What makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie? Is it the presence of Christmas trees? Or feel-good themes like "giving" and "believing"?
That might cover classics like A Christmas Story and It's A Wonderful Life. But there's more to Christmas movies than holiday cheer.
This list is for the grinches, the reluctantly jolly, the contrarians who insist that, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.
The following films are all Christmas movies. They just do it without all that jingle-jangle nonsense.
1. Eyes Wide Shut
You might wait to put this one on after the kids have gone to bed. As close to a Christmas movie as Stanley Kubrick ever made, this erotic Tom Cruise-fronted film takes place in December in New York. Just look at how many Christmas trees there are. It seems as if one is looming in the background of every shot. Eyes Wide Shut's opening drug-fueled Christmas party is one of Kubrick's best scenes, and the film concludes at holiday dreamland FAO Schwarz. Thankfully, you don't have to suffer cheesy holiday quotes in this movie. Just soak up a swirling Christmas-light-colored masterpiece. Rent it on iTunes for $1.99.
Slap a Santa hat on Rooney Mara and you've got yourself a Christmas movie. It just so happens that you've also got one of the best films, and memes, of 2015. Todd Haynes' richly shot romance is set around a 1950s department store as customer Carol (Cate Blanchett) and clerk Therese (Mara) find themselves dangerously drawn together. A film constructed of whispers, tiny movements, and glances, Carol should be a regular Christmas classic even if it works just as well year round. Stream it on Netflix.
3. Christmas Evil
Christmas horror is its own gigantic sub-category of Christmas films. (Hey, I get it. You can only take so much ho-ho-hoing before you want to see someone unconvincingly murdered with an ax.) Freudian slasher Christmas Evil will do the trick (I suggest warming up for it with a few rounds of eggnog first). Really, though, you can just watch the spoiler-filled, bonkers trailer if you don't feel up to a full 100 minutes of a murderous fugue state Santa Claus. Stream it on Shudder.
4. Fanny & Alexander
No one does Christmas quite like Scandinavia, so it would figure that no one makes a Christmas movie quite like Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. This epic made-for-TV drama (the theatrical release is streaming on Amazon) features one of the all-time great Christmas scenes in cinema, although the film is really more of a family drama, set at the turn of the century. As Eyes Wide Shut was to Kubrick, this is Bergman's swan song, and an excellent spot to dive into his enormous body of work. Rent it on Amazon for $3.99.
5. The Dekalog
Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski's magnum opus, The Dekalog, is a 10-part television series in which each standalone episode is loosely tied to one of the Ten Commandments. While the whole series has a chilly, mysterious, religious undertone that makes it perfect for watching at the end of the year, the third episode is overtly set on Christmas Eve. In it, a taxi cab driver dresses as "Święty Mikołaj," the Polish equivalent of Santa Claus. But trust me — this is certainly not going to air on the Hallmark Channel anytime soon. Buy the whole series on blu-ray for $49.99.
6. In Bruges
There is an entire Reddit thread dedicated to getting to the bottom of whether In Bruges is a Christmas film (the jury is still out), but for anyone who will allow for Christmas-adjacent films to qualify, this one's for you. A black comedy about the aftermath of a hit job gone wrong, this film takes place on the glittering, cold streets of Bruges in the run-up to the holidays. As The AV Club writes, "The Christmas film canon is filled with movies that couch existential questions within a narrative of redemption, but In Bruges foregrounds its existentialism within a narrative of absolution." Stream it on Netflix.
7. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation qualifying as a Christmas movie — it is. AMC will even have the film in rotation during its holiday movie marathons this year. But even holiday grumps have to grin at Chevy Chase's antics, especially since so many of them get at the heart of what makes this time of year both the best and the absolute worst: the ordeal of cutting down the tree, obnoxious family members who come out of the woodwork, and the life-endangering tradition of putting up lights. Rent it on Amazon Prime for $3.99 or watch it on AMC.
8. A Very Murray Christmas
As far as Christmas specials go, my heart belongs to Pee-wee Herman. But if you're looking for an anti-Christmas special, try the bizarre Sofia Coppola-directed Netflix musical A Very Murray Christmas, starring Bill Murray. It is a weird little disaster, featuring a parade of guests including Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, and George Clooney. But while other Christmas specials turn the tinsel and sleigh bells up to 11, Murray Christmas is a drunk, reluctant, sloppy mess — and so worth adding to the queue. Stream it on Netflix.
9. The Apartment
For the classic film lover who doesn't want to watch Miracle on 34th Street for the 700th time, let me remind you that The Apartment is absolutely a Christmas movie, in addition to just being, you know, a great piece of art. The winner of the 1960 Academy Award for Best Picture, Billy Wilder's raunchy romantic comedy is set broadly over the holidays, and includes a Christmas party, fruitcake jokes, and a climax on New Year's Eve. Still, it frequently gets overlooked as being a "Christmas movie," perhaps in part because it is famously not for children. Amazon Prime users stream for free.
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Alright, alright, so Harry Potter probably can't be qualified as Christmas movies by any stretch of the imagination (although that doesn't stop fans from arguing that they are). But hear me out! Christmas at Hogwarts is a staple of the series, and every film except for The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 includes a scene or two of the school's yearly festivities. While Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has perhaps the most memorable Christmas segment, with the Yule Ball, Sorcerer's Stone wins out on this list because of its earnestness (okay, also for baby Daniel Radcliffe). Just be careful — it's easy to turn on the first movie and end up watching all eight in an impromptu Christmas marathon. Rent it on Amazon Prime for $3.99.
11. Black Christmas
Having already established the sweet spot in the center of the Venn diagram of "horror" and "holidays," Black Christmas is what Evil Christmas is not: Pretty good! What might shock you is that this slasher film, about sorority sisters who are picked off one by one during Christmas, was directed by Bob Clark ... who also directed the family favorite A Christmas Story. But there is no adorable Ralphie threatening to shoot his eye out here; think more along the lines of really, really freaky phone calls. Black Christmas is the perfect movie to put on if you feel like being just a bit of a contrarian — but a contrarian with a Santa hat on. Watch with your Showtime subscription, on Shudder, or on YouTube for $2.99.