The Not-So Christmas List
Our list of 25 must-see movies NOT about Santa, Rudolph and/or Frosty to watch this Christmas season.
For those of us who don’t necessarily want to watch absolutely everything Santa Claus, Rudolph and Frosty have to offer twenty-four hours a day for the next month, I’ve made a list of some of my favorite non-Christmas Christmas movies. They are movies I grew up watching around Christmas time at our house and while most take place during the holiday season, they’re not your run of the mill holiday movies. Others are just good movies for any time of the year and just because Santa is around the corner doesn’t mean we need to give up good movies for the rest of the year. Reminder: Most of these are NOT PG. They’re for us older folks for the most part, check the ratings on them first people! So, without further ado:
1. Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Directed by John McTiernan, Renny Harlin
Written by Jeb Stuart, Steven de Souza, Doug Richardson, Steven de Souza
Both of these movies are renowned for being awesome by anyone who likes action movies, Bruce Willis and/or seeing things blow up. The original was directed by John McTiernan, the novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, was written by Roderick Thorp and the screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven de Souza. Die Harder was directed by Renny Harlin, the novel, 58 Minutes, was written by Walter Wagel and the screenplay by Doug Richardson and Steven de Souza. For added Yule-tide spirit, both movies take place on Christmas Eve, so you can honestly tell people “Hey! This is a Christmas Movie!” if they dare challenge you. But they won’t. It’s Die Hard.
2. The Ref (1994)
Directed by Ted Demme
Screenplay by Marie Weiss and Richard LaGravenese
Set on Christmas Eve, this hilarious comedy starring Dennis Leary follows a burglar into a hostage situation that fixes a broken family when everyone starts actually talking to each other instead of talking over each other the way they usually would. Ah, the magic of near-death experiences. It is not only my favorite in the list for around Christmas time, but it happens to be my favorite Dennis Leary movie as well.
3. Dutch (1991)
Directed by Peter Faiman
Written by (the incomparable) John Hughes
Also set during the holidays, Ed O’Neill (Married With Children) plays Dutch who, to get to know his girlfriend's son, volunteers to pick him up from prep school. Except, her son's not the nicest kid in the world. In fact, he’s a pain. But Ed O’Neill in comedic fashion shows the perseverance and the not-taking-crap necessary to get through to the kid in the end. It’s a feel good movie with a kick. And a couple of very mean nut shots.
4. Ghostbusters II (1989)
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis
Who can stop the spirit of Viggo The Carpathian from taking over New York and then the world? Well of course it’s the Ghostbusters. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are back in proton packs and they’re out to stop him. While both Ghostbusters movies are great any time, Ghostbusters II is Christmas specific, hence it is on this list alone. Directed by Ivan Reitman and written by two out of four Ghostbusters (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis), it shows their style through and through. These men are, after all, GENIUSES.
5. Dogma (1999)
Writte and Directed by Kevin Smith
So, what happens when God goes on a little sabbatical to watch her favorite sport and needs some help? Well, she calls up an abortion clinic worker with some faith issues to help make sure creation isn’t undone by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Duh. While not set during Christmas, it has all the prerequisites: God, Angels, problems with faith that get taken care of later, Alanis Morisette as the only time you see God as a woman and Alan Rickman… Okay, so Alan Rickman isn’t a Christmas prerequisite, but shouldn’t he be? Add to that the awesome direction and writing by Kevin Smith (Silent Bob for those who live under a rock). Enough said.
6. Enemy of the State (1998)
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by David Marconi
If you haven’t seen Enemy of the State, start with this one. Will Smith is a lawyer who gets involved in a cover-up of the murder of a senator and, just for fun, he has no idea he’s involved or why people are after him. Together with an awesome cast of too many people to name, this movie has action for those who need it and some real life scary possibilities for those looking at SOPA and PIPA legislature this year. Oh, and this one has Christmas Presents. That’s our loophole. Don’t forget. Directed by Tony Scott (of Top Gun and The Last Boy Scout) and written by David Marconi (who also wrote the story for Live Free or Die Hard).
7. Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)
Directed by Mark Waters
Written by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern
Jim Carey, a bunch of penguins, enough snow and ice to get lost in a blizzard and a lot of laughs. Sounds Christmas-y to me, what do you think? The plot is also somewhat Scrooge-like(or maybe Mary Poppins-like) in that Mr. Popper begins as a die-hard businessman who doesn’t really spend much time with his children and ends with a happy family. Directed by Mark Waters, based on a novel by Richard and Florence Atwater and the screenplay written by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern.
8. It Could Happen To You (1994)
Directed by Andrew Bergman
Written by Jane Anderson
So, Nicholas Cage plays a cop who is good. Not just good, but a good person, honest to a fault (a “fault” which I don’t believe actually exists by the way), who promises a waitress a tip because he didn’t have enough cash on him. Comes back the next day and offers her either double the tip or half his lotto ticket winnings, as agreed. He waits for her decision and is extremely happy to be able to share the lotto ticket winnings of Four Million Dollars. While not set during Christmas per se, you have to admit everyone wants to win the lottery and the fact that this awesome romantic comedy is based on a true story makes it just that much better. So, what’s our loophole you ask? Christmas Wishes. We WISH we had a winning lotto ticket. See? Perfectly valid. Directed by Andrew Bergman and written by Jane Anderson.
9. Mr. Mom (1983)
Directed by Stan Dragoti
Written by John Hughes
A working dad loses his job and his stay at home mom housewife suddenly becomes an advertising executive. Mr. Mom is funny, cute and a classic Michael Keaton movie you shouldn’t miss. It’s a feel-good comedy from the 80’s. Where’s the loophole? Well, they do show Halloween passing by, so Christmas is just around the corner. That counts, right? Maybe they mention Christmas in there, I can’t recall… There you go, reason to watch. Look for the loophole! Directed by Stan Dragoti and written by, that’s right, John Hughes.
10. The Cutting Edge (1992)
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Written by Tony Gilroy
DB Sweeney and Moira Kelly are two very different people with very different lives. He’s a hockey player, and she’s a figure skater. So, how does this translate to romantic comedy goodness? Easy. Wreck the hockey player’s chances at playing hockey somehow and make her a pain in the… rink: A pain to work with, in the rink. And they do celebrate Christmas, it’s mostly set on ice and you can watch DB Sweeney fall on the ice - a lot. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser (who also directed The Running Man, Third Watch and Kazaam) and written by Tony Gilroy (who you know as writing the screenplays for the Bourne series of movies as well as The Devil’s Advocate).
11. Clue (1985)
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Written by Jonathan Lynn and John Landis
This one is not Christmas-y, but if you think of the game Clue, playing it with family, family togetherness, then you get how the loophole works. This cast is so amazing, I’d have to use up the entire description for them, but I’ll stick it to Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan and Madeline Kahn. It’s funny, it’s awesome, and it had multiple endings way before that was cool. Directed by Jonathan Lynn and written by Jonathan Lynn and John Landis.
12. Her Alibi (1989)
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Written by Charlie Peters
A murder mystery writer lies and gives an alibi to a beautiful young woman in the hopes that the intricacies of their relationship and finding out if she truly is a killer will help spark his writing and let him escape his writer’s block. This one is another romantic comedy, though there are no loopholes for it. It reminds me of my mom, because she loves Tom Selleck and it’s a Tom Selleck movie. Christmas-y to me, maybe not so much for anyone else, but you never know. Check it out, see if you find your own loophole. Directed by Bruce Beresford(of Double Jeopardy and Driving Miss Daisy) and written by Charlie Peters (who also wrote Three Men and a Little Lady and My Father the Hero).
13. You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Directed by Nora Ephron
Written by Miklós László and Nora and Delia Ephron
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together again, and the epitome of online-meeting romantic comedies, this movie is considered a classic and if you haven’t seen it, by God go right now and see it. Online, Netflix, rent it at Blockbuster, do SOMETHING. There are plenty of Christmas references in here, including Meg Ryan and Greg Kinnear singing Christmas Songs, so we’re covered. Directed by Nora Ephron and written by Miklós László and Nora and Delia Ephron.
14. Only You (1994)
Directed by Norman Jewison
Written by Diane Drake
Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. in a romantic comedy about Fate and Destiny and Soulmates. Okay, so the closest they get to Christmas is that it would make a good present, but it’s still a good non-Christmas movie, most of it is set in Italy and you’ll be surprised how amazingly good it is on a cold night with someone to cuddle with. That, people, is Christmas-y. We can thank Diane Drake for writing it and Norman Jewison for directing it.
15. Moonstruck (1987)
Directed by Norman Jewison
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Cher, Nicolas Cage and a bunch of other amazing actors that I can’t list, in a romantic comedy about how you just can’t choose who you fall in love with and how Nicolas Cage can get the girl even with one hand tied behind his back (if you haven’t seen it, you’ll get that later). It is set near the holiday season, since it’s cold outside in New York and… okay, it’s a stretch. So sue me. Watch it though, it’s fun. Directed by Norman Jewison and written by John Patrick Shanley.
16. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Directed by Nora Ephron
Written by Nora Ephron, David Ward and Jeff Arch
This is another classic movie and it actually begins to take shape on Christmas Eve when a young boy calls into a radio show saying his father needs a new wife. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (I think the only repeats on this list) star in this romantic comedy, where we learn that radio shows are evil. No wait, that’s wrong. Love conquers all? Sure, that works. Directed by Nora Ephron (another to add to her awesome body of work), the story written by Jeff Arch and the screenplay by Nora Ephran, David Ward and Jeff Arch.
17. Home Alone / Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by John Hughes
Macaulay Culkin’s premiere movies, they follow a young boy accidentally left behind (both times, mind you) for Christmas by his family. Meanwhile, the boy manages to stop Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern from getting their holiday crime spree on. While I personally think Joe Pesci can take him (I, like George Carlin, send my prayers to Joe), they’re both still fun movies, set in the holidays and they are my grandfather’s favorites as well. If you were deprived as a child and never saw them, now is a good time to watch. Both were directed by Chris Columbus (who directed the first two Harry Potter movies awesomely) and both written by, you guessed it, John Hughes.
18. Groundhog Day (1993)
Directed by Harold Ramis
Written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
Bill Murray is back on the list (I stand corrected on repeats) in this awesome, if repetitive, take on a feel good romantic comedy. Cast opposite Andie MacDowell, with Chris Elliott in there as their friend and cameraman, Bill (a weatherman) finds himself reliving the same day over and over again, no matter what he does. I know, Groundhog Day is the wrong holiday. That’s the point, right? NON-Christmas-y, but still Christmas-y. Replace “Groundhog Day” with “Christmas” and everything else is there. Snow, a blizzard, being cold and a valuable moral lesson. All good for the season without actually being about Santa, reindeer or people made of snow. Directed by Harold Ramis (one of our favorite Ghostbusters amongst his other awesome work) and written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis.
19. In & Out (1997)
Directed by Frank Oz
Written by Paul Rudnick
Kevin Kline is absolutely amazing in this comedy about a Midwestern teacher who suddenly questions his sexuality after he’s outed as being homosexual by a former student who has become a famous actor. With a cast including Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck (wow, another repeat), Matt Dillon, Bob Newhart and Zak Orth (who you might recognize from the new series Revolution), In & Out is probably one of the funniest movies on this list. Merry Christmas! … That’s the loophole, your laughs are my gift to you. Yeah, I know, I’m reaching now. Directed by Frank Oz (who also directed HouseSitter, What About Bob? and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and written by Paul Rudnick (writer of amazing stories such as Addams Family Values and screenplays like The Stepford Wives).
20. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Nora Ephron
Harry and Sally meet. This would seem like the end of the movie, but it’s only the beginning. It is what could only be described as the slowest and most realistic version of a “from friends to romance” romance movie you’ll ever see. Starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan (I may be addicted to Meg Ryan - I’ll talk to someone) this movie is definitely one to watch this holiday season. And it includes more than one holiday season, since the movie spans several years and ends on a New Year’s Eve, so it needs no loophole stretching. Directed by Rob Reiner (director of A Few Good Men and The American President- he has our undying appreciation for both) and written by Nora Ephron (wow, she’s in here a lot too…).
21. The Craft (1996)
Directed by Andrew Fleming
Written by Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming
This one is for those of you who celebrate Yule instead of Christmas, or just feel like watching Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Rachel True and Neve Campbell. The semi-original teen witch angst movie (there were others, we’ll discuss them another time), this one follows the “new girl at prep school” falls in with the “outcast” crowd who happen to practice witchcraft. Directed by Andrew Fleming, story by Peter Filardi and screenplay written by Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming. Talk about teamwork. While The Craft is not realistic in a lot of ways or “true to form” (yes, I know its Hollywood’s take on it guys, so don’t freak out on me), it was one of the movies that reminded us that the in-crowd isn’t always where you want to be and the outcast crowd isn’t always it either. Nope, no loophole, just awesome witchcraft goodness. Enjoy!
22. Shrek Forever After (2010)
Directed by Mike Mitchell
Written by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke
Shrek’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life (at least that’s how it felt), this movie will make you laugh and feel good the whole way through. This is definitely kid friendly, fun for adults and just an all around good movie. Loophole? Duh. It’s an It’s a Wonderful Life kind of movie, which is a Christmas movie. Not a stretch, definite loophole area. Directed by Mike Mitchell, book written by William Steig and screenplay by Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke.
23. Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
Directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling
This is for the Potterheads who think they need an excuse to watch even more Harry Potter. It’s on the list. Every one of them has a Christmas time, a Christmas Feast and if they don’t it’s because they were forgotten but it’s in the books. Watch the movies, read the books, go nuts guys. Written by J.K. Rowling, adaptation and translation by Nuno Miranda, the movies were directed by several different directors: Chris Columbus (1 and 2), Alfonso Cuarón(3), Mike Newell (4) and David Yates(5, 6,7 and 8). We also lost the first Dumbledore, who I thought was absolutely perfect for the part.
24. Indiana Jones Series (1981 – 1989)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Jeffrey Boam
This is definitely a stretch, but think about it: Following Harrison Ford as he takes down Nazis, avoids booby traps and saves the day? Sounds like something to celebrate, right? Besides, Harrison Ford was beloved by both my Mom and Grandma, so how could we ever say no? It’d be like saying no to the original Star Wars trilogy or Star Trek. Just Wrong. Directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders screenplay), George Lucas and Phillip Kaufman (Raiders story), Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (Temple of Doom screenplay), George Lucas (Temple of Doom story), Jeffrey Boam (Last Crusade screenplay), Menno Meyjes and George Lucas (again) (Last Crusadestory). I included the original trilogy only, since they are the ones I watched growing up, so they are the ones that feel holiday-special to me.
25. Despicable Me (2010) / How To Train Your Dragon (2010) / Brave (2012)
Directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Written by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, William Davies, Den DeBlois, Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi
No, they have nothing to do with each other, save they’re all animated movies. So why are they listed together and on this list? Easy: Because sometimes, you just need to relax and watch something that will make you laugh, something that will remind you of the people around you in some way, and something to warm your heart. And these do that for me and for a lot of people. And, being kid friendly, you don’t have to shoo anyone out of the room to watch them and have a laugh. And if you’re a parent and you’ve seen them a thousand times already, try watching them without the kids around. You’d be surprised how many jokes are in there that kids wouldn’t get, but adults understand perfectly. Despicable Me was directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, and written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. How To Train Your Dragon was directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders and written by William Davies and Dean DeBlois. Brave was directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell and written by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi. So, for now, I leave you all with 25 movies. If you watch one a day, you’ll survive until Christmas with all your sanity intact and minimizing your Santa/reindeer/Christmas quota for the year. For those who want to fill their Christmas Quota instead of avoid it, check out some of our other articles about Christmas Specials from days past, Christmas classics, and my own list of favorite actual Christmas movies, even though I prefer the non-christmas-y variety. Merry Christmas everyone, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule, Happy Holidays and for atheists: have a great Tuesday this year!