The Best Christmas Movies for People Who Don’t Like Christmas Movies
Getting a little tired of relentless holiday cheer? These are the movies for you!
For those who don’t enjoy the typical selection of Christmas movies, there are plenty of non-festive options to choose from. These aren’t the saccharine sweet, dime-a-dozen Hallmark movies, or even the genuine feel-good classics. Some of these movies show the holidays aren’t the most wonderful time of the year for many people. Whether it’s horror movies, family dramas, tragic queer romances, or messy comedies, there’s something in these movies for the Grinches and Scrooges and even the Cindy Lou Whos of the world in our list of the best Christmas movies for people who don’t like Christmas movies.
The Lion in Winter
Imagine the Game of Thrones Christmas special, and that’s what The Lion in Winter is in a nutshell. Katharine Hepburn shines as Lady Elinor, an Olenna Tyrell-like matriarch who is released from prison to spend the holidays with her family in all their messy, royal glory.
Fanny and Alexander
Fanny and Aleander is a movie that reminds us that the joy of the holidays is temporary and that we should not only cherish these occasions, but also accept that they are not forever. This won Best Foreign Language Film at the 1984 Oscars and for good reason: It’s almost like a reverse Sound of Music, with the joy of the opening Christmas scene harshly juxtaposed against what follows.
A Christmas queer romance that puts all the Hallmark rom-coms to shame, Carol is a tragic story of queer love in 1952. Technically, this one does have a somewhat happy ending (implying the two leads will attempt to rekindle their relationship), but I think it’s an important addition for the queer perspective on the holidays, which can be a lonely time due to estrangement from family or feeling isolated.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
A Christmas movie that doubles as a war movie, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is about the relationship between an Allied POW and his Japanese captor. In addition to the cultural and language barriers and the general hellscape of war, Yonoi and Celliers also struggle with a mutual attraction to each other that ultimately ends in tragedy. Oh, and David Bowie plays a leading role. Need I say more?
One of the earliest slashers to codify the tropes that have since come to define the genre, Black Christmas follows a sorority as they deal with a murderous stalker/prank-caller known only as Billy. This movie comments heavily on gendered violence; the final girl is actually a pregnant college student whose boyfriend is preventing her from getting an abortion. Despite sharing a director with A Christmas Story, the Christmas setting is incidental and is used mostly to explain away the disappearances of girls by suggesting they went home for the holidays. Still, there is a certain beauty to the ornament kill. The movie has spawned two remakes since, but neither rise to the levels of the first.
The most intriguing part about Krampus is how it reframes the It’s a Wonderful Life narrative. A child gets fed up with his toxic family during Christmas and wishes them all away. One by one, they are taken by Krampus until the child who started it all tearfully tries to take back his wish. And Krampus complies. There are a couple of ways to read the ending: 1) the family is together again, living in a perpetual perfect Christmas inside one of Krampus’ snow globes, or 2) the family is given a second chance à la Ebenezer Scrooge, but must live with the knowledge that they are always being watched by Krampus. Both endings are horrifying, but I prefer the second one for how it shows the ominous underside of Christmas redemption stories. Sure, the family has a chance to do better, but they will also forever live in fear of punishment, never being allowed to argue or fight, and always having to keep their emotions in check for fear of being deemed “naughty.” A Christmas surveillance state. I can’t think of anything more horrifying than that.
Better Watch Out
Home Alone meets Halloween in this fun twist on a home invasion movie. From there, it quickly turns into a brutal breakdown of the “boys-will-be-boys” mentality, depicting how male entitlement can start (very) young. There are also standout performances from everyone, but especially the young leading actors.
This movie shows why you should never give a live animal as a Christmas present: If you give people pets that they’re unable or unwilling to care for properly, the next thing you know, you’ve got an army of gremlins on your hands. But honestly, this was the first horror movie for a lot of kids, and it also deserves recognition for that.
Edward Scissorhands / Batman Returns
A Tim Burton duo, both of these movies have a host of weird and wacky holiday hijinks. From Catwoman destroying a department store to Edward Scissorhands making a snowfall through ice sculpture, Burton uses a lot of fun imagery to highlight the darkness of the season and the flaws in Americana.
Bad Santa is not for everyone and is frequently crass—if not downright offensive—but there’s some charm to the relationship between Billy Bob Thornton’s eponymous Santa and the kid he meets during his annual Christmas con.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Another movie that’s not explicitly about Christmas, The Royal Tenenbaums was one of Wes Anderson’s earliest critical successes. A bit like Knives Out without the murder mystery, it showcases a large array of messy family dynamics and the pressures of “gifted kid” burnout. (Still not okay with the adopted siblings kissing, though.)
Warning: This movie features several moments involving transphobia, including a hate crime during the climax. But Tangerine is an interesting look at how Christmas for working and disenfranchised people is often just like any other day of the year. It’s also a movie that features trans characters being played by trans actresses, which might not seem terribly noteworthy at first, but this was 2015. Gay marriage had just been legalized when this movie came out (less than three weeks after Obergefell v. Hodges).
(Not to be confused with the Finnish classic The White Reindeer (1952), a horror movie about a woman accidentally cursing herself in an attempt to put a love spell on her reindeer herder husband.) After her husband’s death and upon finding out he was having an affair with a stripper, Suzanne spirals, doing anything and everything she can to bring joy to herself and make it feel like Christmas. This is another film that technically leans more into comedy, but I still think it deserves a mention due to its emphasis on the idea that Christmas is what we make of it.
White Reindeer can be light and fun, dark and somber, romantic, tragic, disturbing—whatever you need it to be, it can be.
For further recommendations, I suggest checking out the following videos:
What’s your favorite “unusual” Christmas movie? Comment below!
(featured image: Warner Bros.)
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