Movie suggestions beyond the traditional Christmas classics

List of films that fall under the Christmas movie umbrella is constantly expanding
A scene from Arthur Christmas.
A scene from Arthur Christmas.

The list of films that fall under the Christmas movie umbrella is constantly expanding. 

This is because new Christmas movies get made every year, but also because older movies come to be regarded as essential Yuletide viewing. These older films weren’t marketed as Christmas films, and they weren’t considered especially Christmassy upon their release. But they contain Christmas themes and imagery, and contemporary audiences have embraced them as holiday classics. 

Take “Die Hard.” 

There are a lot of people who think “Die Hard” is a great Christmas movie – Entertainment Weekly has called it “the perfect Christmas movie” – but this wasn’t always the case.

The film was regarded as little more than a Bruce Willis action vehicle when it was released in the summer of 1998, but the film’s setting – a Christmas party – and hero John McClane’s desire to reunite with his family explain why “Die Hard” is often ranked as one of the best Christmas films. 

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Films of all genres can make for great Christmas viewing if you’re looking for something beyond the traditional Christmas movie canon. 

So if you’re looking for a few alternatives to popular holiday classics, here are a few.  

– If you like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you might enjoy another charming family classic: the warm and vibrant Technicolor musical “Meet Me in St. Louis.” 

“Meet Me in St. Louis” isn’t as dark as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but that doesn’t mean it lacks for dramatic heft. 

The film tells the story of a family crisis: The Smiths of St. Louis learn that the family patriarch has taken a job in New York City, and that they will be relocating the day after Christmas. No one wants to go, and the movie’s climatic sections are set at Christmas-time. One of the film’s highlights is Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” 

– If you like “Home Alone,” you might enjoy the 1989 French horror film “Dial Code Santa Claus,” also known as “Deadly Games” and “3615 code Pere Noel.” 

“Dial Code Santa Claus” tells the story of an ingenious young boy fending off a crazed intruder in a Santa costume on Christmas Eve, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the director, Rene Manzor, threatened the makers of “Home Alone” with legal action, saying they had remade his film. 

Having watched both films, I can say that they have their similarities, but also notable differences. “Dial Code Santa Claus” is much more of a horror film – unlike the bumbling crooks of “Home Alone,” the intruder that terrorizes the young protagonist is genuinely frightening, a homicidal maniac who seems inspired by the relentless kills of American slasher movies. 

What makes “Dial Code Santa Claus” memorable is its unusual balance of kid hi-jinks and whimsy with scares. It’s not a film that’s suitable for children, but fans of cult cinema and Christmas horror should seek it out. 

If you like “The Polar Express,” you might like “Arthur Christmas,” a cute and clever animated film about Santa’s clumsy son, Arthur Claus. 

“Arthur Christmas” has a lot of fun showing the nuts and bolts of how the North Pole operates. Arthur’s older brother takes a militaristic, tech-heavy approach to running Christmas Eve, while Arthur helps bring some genuine Christmas spirit to the annual production when he decides to use Santa’s sleigh and reindeer to deliver a forgotten Christmas present. 

“Arthur Christmas” looks great and is a lot of fun. It’s filled with jokes and gags and also contains a nice message, about the spirit of giving and the importance of making sure every child has a nice Christmas. 

If you like the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol,” you might enjoy the 1962 British crime film “Cash on Demand,” a crisp reworking of the beloved Charles Dickens story. 

A Hammer Films Production starring the great Peter Cushing, “Cash on Demand” tells the story of a bank clerkheld up by a ruthless thief two days before Christmas. Like Scrooge, the bank teller isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, at least at the outset. But by the end of the film, he’s a different man. 

Finally, I’d like to make a club for the 2015 indie film “Christmas, Again.” 

I don’t know exactly what to compare “Christmas, Again” to – it’s a small-scale, bittersweet drama that seems unlikely to appeal to fans of more upbeat and conventional holiday romances. (Think “Love, Actually.”) But it might appeal to people looking for something that feels a bit more like real life. 

“Christmas, Again” concerns a heartbroken New York City Christmas tree salesman named Noel. Noel lives in a trailer and is getting over a break-up, but his encounter with a mysterious woman helps pull him out of his funk.

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“Christmas, Again” never feels anything less than authentic – you can tell that the film’s director, Charles Poekel, has spent time on the streets of New York City selling Christmas trees. 

The film is a mood piece, about what it means to be lonely and alone during a season of festive family cheer, but it also contains moments of piercing insight and beauty. The ending is poignant and simple, and it rings true. 

A few other Christmas films that fall outside the mainstream: “Tokyo Godfathers,” the 2003 Japanese animated film about three homeless people who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve, the 1941 Cesar Romero gangster comedy “Tall, Dark and Handsome,” and the so-bad-it’s-good cult oddity “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” 

There’s nothing wrong with the traditional Christmas canon. 

But I try to watch new Christmas films every year, and I’m always surprised by how much there is to see. “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Elf” are great movies. But there are other seasonal treasures, just waiting to be discovered. 

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