The Darker Side of Christmas Films

Quick!  What comes to your mind when you think of Christmas movies?  It’s a Wonderful Life?  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?  Scrooged?  Home Alone?  Bad Santa?
Eh, who needs ’em!?  It’s that time of year for…
The Schleicher Spin’s Top Ten Non-Traditional Christmas Films:

These are movies that highlight the darker side of the season or perhaps just have that contemplative, cold wintry feel.  So sit back with some whiskey, put a log in the fireplace and cozy up with something a little bit different.

10.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 

"Daddy, daddy, does Santa live there?" "No, son, that's where Blofeld lives."

What says Christmas better than gun fights and chases on skis, blowing up Blofeld’s mountaintop resort/terrorist compound and seeing your wife murdered in a drive-by?  Ah, the holidays!

9.  Eyes Wide Shut

Santa knows you've been a naughty boy.
Kubrick’s swan song if chock full of that holiday spirit – from swanky yuletide parties, to brisk walks through the night, to cultish orgies…the whole film is strung up like twisted Christmas lights.
8. Gremlins
"Last Christmas I fed you after midnight..."
This was one of my earliest movie-going memories, and that Christmas every kid was begging for Gizmo or Scratch.
7.  Ravenous
Please, Santa, don't eat me!
For the love of cannibals and manifest destiny, this thing bleeds the spirit of giving!  Antonia Bird’s cult classic also features the most demented music score from Michael Nyman that will be sure to put you in the holiday mood.
6.  Metropolitan
The cha cha is no more ridiculous than life itself.
See how the “other half” spends their holidays as a bunch of pseudo-intellectual spoiled rich kids spend the Christmas season swanking it up at debutante balls and after-hours parties.  Dryly humorous and surprisingly generous with its laughs, Whit Stilman’s debut has aged well over the years.
5.  12 Monkeys
All I want for Christmas is to find the cure for the plague that killed 5 billion people.
Terry Gilliam’s time tripping romantic thriller just oozes eternal winter.  I still get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking of Bruce Willis wandering around a post-Christmas-Apocalypse Philadelphia Wanamaker’s – a landmark to all that has passed into distant slumber.
4.  The Godfather
"And you come to me on this, the day of my savior's birth?"
Catholics, Italians…there’s a Christmas scene…what…you need an excuse to watch this?
3.  The Dead
John Huston’s film adaptation of James Joyce’s classic holiday tale IS the Christmas season: all the joy, love, loneliness, bitterness and regret. 
2.  Fanny and Alexander
Yes, Ingmar Bergman, there is a Santa Clause!
Ingmar Bergman’s ode to his childhood opens with a Christmas party and ends with children reunited with their family after a horrendous ordeal.  It’s exactly what you thought the holidays would be like in Sweden.
1.  In Bruges
Clemence and Colin discuss spending every Christmas...In Bruges.
Bruges, Belgium – “it’s like a f***ing fairy tale, init?”  Two hitmen get stuck in Europe’s favorite medieval holiday claptrap only to find out their psychotic boss is looking to give one of them a most special gift – a bullet in the head.  Midgets, churches, canals, cursing and Clemence Poesy…that’s all I want for Christmas!  One of the best films of the 2000’s is also the most contemplative and darkly humorous holiday film ever made.
Written by David H. Schleicher 
What are your favorite non-traditional Christmas films?


  1. Haha…cool list, Dave. I always forget that “Gremlins” was set at Christmas time. “Metropolitan” is definitely a fave for me, as is “12 Monkeys.” One of these days, I need to rewatch “Eyes Wide Shut.” I hated it the first time I saw it but I’m curious to see how the intervening years would affect my opinion. Not a fan of “In Bruges,” though. I found that to be overrated.

    Here are some movies to add to the list:


    And I always throw in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, even though that’s more of a New Year’s movie.


    Chris, speaking of The Coen Brothers…Fargo has a wintry feel to it as well. –DHS

  2. Hi! D.H.Schleicher…
    Unfortunately, Of all the films on you list I have only watched the The Godfather saga…

    My Christmas list do include some of the classics such as…
    Christmas Holiday (1944) a very dark film noir…
    It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) a film with dark noirish undertones…A Christmas Classic…Not So Black and White

    Christmas Films That I Hope To Watch…
    All Mine to Give (1957) —
    Bachelor Mother (1939) —
    Bad Santa (2003) —
    Beyond Tomorrow (1940) —
    The Bishop’s Wife (1947) —
    The Cheaters (1945) —
    A Christmas Carol (1938)-
    Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)
    A Christmas Carol (2009),
    Christmas Eve (1947) —
    Christmas Holiday (1944) — On Christmas Day, stranded soldier listens as cabaret singer recounts doomed marriage to killer.
    Christmas in Connecticut (1945) —
    A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noël) (2008) — A fractious family gets together in the worst of circumstances durring Christmas.
    A Christmas Story (1983) —
    The Shop Around the Corner (1940) —
    We’re No Angels (1955) —
    Die Hard (1988) — On Christmas Eve, terrorists seize control of a Los Angeles skyscraper.
    Die Hard 2 (1990) — On Christmas Eve, terrorists seize control of air traffic control at a Washington DC airport.
    Elf (2003) — A human, raised at the North Pole, searches for his family in New York.
    The Family Stone (2005) — Uptight woman wants acceptance from eccentric clan at Christmastime.
    The Great Rupert (aka A Christmas Wish) (1950) —
    Holiday Affair (1949) —
    The Holiday (2006) — Two women swap homes for the holidays and meet up with their dream men.
    Home Alone (1990) — Kevin accidentally gets left behind during Christmas break and defends his house against robbers.
    I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) —
    It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) —
    Jack Frost (1998) — Dad gets second chance as snowman.
    J’ai Rencontré Le Père Noël (AKA Here Comes Santa Claus) (1984) —
    Joyeux Noël (AKA Merry Christmas) (2005) — World War I trenches go silent during the “Christmas truce” of 1914.
    The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) —
    Miracle on 34th Street (1947) — Macy’s Santa, with help from the U.S. Postal Service, restores a little girl’s faith. Remade for television in 1955, 1959, 1973.
    The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) — Inhabitants of Halloween Land do a number on Christmas.
    Remember the Night (1940) —
    Scrooge (1951) — Dickens’ ghostly meditation on Christmas. This version of the story, with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, is regarded as one of the best.

    I must that your list is most definitely, off the beaten path…When it comes to your selection Of films to watch this yuletide season.

    Happy Holiday!
    To you and your family too!
    DD 😉 🙂

    DeeDee – never heard of Christmas Holiday – will have to check that out. Happy Holidays to you, too! –DHS

  3. What a great list David. I especially love IN BRUGES and FANNY AND ALEXANDER. And 12 MONKEYS is one of the few Terry Gilliam movies I really like. I would add BLACK CHRISTMAS, one of the best horror movies of all time. We also have the new Finnish movie RARE EXPORTS which, as I’ve already told you, is a hoot. I appreciate any movie that attempts to rescue the Santa legend from Thomas Nast and Coca-Cola advertisers and return him to his less cozy Medieval roots, where bad children had more to fear than no gifts.

    Jason, would you believe I’ve never seen Black Christmas? What the hell is wrong with me? –DHS

    • There is nothing wrong with you, but you should see it or I will begin to think there is something wrong with you. And, of course, not that trashy remake from a few years ago. It has to be the original 1974 Olivia Hussey film, oddly directed by Bob Clark of “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story” fame. I’m sure you know all this already…

      Oh, and I remembered “Grand Illusion” could be considered a non-traditional Christmas movie. There is a Christmas scene at the farm at the end of the picture.

      Black Chrismas is now at the top of my Netflix queue. — DHS

  4. THE DEAD is great, great film and a wonderful choice for a Christmas themed film and as for THE GODFATHER, I never really thought about it as a holiday film but there is that one snowy scene with Pacino and Keaton.

    I will add two others to the list.


    John, I dunno…nothing says the holidays like spending time with “The Family” — and there is a Christmas scene in The Godfather. –DHS

  5. Hi, David,

    Very interesting list — I’m surprised “The Shining” didn’t make it, although I suppose the action wasn’t Christmas-oriented. I’d also add “Die Hard,” “While You Were Sleeping,”(which is sweet with an edge, I thought)and “Lawrence of Arabia” especially if it’s very cold and snowy. I know, the last has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas so I suppose you could say it’s an “Un-Christmas” movie. I’ve watched “Die Hard” the most, though. This year, I don’t know what I’ll watch…. I love your lists! Cinda

    Cinda, I thought about The Shining, but that was at the top of my Halloween movies list. — DHS

  6. Well David, that’s a very interesting list there! FANNY AND ALEXANDER is actually my own #1 chice in my ten best list to follow here, as I have conformed to you specidic request to keep things dark, refective and melancholy. But for me if ‘winter’, ‘Christmas’ or snow are not at least in part present, I don’t choose them. Still I can see precisely why you used THE GODFATHER, which has that celebrated Christmas sequence. I deliberately left off IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which is only nominally “dark.”

    1. Fanny and Alexander (Bergman)
    2. The Dead (Huston)
    3. A Christmas Carol (Hurst; 1951)
    4. A Separate Peace (Peerce)
    5. The Snowman (Jackson; 1986)
    6. The Polar Express (Zemeckis)
    7. The Ascent(Shepitko; Russia)
    8. The Ice Storm (Lee)
    9. Affair in the Snow (Yoshida)
    10 Nicholas and Alexandre (Schaffner)

    Sam, ah, but I included some lighter fare on the list…Metropolitan is good for many laughs…and I’ve always thought of Ravenous (which I just watched again last night) as a comedy…as is In Bruges in many ways (though of the darker sort for sure). Great list! –DHS

  7. I always feel that movies that are geared towards Christmas, or New Year, are often of lesser quality, and a bit contrived. So, that’s what makes this list fresh and interesting. I like your non-traditional recommendations. I’ve recently watched a film with Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep as sisters, and Leo DiCaprio as Streep’s son, it’s very suitable for the Season, it’s “Marvin’s Room”. Don’t know how I could have missed that one, but glad to know about it now. And I’ve been telling people it’s just apt for the holidays, although it’s not a ‘Christmas movie’.

    Arti – Holiday movies are typically very contrived. Give me something that is actually about “family” rather than some hackneyed “family film.” It’s nice to discover forgotten little gems from years past like Marvin’s Room, isn’t it? I recall liking that one. –DHS

  8. I know who Gizmo is, but who the heck is “Scratch” ? That’s like mixing up Cobra Commander and Megatron. Shame. Merry Xmas !!

    LMAO – Scratch…Stripe…who cares? Maybe I was remembering what Stripe did (he scratched up Gizmo, right?) and confused the names. Seriously I haven’t seen the movie in like 15 years… — DHS

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