It’s the most wonderful time of the year ladies and gentlemen, which means it’s time for Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, Christmas fudge, Christmas music and—oh yes—Christmas movies! I love everything about this time of the year. Despite growing up in the Jerry Seinfeld school of “I hate everyone,” I will for one month a year shed my introverted skin and become a loud caroling fool who watches any movie or show that has a snowflake in it.
And when I say “one month” I mean “from Halloween night until the day after Christmas.”
This is not the first time we’ve done a watch-list. Check out more holiday-related content here! Last year, instead of a grab bag of random movies and specials from the past few years, we looked back on Xmas movies from the earliest days of cinema to the most recent times, one more per decade, from the 1930s to the 2010s.
This year, we’re putting the spotlight on some so-called “alternative” Christmas movies. These are the kind of films you don’t immediately think of as holiday favorites but which are set around the holiday and always put me in the spirit of the season…
What is it: Batman is back to foil a plot by the Penguin and a greedy industrial Tycoon who are plotting to take over the city with a bogus Mayoral Recall election. Catwoman plays the chaotic neutral, acting as a foil for Batman and a love interest for Bruce Wayne.
Why do I love it: For a plethora of reasons, many of them nostalgic. Batman Returns was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, in August of 1992, for my 8th birthday. My dad took me to the “dollar cinema” as well as McDonald’s for a Batman-themed Happy Meal. I also had a wonderful Batman birthday cake and got the Batman Returns-themed Batmobile as a gift. Best birthday ever. As for the movie, it doesn’t hold a candle to the 1989 film. It’s absolutely bonkers and weird and more of a Tim Burton film than a Batman one, but I can’t help but love it.
Is it sufficiently Christmasy: Let’s see: It’s about three misfit people, cast aside by the world around them, coming together around the holidays to argue about politics, break out into fisticuffs, and embarrass each other while standing around in their underwear. It’s not much of a Batman movie but it sounds like a quintessential Christmas to me.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
What is it: Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, stumbles upon a magical alternate land called Christmas Town, filled with jolly people, bright lights, and pastels galore (the very opposite of his homeland). Deciding that he needs to shake things up he concocts a scheme to switch places with ChristmasTown’s ruler, whom he calls “Sandy Claws,” leading to a night before Christmas that’s full of mischief, mayhem, and dark comedy shenanigans.
Why do I love it: The film is a work of art to behold. It doesn’t have a long run-time, but it makes up for it with an abundance of incredible visuals. I know that for some, the stop-motion effect is too unsettling, but I find the jittery look and the odd mixture of real and unreal mesmerizing. The songs are excellent, the mood is perfect, and the humor is wonderfully macabre. Fans of Tim Burton from the mid-80s to the end of the 90s were eating well; the man could do no wrong, but let’s not overlook Henry Selick, who directed Burton’s story and brought it to life in such a magnificent way. I’ve seen this movie countless times since it was first released and I always come away impressed.
Is it sufficiently Christmasy: 100% yes. Some might argue it’s a Halloween movie, but the entire point of the movie is that it’s about a town of Halloween-themed people learning about Christmas. Still, our family always watches it on the night after Halloween, not only to put the spooky holiday to bed but to kick off the two-month festive Xmas time.
What is it: Billy Peltzer’s father is a struggling inventor/salesman who stumbles into an odd shop in Chinatown and walks away with a strange creature that he gives to his son for Christmas. The little creature—named Gizmo—comes with a set of rules, including no food after midnight and never getting him wet. The second rule is soon broken, leading to the little gremlin multiplying exponentially. Soon, the other rule is broken, creating a mutated version of the little monsters, far nastier than their lovable progenitor. The Gremlins soon wreak havoc on the town.
Why do I love it: This was the first movie I saw as a child that made me appreciate ironic, black humor. The story that Billy’s love interest Phoebe tells, explaining why she doesn’t really like Christmas (her father died trying to sneak down the chimney dressed as Santa Claus) is played absolutely straight, but hearing it for the first time made me laugh till I cried. Everything else about the movie is playfully mischievous, but that story will forever stick with me. It was an awakening.
Is it sufficiently Christmasy: Without hesitation. The holiday trappings are everywhere, characters are celebrating it, gifts are exchanged…I mean, just because no one breaks out into song and dance and just because there’s no stop-motion reindeer doesn’t mean it’s not a Christmas movie…nor does it mean it shouldn’t be enjoyed every Christmas. After all, if you aren’t supposed to enjoy Gremlins in December, when ARE you supposed to enjoy it?
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So there you have it, a trio of alternate Xmas movies to watch and enjoy this holiday season! I hope you will add these gems to your holiday watch-list and allow them to fill your heart with…if not Christmas cheer, then perhaps something a little more seasonally unusual for a change.