Robin Williams is dressed as Santa Claus during an important moment between the four main characters. Two of them have dreamt about it for decades. Ultimately, this family-oriented flick’s happy ending and idea of “getting a do-over” is completely wrapped up in the Christmas spirit.
The Sound of Music
Snowflakes on eyelashes? Silver-white winters melting into springs? Brown paper packages tied up with strings?! Has there ever been a non-Christmas movie moment more Christmas-y than Julie Andrews singing My Favorite Things? I’m gonna go with no. Aside from the songs and themes of family, love, and perseverance, the biggest part of what makes The Sound of Music so eternally festive might be tied to its historic time slot.
Like clockwork, this G-rated crowd-pleaser aired every Christmas on television for years. Practically all of America tuned in before streaming stole the show. Today, it remains one of the most commercially successful movies of all time. But let’s be real. The Sound of Music doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday itself. It’s not even snowing in the Alps! And yet, it somehow still reeks of Christmas magic.