There are plenty of great Christmas movies out there, but sometimes viewers want something a little different. So if you’re sick of sentimental, family-friendly fare, or you just want to watch something less traditional, here are some of our favorite unconventional Christmas flicks. Happy holidays!
James Akinaka on Gremlins
There are many wacky Christmas horror films, but Gremlins is far more approachable than its counterparts. This 1984 comedy horror film focuses on Gizmo, a little mogwai (Cantonese for “monster”) who becomes a Christmas gift for banker Billy Peitzer from his father. Before selling Gizmo to Billy’s father, shopkeeper Mr. Wing‘s grandson provides three rules. The most important rule is to not feed Gizmo after midnight. Predictably, things go awry when the Peitzers fail to follow the instructions.
However, Gremlins isn’t your average kiddie creature flick. It’s a horror film, with a fascinating amount of violence. When Gizmo inadvertently spawns Stripe and other mogwai, they morph into gremlins and kill a bunch of people. Yet, Gremlins only has a PG rating, since back in 1984 the MPAA didn’t yet have a rating between PG and R. Thus, Gremlins — along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — was why the MPAA created its PG-13 rating for future films.
Gremlins is worth watching precisely because it’s an unconventional Christmas movie. It has some violent sequences, but not to the point where the film would only appeal to diehard horror aficionados. Still, its overall dark tone led Warner Bros. to reduce the film’s black comedy elements for a sequel. Gremlins 2: The New Batch goes for a lighter tone, though only the first Gremlins can be counted as a Christmas movie. And, I mean, c’mon. If Gizmo’s disgustingly cute appearance doesn’t make you check out Gremlins, then I might as well eat something after midnight.
Andrew Hawkins on First Blood
It takes a keen eye to spot the Christmas decorations in First Blood. The first Rambo movie takes place during the holidays, and not every action fan remembers that. The little Pacific Northwest town of Hope, Washington is about to celebrate Christmas before John Rambo walks in. Even Sheriff Will Teasle’s quaint and quiet police station is decked out with a tree and lights.
Rambo wreaks havoc on a small town right before Christmas. He is responsible for the death of Officer Galt and leaves his wife widowed on the holidays. Just about every cop in the area gets severely injured while trying to take down Rambo, and that means a lot of hospital visits during the happiest time of the year. When the action moves into Hope itself, almost the entirety of main street gets devastated in the wake of this human killing machine.
It’s easy to say that Rambo ruined Christmas, but the film does its due diligence by stating clearly that none of this would have ever happened if Sheriff Will had been a tolerant man. John Rambo just lost the last remaining friend from serving in Vietnam to cancer. He had been spending his days drifting and collecting his thoughts before coming to Hope. If Will hadn’t tried to throw him out of town and then unlawfully arrest him, they could all have enjoyed a Merry Christmas.
Danielle Ryan on In Bruges
In Bruges is director Martin McDonagh’s first feature-length film, but he really started with a bang. The film tells the tale of two Irish hitmen lying low after a job gone very wrong. Colin Farrell portrays a man who botched his first professional murder, accidentally killing a child in the process. His partner, played by Brendan Gleeson, is trying to help him handle the emotional toll of the situation. The two end up lying low in Bruges, a beautiful medieval city in Belgium that Farrell’s character finds horribly boring.
The film starts off as a sort of buddy comedy, but a slew of hilarious supporting characters make it richer than that. Ralph Fiennes plays Farrell and Gleeson’s boss, a foul-mouthed professional killer with a strict moral code. Clémence Poésy is adorable as a drug-peddling thief-turned-romantic-interest. There’s a scene with a dwarf hopped up on horse tranquilizers. It’s brilliant, weird, and darkly funny.
In addition to being an amazing film, In Bruges is also a perfect Christmas movie for the Grinch in us all. The film takes place during the holiday, with several characters remarking on how beautiful the city is with the lights and snow. It’s an anti-Christmas tale, about a man who never finds redemption or kindness. For the cynic who can’t stand saccharine Christmas fare, this is a solid pick.
James Akinaka on Die Hard
With all the blood and machine gun fire, it’s easy to forget that Die Hard is, technically, a Christmas film. The 1988 movie opens on Christmas Eve, with NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) taking on a group of terrorists. Part of what makes Die Hard special is that it was the first feature film role for the late, great Alan Rickman, who portrayed lead terrorist Hans Gruber. The film also propelled Willis to movie star status, since back then his career was just beginning.
Without a doubt, Die Hard is the definition of an unconventional Christmas movie. To this day, my low gore threshold prevents me from watching the famous scene in which Willis’s McClane must run over broken glass while barefoot. Since Die Hard is more of a seminal action flick than a holiday movie, it satirizes the Christmas film genre to an extent. The gritty film has a soundtrack that’s peppered with Christmas songs, including Vaughn Monroe’s rendition of “Let It Snow!” which launches the end credits.
What makes Die Hard a Christmas film is the fact that it’s about family. McClane battles Gruber’s men to save his estranged wife, Holly Gennero (Bonnie Bedelia), who is among the hostages. The action setting certainly makes Die Hard an unorthodox entry, but it’s still a Christmas film. Looking for more Die Hard? There are four sequels to choose from — though only Die Hard 2 also occurs on Christmas Eve.
Eric Fuchs on Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz is a giant robot action movie that just so happens to take place on Christmas Eve. Rather than Santa giving good boys and girls presents, Endless Waltz is about a wicked warlord giving the Earth an invasion of mobile suits and war.
Endless Waltz is set exactly one year after the climax of the 1995 TV series. After fifty episodes of war and political turmoil between the Earth Sphere and the space colonies, total pacifism has taken hold. The hero pilots to fire their robots into the Sun, as in a It’s a Wonderful Life-esque test to see what life would be like without Gundams. They do this just in time for a new secret army to show up and try to conquer everything. Endless Waltz‘s story is pretty forgettable. But what is more interesting in how it expands what we know about the characters. We learn much more about the character we’ve called “Trowa”, who in fact has no name at all. Heero’s rogue terrorism is given a darker edge.
But really the only reason to watch Endless Waltz is to see Bandai’s newest toy ideas. Wing Zero Custom is the coolest giant robot in film history, and if you’re a gunpla fan, you should ask Santa for a model one of these years.
Andrew Hawkins on Santa Claus
Some people call it Santa Claus vs. The Devil. Some MST3K fans say it’s one of the funniest films the crew ever riffed. I know this movie as K. Gordon Murray’s Santa Claus, the film that taught me Christmas.
Santa Claus is a mess. This Mexican-American 1950s production is a masterpiece of the bizarre and the undefinable. The story is a layered tale of one fateful Christmas night when Satan sends his best devil Pitch to Earth in order to thwart Santa. It’s all very absurd and incredibly Catholic.
The appeal of this film for me is its ridiculousness. I grew up watching this tape as a very young kid with an impressionable and imaginative mind. Visuals like Santa’s flying castle in the clouds, insane animatronic technology and horned red devils dancing in Hell captivated me. I still think this is one of the craziest movies ever made. It’s an absolute must for your alternative Xmas watchlist.