I’m reporting myself as a hard-hearted (if more modern and beautiful than average) Scrooge: a rejecter of the holiday spirit. Due to a combination of unresolved angst and a distaste for other people’s joy—I no longer see this as a personality flaw, but as God’s design—the holidays are my most hated time of the year. Even so, I wouldn’t pass up a snuggly Christmastime screening of You’ve Got Mail if the situation was sufficiently dire.
Don’t hate the holiday movie, hate the holiday, as they say. Nonetheless, I have my limits. I wouldn’t mind never seeing Elf again (though part of me will always want to know what that chocolate syrup spaghetti tasted like), and while I recognize sentimental classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street as cinema, they make me feel like I ate the chocolate spaghetti from Elf.
To get me in the mood, I’d rather engage with something more subtle and emotionally complex than a Hallmark card, like Batman: Arkham Origins. It might be unconventional, but it’s my preference for holiday movies, too. Though many people gravitate toward old saccharine favorites (or more recently, Die Hard), there are plenty of unusual holiday movies to love. Here are five that I’d recommend gamers, or really anyone tired of their holiday routine, check out.
Jack Frost (1998)
Just so we’re clear, the fact that I’m recommending a movie doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “good.” At least, not in the traditional sense.
Case in point is Jack Frost, a movie in which Michael Keaton turns into a snowman. This is not a “good” movie, but it will challenge your grip on reality, especially if you choose to be under eggnog’s influence this holiday. The plot is simple enough: Keaton turns into a snowman, learns to finally bond with his son despite his now being made of snow, and is forced to confront the reality of melting. Its core values would mark it as a more typical, cheerful holiday film had its plot not necessitated Michael Keaton turning into a beady-eyed pile of snow, which instead makes it a funny groupwatch. It may even still be heartfelt, if its use of Fleetwood Mac’s song “Landslide” ends up hitting you in the right way after you’ve had all that eggnog.
When reading up on this movie to remind myself of the plot before writing about it, I was surprised to discover it isn’t a horror movie, since it scared the shit out of me as a kid. But I am pleased to report that there is actually a slasher movie with the same name and a very similar (snowman) premise from 1997, if that’s more your speed. I don’t know if it uses “Landslide,” though.
More if you like it: Gremlins (1984), The Gingerdead Man (2005), Krampus (2015)
Better Watch Out (2016)
Better Watch Out, on the other hand, is a holiday horror through-and-through. Much like my life, it features a protagonist named Ashley. Unlike my life, Better Watch Out’s Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) gets stuck babysitting Luke (Levi Miller), a 12-year-old who turns out to be evil in more ways than the usual middle-school ones.
But baby’s lethal antics are punctuated by lots of Christmas absurdity—people tied up in string lights, holiday sweaters warming up the movie’s depraved children, garlands on staircases making sparkling, quiet suburbia look grotesque amid all Luke’s bad behavior. It’s a little Home Alone and a little Scream, refreshing and fun.
More if you like it: Black Christmas (1974), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Invasion U.S.A. (1985)
Invasion U.S.A. does the ‘80s action movie thing, the Predator, Blue Thunder, First Blood thing, and makes its three crucial elements a) the U.S. government is awesome and rugged, b) American men are awesome and rugged, c) explosions.
Unfortunately, unlike Predator, Blue Thunder, and First Blood, Invasion U.S.A. doesn’t at all attempt to draw you in with plot. The story is stereotypical, Chuck Norris needs to single handedly stop the Soviets and the terrorists, a school bus blows up, etc. It was panned when it came out—Roger Ebert amusingly called it a “brain-damaged, idiotic thriller” in his 1985 review. But since then, either out of finding comfort in careless, simple politics or the undeniable razzle dazzle of a good explosion, of which there are many in this movie, Invasion U.S.A. has morphed into a cult classic, escorted safely through history by Chuck Norris with a big gun. Yes, it is brain-dead. But, like we discussed, you have eggnog.
More if you like it: Die Hard (1988) (duh), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Despite all my talk of being cold and indifferent to the holidays, When Harry Met Sally is my all-time favorite holiday movie. Even the Grinch’s heart beats, you know.
And who am I to deny a movie as perfect and messy and human as this one? Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) take a decade, from college in Chicago to adulthood in New York City, to find out the truth as to whether men and women can be “just friends.” In their case, maybe not, but they can certainly love hard and long, in bookstores, and on the Upper West Side, and under white lights at a New Year’s party. This one is for stubborn, sensitive people.
More if you like it: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Holiday (2006), Bros (2022)
The Green Knight (2021)
In a rare turn of events for a medieval movie, The Green Knight is very faithful to its source material, the anonymous Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. For this reason, it can prove an abstruse watch if you lack some familiarity with the story, and though I can hardly perform addition and subtraction, I was thankful for the first time in my life that I learned to read Middle English in college.
But although familiarity helps, you don’t need formal training to see that Dev Patel breathes fresh life into the centuries-old epic as Sir Gawain, a Knight of the Round Table whose hubris threatens to contaminate what he wants more than anything—honor.
From Christmas to Christmas, Gawain wanders the verdant fairy world, where ghosts, a fox, and temptation lure and confuse him on his path to the Green Knight, an enchanted man who will fulfill his destiny, or possibly only his death. It’s a cerebral dark fantasy, a reason to consider Christmas’ long and bloody history and how you fit into it.
More if you like it: The Lion in Winter (1968), Dragonslayer (1981) (doesn’t occur over the holidays, but at least involves virgins)
Whatever and however you celebrate, I hope these recommendations serve you well. Get comfortable, get some gingerbread, and let these holiday movies take you somewhere new this year.