The A-List: The Top Five Holiday Movies of All Time
By J. Don Birnam
December 8, 2014
The holidays are upon us, and our expert staffers will soon tell you which December movies to bet on to make a big splash at the box office opening weekend. December is also a time to see some of the last of the potential Oscar movies. This year is no different, with anticipated big name big money features (the last Hobbit entry) competing toe-to-toe with potential Best Picture candidates (Unbroken) and even those that are somewhere in between (Into the Woods).
But none of these movies are about the actual Christmas holidays (let alone other formerly religious holidays - there are no Hanukkah movies out there other than Eight Crazy Nights, but it’s not a great movie). This is true despite the fact that there are many - dozens, in fact - of holiday-related movies in movie lore, and many are great movies in their own right.
So the Rockefeller Center tree has been lit, the snow outside is frightful while the fire is so delightful, and if you’ve no place to go, read up on my five favorite holiday (essentially, Christmas) themed movies of all time.
The criteria here are simple: if the movie is about Christmas, it is easily in. But I will also consider movies that although they are not directly about that holiday, prominently take place during that holiday. They are the stories that could not have existed without Christmas. The prime example of this latter type is one of the best holiday movies of all time, the original Die Hard from 1988 - the first honorable mention of the day. Although most won’t remember it, one of the best action movies of all time also happens to be a Christmas-themed movie. Bruce Willis, a New York cop (I guess they were the good guys in the 1980s?) arrives in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his wife and heads to her company’s Christmas party in Los Angeles’s new high-rise. German terrorists (again, don’t you love the ‘80s?) attack the building and a taut, tense thriller ensues. Bruce Willis was still at the top of his game, and action movies had not yet devolved into endless and senseless massacres and explosions as they have today. The movie is now indelibly part of the cultural ethos, with “Die Hard on a ___” becoming a moniker for most action movies.
There are also more obviously Christmas-y movies to point out as honorable mentions. In my rather larger family, one of our many holiday traditions is to have the movie Elf on a constant loop in the background on Christmas Eve. It is perhaps for that reason that I can only give it honorable mention and not a spot on the top five. I like it - I must confess to being enamored a bit with this Will Ferrell silly comedy that superfluously (but sometimes touchingly) explores the innocence of childhood by contrasting modern society’s hollowness with development away from it. It’s not that Elf will have a long-term impact on moviemaking or on cultural understandings, but it is a great movie to enjoy in that it’s witty, sometimes hilarious and always clever and, most important, light-hearted and honest. At the same time, years of watching it over and over again disjointedly perhaps make me sour on it.