There is no dearth of movies to get us into the holiday spirit this time of year. Hallmark alone serves up dozens of new films, to say nothing of claymation classics and our favorite holiday rom-coms that comfort us year after year. But what about those movies on the edge? Movies that are festive-ish? Movies you didn’t realize were actually holiday movies? We’ve gathered some of our favorites for your consideration.
First: how do we determine whether something is a holiday movie? Well, to hear much of the internet talk about it, any movie with a whiff of holiday imagery in it now counts as a Christmas movie. OK! If that’s how we want to think of it then there are a whole lot of non-Christmas Christmas movies out there.
Of course, people have very strong opinions on these matters. “How can you say that is a Christmas movie?! It just takes place during Christmas! There are no Christmas themes! How dare you?” But honestly, we’re here for anything that brings good cheer this season and makes your spirit merry and bright.
So grab the popcorn and some hot cocoa and cuddle up with these “holiday” classics.
While most of this movie isn’t about or even set during Christmas time, some crucial scenes are festooned with holiday decor and merry-making, including the iconic Winona-Ryder-twirling-dreamily-in-the-“snow”-Edward-is-creating-via-his-ice-sculpture scene. The frame-narrative of the movie, an old woman telling the story of Edward Scissorhands to her granddaughter, also takes place during Christmas.
Stream Edward Scissorhands, rated PG-13, on Max.
This movie spans seasons and years, but some of the most emotional moments of the film happen during or on Christmas, including the return of the March family patriarch home from the Civil War. Whether you watch the 2019 Greta Gerwig version or the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, there’s something so viscerally cozy about the Christmas scenes in the March home and the quaint Massachusetts town where they all reside. It makes you want to put on a crocheted shawl, hold a mug of hot cider in two hands and sing carols around a piano played by your sickliest sister.
Stream Little Women, rated PG, on Starz.
Not many people think “Christmas movie” when this beautiful, critically acclaimed film comes to mind, but why shouldn’t it be? It opens during the Christmas season of 1952 and signs of the holiday are everywhere, from Carol purchasing Christmas gifts for her daughter from Therese to the pair buying a Christmas tree together.
Also: don’t make us say it! Christmas? Carol? Christmas carol...
Stream Carol, rated R, on Netflix.
OK. Not really, really, but if the litmus for what makes a Christmas movie is “having scenes that take place during the holiday season” then American Psycho, which is primarily about the unhinged materialism of finance bros in 1980s New York... and also a serial killer... is also a Christmas movie since there’s a scene in which Patrick Bateman attends his fiancée Evelyn’s Christmas party. He even gets called “Mr. Grinch: and sports a pair of reindeer antlers.
Deck the halls with... ehhh... I don’t know that we want to think about what Patrick Bateman considers festive decor.
Stream American Psycho, rated R, on Peacock.
I don’t think anyone is going to argue, sincerely, that Harry Potter films are Christmas movies, but the brief scenes set in Hogwarts during Christmas are holiday aesthetic goals. Honestly, beyond anything we ever could have dreamed. Of course it probably helps when you can trim your tree using levitation spells (leviOsa, not levioSA).
Stream the Harry Potter films, rated PG & PG-13, on Max.
There are several Christmas moments in this iconic gangster movie. After the centrally important Lufthansa heist, Hill, Conway, DeVito and the crew are celebrating their victory at a festively decorated bar. “Frosty the Snowman” plays in the background. There’s tension in the moment: Conway berates Johnny Roastbeef (perfect mob name, 10/10, no notes) for buying a flashy new car despite being told to keep a low profile and not make any big purchases.
We also see Hill at home with his wife and two daughters, proudly coming home with a garish white Christmas tree announcing “Come here! I got the most expensive Christmas tree they had!”
Stream Goodfellas, rated R, on Amazon Prime.
About A Boy
There are a few things about this one that make it a Christmas movie. The main character, Will, lives playboy lifestyle thanks to royalties from his father’s mega-hit Christmas song. There are also two Christmases depicted, one in which Will begins to build real connection with other people for the first time, thanks to his new young friend, Marcus, and another at the end of the movie to demonstrate the growth of all the characters from beginning to end.
Come for the Christmas-y elements, stay to marvel at what an absolute baby Nicholas Hoult was in 2002.
Stream About A Boy, rated PG-13, on Starz.
Honestly, this is one that I can’t believe some people don’t recognize as a Christmas movie. Like, sure, little goblin-esque creatures aren’t Christmas-y, but let’s look at the facts...
- The whole movie takes place in the days leading up to (and on) Christmas
- Gizmo was a Christmas present
- The Gremlins sing Christmas carols and wear Santa hats
- Kate tells a story about how her dad died on Christmas after attempting to go down the chimney dressed as Santa Claus
What about this isn’t a Christmas movie folks... albeit a weird, somewhat disturbing one.
Stream Gremlins, rated PG*, on Max.
*bear in mind, this is a 1984 PG, which is more like a 2023 PG-13.
When Harry Met Sally
The argument for this being a Christmas movie is a a bit weightless, but, again, if we’re going with “there are scenes that take place during Christmas time” then... yeah, Harry and Sally buying a Christmas tree in a winter wonderland of New York in the 1980s absolutely counts as a Christmas movie. (Also: come one, we really will take any excuse to watch this movie any time of the year. It’s the best the genre has to offer!)
Stream When Harry Met Sally, rated R, on Amazon Prime.
The more I thought about this one, the more I thought “OK, actually this one totally counts.” Basically the whole movie is set during Christmas time in Gotham City and from big lights displays to swanky holiday parties to villains popping out of giant Christmas presents for dramatic effect (just roll with it), Christmas is all over this movie.
Above and beyond all that, Christmas is important to the themes of the movie: it provides a juxtaposition to the characters’ isolation from mainstream society, setting them apart as heroes or villains.
Stream Batman Returns, rated PG-13, on Max.
Another classic gangster movie makes our list of unlikely holiday films. Lots of important action happens at Christmas time. Not only do we see Michael and Kay and Tom Hagen shopping for Christmas presents, but Don Corleone — doing some shopping of his own — gets gunned down by Virgil Sollozzo’s hitmen while buying fruit. Christmas trees are being sold nearby. Later, Michael keeps him safe by standing guard outside of the hospital, all decked out for Christmas.
Everyone in this movie is on the naughty list.
Stream The Godfather, rated R, on Amazon Prime.
Honorable Mention: It’s A Wonderful Life
This movie is sort of the opposite of the phenomenon above: we think of it as a Christmas movie but, when taken as a whole, it really isn’t. Most of the film has nothing to do with the holidays. It’s about a young man growing up and finding joy in a life unlike the one he dreamed of for himself. It’s really only the fact that the final scenes take place on Christmas Eve that secures its place as a holiday film. In fact, it was first released on Jan. 7, 1947, well after when most folks celebrate Christmas (though just in time for Orthodox Christmas).
Of course, Jimmy Stewart running through the snow shouting “Merry Christmas!” is certainly enough for us to count it among the Christmas greats.
Stream It’s A Wonderful Life, rated PG, on Amazon Prime.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Yippee- Kai-Yay Motherf——r to one and all!
This article was originally published on