From Thrillers to Cozy Christmas Tales, these Holiday Movies will Help You Find the Spirit You Seek

Choose your own holiday movie adventure!

click to enlarge Gizmo in "Gremlins" - PHOTO: COURTESY WARNER BROS. STUDIOS
Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros. Studios
Gizmo in "Gremlins"

During the holidays, some of us like to warm the cockles of our cold hearts — and our TV screens — with cheesy Hallmark/Lifetime/Netflix seasonal movies. Others prefer holiday cheer spiked with fear. And some of us wax nostalgic with classic kids’ Christmas fare. No matter what kind of vibe you want, use this handy list to choose your own cinematic path as we ring in the end of 2018.

For the Christmas Movie Haters

My dad claims that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time. Yes, the joke has been said. Every year. And yes, I still laugh. But there’s more than one explosive, action-packed flick that just happens to be set during the holidays. Enter: director Shane Black. 

In 2016, Black told Entertainment Weekly that “Christmas is just a thing of beauty, especially as it applies to places like Los Angeles, where it’s not so obvious and you have to dig for it, like little nuggets.” You’ll have to dig to find it in his movies, too. Christmas serves as a backdrop to Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Nice Guys. I, for one, love my dose of Christmas cheer juxtaposed with violent explosions and crime-broiled plotlines. Have yourself a merry little action movie marathon. 

Feel Like A Kid Again 

Every year I get a lot of heat for loathing those classic stop-motion, sentiment-packed ’60s and ’70s TV specials. (My exception to this is The Year Without a Santa Claus. I’ll admit: The “Snow Miser/Heat Miser” song slaps.) Call me Scrooge. Call me Grinch. I don’t care. But, hey — I get it. You’re into cheery songs and cute characters trying to preserve the magic of the holidays. 

I’ll give credit where credit is due, though. Their influence and imagery still remain intact today. I’m looking at you, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, flying the big guy’s sleigh with your nose so bright. 

If you’re not into stop motion, revisit other classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas, which has one of the best soundtracks of the season. Mopey Jazz with a dose of hazy sentimentalism still perfectly captures the feeling of watching snow drift and the strangeness of growing older. 

Channel Your Inner Menace 

There’s a whole faction of films out there that are mostly just an hour-plus of wild hijinks unfurling. I mean, if you don’t return every year to Macaulay Culkin as crafty kid Kevin McCallister, who gets left behind in Chicago as the rest of his family spends the holidays in Paris, then have you really celebrated Christmas? Home Alone is beautiful in that it allows us all to channel our inner filthy animal. 

Another film featuring a precocious kiddo is Miracle on 34th Street. I grew up with the ’94 remake, featuring Mara Wilson — you might know her for the title role in Matilda — as Susan Walker. The kid is a true skeptic of ol’ Saint Nick. When her mom, Dorey, takes on the task of hiring Macy’s Santa, she picks a man named Kris Kringle who claims to be the real deal. Like Home Alone, the remake was also written by John Hughes. Expect warm vibes and dreamy holiday magic. 

Round out these flicks with A Christmas Story. My fam tunes in when TBS plays it on a constant loop Christmas Eve, but this year, until Dec. 23, you can also catch a theatrical version at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts (visit cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com for details). Embrace the alluring glow of the leg lamp, cheer on Ralphie Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun and witness his pal get his tongue stuck on an icy pole. It’s a quintessential tale of a rosy-hued childhood, pre-internet age. 

Feast on Holiday Horror 

Before Bob Clark co-wrote A Christmas Story, he directed its inverse — Black Christmas. No one is sleeping in heavenly peace in this slasher flick. Released four years prior to John Carpenter’s Halloween, it arguably gave rise (and influenced) an entire genre of gory, slasher films. Come winter break, a group of sorority sisters receives anonymous phone calls; as paranoia mounts, an on-the-loose serial killer picks them off one by one. It’s formulaic, but also horrific.

Honestly, Gremlins is almost too cute to be in this section, but it does feature a gang of tiny, terrifying (and punk as hell) monsters destroying a town on Christmas Eve. Parents: If you buy a mogwai for your kid, please heed to the shopkeeper’s warnings. But Gizmo (a good boi) is probably the most adorable creature to ever grace the silver screen. If your heart doesn’t grow three sizes watching him sing while donning a Santa hat, then I probably don’t trust you. 

There’s a startling amount of horror holiday films featuring a terrifying take on Santa, but 2015’s Krampus — loaded with a solid cast that includes Adam Scott and Toni Collette — isn’t as cringe-worthy as others. Honing in on Central European folklore, Krampus is Santa’s horned, half-goat counterpart who is hell-bent on punishing naughty children with more than just coal. When a dysfunctional suburban family loses its Christmas cheer, Krampus ensnares the household in absolute terror. 

Binge Netflix’s New Flicks 

Made-for-streaming holiday movies exist in their own little snowglobe of wonder. It’s a world where “regular” women get married to princes, successful single women somehow always fall for handsome dudes in small towns and actors you almost forgot existed land starring roles. 

Mostly, they’re good for background noise while you wrap gifts, put up decorations or sip a hot toddy. This year there are four new Netlifx flicks. My personal favorite is The Holiday Calendar. A photographer struggling to make ends meet inherits a mystical advent calendar that can seemingly predict the future and might just make her realize she’s in love with her best friend. (That wasn’t a spoiler. We all know how these movies end.)

The Princess Switch is cool because it features Vanessa Hudgens playing two look-a-like characters who trade places. One is a duchess set to marry a prince, the other is a baker from Chicago. The Christmas Chronicles features Kurt Russell as Santa Claus and tells the story of a sparring young sister and brother who try to capture Saint Nick on camera during his rounds. I played it as I typed this and be warned: There are elves doing Fortnite dances. Last year’s A Christmas Prince was hella popular. Naturally, Netflix brought it back for a sequel, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding. Watch these for a night in filled with endearingly predictable rom-com staples. 

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