Christmas. It’s a time in which families huddle together around the warm, bustling glow of the fireplace, with the mantle framed with rows of stockings the TV set as we nod off from half a gallon of eggnog and some turkey. And, in keeping with that tradition, we here at ScreenCrave have cobbled together a list of our favorite unusual Christmas films—not A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life or any other of the more obvious picks; rather, it’s our favorite oddball X-mas movies, the films that somehow catch our attention every single year, even if they aren’t exactly the most appropriate holiday fare.
So, with that in mind, dig our list after the jump, and get your Tivo ready to line these up for some Christmas Eve viewing (also, and perhaps it’s a generational thing, or maybe it was the impressive amounts of blow Hollywood execs were inhaling back then, but all of the best weirdo Christmas movies came from the 1980s. Go figure).
5. Trading Places (1983)
Taking us back to those halcyon days when Eddie Murphy was actually brilliantly funny, and when Dan Aykroyd was letting us all know he was still alive, John Landis dropped the comedy masterpiece Trading Places on an unsuspecting world. Taking place over the holiday season in 1980s Philadelphia, the film is a witty, decadent, hilarious and charmingly vulgar update of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, in which hotshot brokerage director Danny Aykroyd is forced to switch places with homeless street hustler Eddie Murphy, and both must survive as a fish out of water in the other man’s life. As Aykroyd becomes suicidal and driven into the arms of a hooker with a heart of gold, and Murphy goes from being a ribald street thug to a slick power player, it may not sound like a family classic, but Trading Places is one of the funniest flicks you’ll catch on TV all Christmas long.
4. Scrooged (1988)
A modern, semi-meta take on A Christmas Carol, Scrooged finds Bill Murray as a black-hearted TV exec at the height of his cynical, soulless career, during the rehearsals for his live TV adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And, just like in that Dickens classic, Murray is visited by three ghosts who show him where his life went off track, and how he sacrificed true love for material wealth. But just in case that sounds a little too typical of Christmas schmaltz for you, don’t worry—Murray is in his full-on 80s smartass mode, all while being chased around by rotting corpses, insanely violent pixies, and Death itself, as he simultaneously struggles to staple some fake antlers onto a mouse’s head for his TV special and avoid network TV censors. Dark, wacky Christmas fun.
3. Christmas Vacation (1989)
Probably as much of a Christmas tradition in suburbia as opening presents on December 25th, viewing Christmas Vacation during the holidays has become a kind of unavoidable yuletide habit. The story of a brutally inept and occasionally foulmouthed father (Chevy Chase in a slightly smarter Homer Simpson mode) trying to survive the ultimate staycation as his parents, his in-laws, his children, his bitchy yuppie neighbors, his idiot cousin, a monstrous dog, a berserk squirrel and a full-on SWAT team converge upon his house over Christmas, Vacation is nothing short of a holiday classic. Sure the language is risqué, and it’s probably the only holiday classic to feature electrocuted cats and exploding sewage lines, but hey—that’s what surviving Christmas with a giant family feels like.
2. Gremlins (1984)
It doesn’t get much better than this—Joe Dante directing a Steven Spielberg-produced, Chris Columbus-penned gem about Gizmo, the most adorable little pet ever… and the truly horrifying, reptilian and murderous gremlins that Gizmo accidentally gives birth to. Playing like a live action episode of Looney Tunes (except all the cartoon characters are determined to murder you with household items before taking in a showing of Snow White), Gremlins truly is an utterly insane film. It’s also a classic that, inexplicably, the whole family can somehow enjoy—and when a film’s comic highlight is a played-totally-straight monologue about a child who discovers her dead father dressed as Santa and wedged in the chimney, that’s really saying something.
1. Die Hard (1988)
The recipe: It’s Christmas in Los Angeles. Hard-headed NYPD cop John McClane is visiting his estranged wife at the Nakatomi Plaza corporate high rise. German terrorists take over the building to raid its vaults, and manage to take everyone but McClane hostage. McClane runs around over broken glass with no shoes and a machine gun, and one seriously bad attitude.
As good as full-on ‘80s action films get, Die Hard is both an instant action and holiday classic. Coasting on the sheer charm of Bruce Willis as McClane and Alan Rickman as his smooth-talking nemesis, Die Hard has everything you could want from a Christmas film: Bruce Willis tossing bad guys from a high rise roof, blowing up public property, pissing just about everyone off, and letting loose with some stellar one liners (“Yippee kai yay, mother f*****,” anyone?). You’ll spend all of Christmas morning repeating “Now I have a machine gun. HO-HO-HO,” to as many relatives as you can after watching this holiday winner.
What’s your favorite odd holiday film?