With Christmas just weeks away, its time for the Christmas movies to start rolling out. Either marathons on TV or breaking out your favorites from your Blu Ray collection, now's the times to enjoy Christmas classics, and some non-Christmas classics.
We all have our own ideas of the best Christmas movies. I posted my own list a few years back, and Nate is asking for your favorites on his survey this year. But in looking at films that regularly compile the "Best of" lists each year, we need to remember that some of those Christmas movies aren't actually Christmas movies. They may take place at Christmas, but don't really have anything to do with Christmas itself.
'It's a Wonderful Life' (1942)
I'm going to catch grief for this one. Bring it! A cinematic classic that is shown every year around Christmas, but it is not really a Christmas movie. 'It's a Wonderful Life' is about George Bailey's life, with the conclusion of the film taking place at Christmas. Christmas is just used a waypoint in the script for the overall story. Its literally one of the greatest movies ever made, no doubt about it, but calling it a true Christmas movie, that's a bit of a stretch.
One of the best comedies of the 80s, if not all time, and one of two movies that launched Eddie Murphy's film career, 'Trading Places' is another film that occasionally gets packaged along with other Christmas films, or the Christmas aspects get front-and-center attention with shots of Dan Aykroyd in a Santa suit. But the fact that its Christmas just isn't the driving force of the film. But to see SNL and comedy legends like Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy together in the 80s, the fact that its Christmas during the film takes a very far backseat.
We've mentioned it before, but 'Gremlins' is one of two 1984 films that caused the creation of the PG-13 rating. Its Christmas time throughout, and Gizmo is a Christmas present, but that's about as far as the Christmas plot goes. The entire film could have been placed in the summer, with Gizmo as birthday a present, and very little would have changed in the overall story. Also, the horror elements make it something you can get away with watching any time of the year, maybe even at Halloween.
Writer Shane Black loves placing his movies during Christmas, hence why this is the first of four Shane Black films on our list. The beauty of 'Lethal Weapon' is that it helped make the buddy-cop film genre what it is today, and Black wrote the film while still in his teens. Christmas is the backdrop for the entire film, with Riggs performing a drug sting in a tree lot and the final scene having Riggs joining the Murtaugh family for Christmas dinner, yet this is rarely ever mentioned on Best Christmas movies lists unlike the aforementioned 'It's a Wonderful Life', and just the end of that movie takes place at Christmas.
While I will argue that the original 'Die Hard' is a Christmas movie until I'm blue in the face, I cannot defend this one as a Christmas film. To me, the fact that it was Christmas in the original was a vital point to the story, while this one it just seems to be Christmas so it can more easily tie in with the first film. While winter was necessary for aspects of the plot, namely the already dire conditions at the airport, there's nothing that would have prevented the film from taking place around Thanksgiving or the early new year and not have the same effect. While accused of being a rehash of the first film, 'Die Hard 2' plays with that and begins poking fun at the absurdity of the same thing happening to the same guy twice while ramping up the action and keeping McClaine the regular guy hero as opposed to his current status as aging superhero.
Another films where Christmas is treated as the time frame and very little more. The only truly significant point to the film that used Christmas was the mistletoe exchange between Catwoman and Batman, allowing for the pivotal identity reveal between Selena and Bruce later on. To many, this film marked the last time Batman was great on the big screen until Christian Bale in 'Batman Begins'. But the dark nature of the film turned off broad audiences and the studio considered it a failure in comparison to its predecessor.
Funny enough, one could argue that his is also a Thanksgiving film since the movie spans the fall-to-winter seasons more than focusing on a single holiday. As we saw in the sequel, 'Grumpier Old Men', the film could play no matter the time of year, so the inclusion of Christmas wasn't more than acknowledgement of the time of year it took place, not necessarily acting at the point of the film. This is another comedy, much like 'Trading Places', where the inclusion of Christmas is so minor in comparison to the chemistry between the lead actors that makes this film enjoyable any time of year.
'The Long Kiss Goodnight' (1996)
Another Shane Black movie with the Christmas backdrop, the beauty of the film is not the Christmas season, but the unique writing stile of Shane Black. Geena Davis as the spy with amnesia turned housewife paired with Samuel L Jackson, along with dialogue from Shane Black, is an action/comedy combination that not many are aware of, but really should be.
'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' (2005)
Many credit 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' as the high point for Robert Downey Jr.'s career comeback, and you can't blame them for thinking that. Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, two major actors then considered to be in the downside of their career, deliver one of their greatest performances as a wannabe detective and real detective, respectively, wrapped up in noir-novel style murder mystery at Christmas. The third of four Shane Black written films on this list, its also the directorial debut for Black, who would go on to write and direct the 6th highest grossing film of all time, and the last film on our list...
The first post-'Avengers' film, 'Iron Man 3' had a lot to live up to by ushering in the second phase of Marvel films, and did so quite well in large part to the collaboration again between Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. For the most part, Christmas isn't really focused on apart from the Christmas music Tony Stark listens to while working on his new suit, and the Vice President about to have Christmas dinner.