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28 Great Christmas Movies* to Watch Any Time of Year

*Technically, all of these movies are Christmas flicks, but the holiday connections aren’t plainly visible to the naked eye.
Die Hard
Twentieth Century Fox
By  · Published on December 21st, 2018

Christmas movies are typically decorated in festive imagery and make their holiday setting known. Their purpose is to embrace the yuletide spirit and provide entertainment that caters to most people’s idea of what our favorite season should entail — Santa Claus, snow-capped scenery, stuffed turkeys, colorfully-wrapped gifts, catchy songs, sleigh bells, elves, Hugh Grant, magic, etc. Heck, most of the darkest Christmas movies embrace the festive spirit, because people love movies that celebrate the season’s most beloved and comforting characteristics. As they should, because Christmas movies are awesome.

But here’s the thing: Christmas is just another day in the cycle of the universe and not everyone makes a big deal out of it. Some movies have embraced this sentiment as well. While some of the best Christmas flicks keep their holiday badge fairly close to their chest, others try to hide that badge completely and only a real hawk-eyed viewer will spot them. Maybe they aren’t as openly festive as “traditional” holiday fare, but they still deserve to be acknowledged during the most wonderful time of the year.

For this list, we’re paying tribute to those sneaky flicks that are technically Christmas films but choose not to brag about it. As you’ll find out, this has enabled us to unify a diverse range of titles that would otherwise have nothing in common. Christmas is all about getting together and sharing, so in a way banding these unlikely bedfellows together represents what the occasion is all about.

Tangerine (2015)


After discovering that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her while she was in jail, a sex worker rearranges her Christmas Eve into a night of vengeance. All we have on this Earth is each other, and when we fail the ones we love, we fail ourselves. Sean Baker‘s film travels in a world rarely acknowledged in pop culture as anything more than set dressing for an episode of Law & Order and delivers an empathetic adventure worthy of the holiday. – Brad Gullickson

Carol (2015)


While many of the movies on this list merely take place in the winter and perhaps include a shot of a Christmas tree, Carol is also in keeping with something that is often central to films that are traditionally classified as Christmas ones: it is guaranteed to fill any viewer with a warm and loving feeling. Set in a 1950s winter in New York, the film tells the story of a for once not doomed love affair between two women; Therese, a young shopgirl, and the elegant, eponymous Carol. They meet while Carol is Christmas shopping, and Therese is even wearing a Santa hat! But besides these surface-level details, when director Todd Haynes sets his sights on a period piece, he meticulously crafts the world of said film to entirely ensnare viewers in its setting (see: glam rock London in Velvet Goldmine). Basically, if Todd Haynes wants you to feel like it’s Christmastime in 1950, he’s going to succeed. Even Netflix is going all-in on the “Carol is a Christmas movie” promo this year. So if you’re looking for a love story for this December, Carol is the one. – Madison Brek

I Come in Peace (1990)

I Come In Peace

Nothing will wreck your holiday like an alien drug dealer descending upon your city to convert bodily fluids into a sci-fi narcotic. What’s Dolph Lundgren to do? Not wait for Santa to save his ass. When one space cop fails to capture his prey, Dolph must partner with nerdy G-Man Brian Benben to take down the invading dope pusher. The action is utterly ’90s in the best possible way: big guns, bigger mullets, and the biggest explosions. It’s time for I Come In Peace to challenge the x-mas supremacy of Die Hard. – Brad Gullickson

Metropolitan (1990)


Whit Stillman’s first film takes all the charm of a chatty episode of Friends, mixes it in with the modern-day equivalent of unearned, teenage Marie Antoinette-esque luxury, and finishes it with a layer of icing made entirely of a historically white sense of importance and entitlement. It’s a snarky treat adorned with tuxedos, decadent Manhattan apartments, and profligate conversations of the elite that elicit laughs for a laundry list of reasons. Frank Ocean incidentally describes the cast of characters perfectly in “Super Rich Kids’’: “Too many joy rides in daddy’s Jaguar/Too many white lies and white lines/Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends/Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.” – Luke Hicks

Cash on Demand (1961)

Cash On Demand

The legacy of Hammer films is predominantly synonymous with horror fare, but if you scroll through their oeuvre, you’ll find numerous gems spanning multiple genres. Cash on Demand is an underseen, low-key heist movie starring Peter Cushing as a Scrooge-esque bank manager who must help a very smart and efficient robber conduct a robbery (played Andre Morell). Most of the movie takes place within a single room and focuses on the interactions between the two main characters, but their conversations are compelling and some truly nail-biting moments emerge from the situation. This is the best Christmas movie that no one ever talks about. – Kieran Fisher.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Royal Tenenbaums

Wes Anderson’s third film about the tenuous relationship between the Tenenbaum family proves that seeing is not always believing. In a scene where scorned patriarch Royal Tenenbaum attempts to reconcile with his adopted daughter, Margot, over some ice cream, the classic tune from A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Christmas Time is Here” begins to play softly in the background. With not a Christmas tree in sight but plenty of unresolved emotional neglect and a well of deserving guilt to share between the two of them, it’s hard to not feel warm and fuzzy as we witness this tense moment between a father and daughter whose relationship has been rife with instability and pain. Sure, there’s no designation of the time of year other than that it’s cold outside, so, really, it could be any old winter month – but isn’t Christmas all about the power of belief? That means if you believe hard enough, this scene definitely takes place during December. – Brianna Zigler

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Jaws The Revenge Shark Edit

The main reason audiences constantly deride Jaws: The Revenge, I find to be the key to unlocking its appeal. Yes, the shark is holding a grudge. Yes, Ellen Brody has a psychic connection to the revenge-hungry fish. Yes, Michael Caine clearly looks like he’s envisioning his new summer home as he goes through the motions as the incredibly named Hoagie. But these are just the dumb-fun Lego pieces that the film constructs around Lorraine Gray’s rather wrenching turn as the Brody matriarch, suffering PTSD after one-too-many damn shark attacks. But what clinches the film is the Christmas stocking it’s wrapped in: the film is set around the holiday season. The Revenge’s strongest scene leans on the best tropes of Christmas horror, as the younger Deputy Sean Brody is dragged under by a Great White while carols of The First Noel are heard in the distance. Devoid of any sound other than the screams of Brody and the angelic voices of the choir, the film never reaches this level of holiday horror perfection again, but it does color the film in a red and green hue that makes it a perfect surprise Christmas film. – Jacob Trussell

Just Friends (2005)

Just Friends

Let’s get this out of the way: the “friend zone” is misogynistic bullshit. And this comedy about exactly that concept probably shouldn’t work. But it does. Just Friends stars Ryan Reynolds as Chris, a formerly dorky high school kid who grew up to be a handsome and successful record producer. In high school, Chris was in love with his gorgeous best friend, Jamie (Amy Smart), who only liked him as a friend. After being rejected by her, Chris became resentful of her and the “friend zone,” but when his Christmas plans are diverted and he ends up back in his hometown for the season, he’s presented with the opportunity to show Jamie what she missed out on. The 2005 film feels dated, but with Anna Faris stealing the show as a vacuous pop star, the comedy certainly holds up and ensures that Just Friends is a movie I rewatch and love every single year. – Anna Swanson

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Maniac Cop Fire

Between this and his similarly named slasher Maniac, exploitation legend William Lustig liked to make horror movies set during the festive period. Neither movie has anything to do with the season unless you count some subtle decorations in the background that fail to light up the darkness and grime. In Lustig’s world, Christmas is hell. Adapted from a script by the legendary Larry Cohen, Maniac Cop 2 is the director’s masterpiece. The story picks up right after Maniac Cop left off and follows the titular undead police officer as he goes on the rampage and rights some wrongs. The movie is totally bonkers and one of the best action-horror hybrids ever made when it comes to delivering unbridled chaos and mindless violence. You could even say that it’s the movie equivalent of last-minute Christmas gift shopping, but you probably won’t say that. – Kieran Fisher

Session 9 (2001)


Many unconventional Christmas movies rely on a technicality. Like Lethal Weapon, these films are set around the holiday, but they never snub your nose in Yuletide cheer. So perhaps Session 9 has the most arguable Christmas movie technicality on this list, but how central it is to the film’s story clinches its inclusion. The film follows a crew of cleaners over one week as they attempt to rid an abandoned mental hospital of asbestos, and its tension arises when Mike (Stephen Gevedon) finds a set of doctor-patient recordings in the hospital’s basement. As the mental state of the men unravels over the week, Mike discovers what violent act patient Mary Hobbes, and her multiple personalities, committed on a Christmas night decades ago. It’s a classic Christmas horror set-up nestled within a cerebral, haunting character study. The 2001 film is an unprecedented work of modern horror, but I found this hidden Christmas theme almost as a respectful nod to the genre’s exploitation past. As if to say “We’ve come along way from Silent Night Deadly Night, but damn it, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the schlock.” – Jacob Trussell

The Nice Guys (2016)

Nice Guys

Picking just one Shane Black movie for this list was tough. Lethal WeaponThe Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Iron Man 3 also meet the criteria, and those are all movies I enjoy immensely. But The Nice Guys has a scene where Ryan Gosling dives into a tank full of water to question some mermaids about a missing person, so for that reason alone, this makes the cut. But it’s also an endlessly rewatchable buddy comedy that boasts fantastic chemistry between Gosling and co-star Russell Crowe as a pair of private dicks who are forced to band together to unravel a mystery involving pornography. I’d argue that this is the funniest Black movie of a funny bunch. – Kieran Fisher

8 Women (2002)


François Ozon‘s 8 Women is a Douglas Sirk-inspired Christmas-set melodrama that’s also a musical, and also — wait for it — a murder mystery. Need I say more? If I do need to, I’ll also add the 2002 French film stars Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, and Danielle Darrieux as members of a feuding family that have come together for Christmas in the 1950s. Locked together in a snowbound cottage, the family and their employees each become suspected of murder when the family patriarch is found with a knife in his back. If that doesn’t make for a perfect Christmas movie I don’t know what does. – Anna Swanson

Cobra (1986)


Produced by the almighty Cannon, Cobra rose from the ashes of Sylvester Stallone’s proposed Beverly Hills Cop movie. Before Eddie Murphy was cast as the beloved detective, Sly was on board to star in the action-comedy, but he left the project over creative differences. Basically, Cobra is what Beverly Hills Cop would have been if Stallone had his way. In the movie, the Italian Stallion plays a take-no-prisoners cop in the vein of “Dirty” Harry Callahan. He takes down bad guys and uses scissors to cut his pizza before eating it. Some fake Christmas trees scattered around an apartment highlight the film’s Christmas setting, but Cobra is anything but festive. It is, however, an action treat that boasts plenty of one-liners, crazed cultists, and glorious carnage. – Kieran Fisher

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

If Die Hard counts, then so does this. In George Lazenby’s only film as James Bond, 007 falls in love, faces off against Blofeld (Telly Savalas), and journeys to Switzerland for Christmas to save the world. Although the film wasn’t exactly beloved when it first came out, modern reception has been much kinder to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Most Bond fans will agree that this is one of the best, which makes it a great watch any time of year, but especially at Christmas. – Anna Swanson

The City of Lost Children (1995)

City Of Lost Children Santa

Ironically, the Christmas imagery in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s steampunk fairytale is one of the closest things in the film resembling our own reality. The fine line between the fantasy and the nightmare of Santa Claus is crossed as the villain Krank attempts to steal the dreams of children he’s kidnapped. In the opening sequence, he totally overdoes the magic of Christmas, creating a Santa convention and a mess of reindeer poop rather than the favorable spirit of the holiday, and all the kids wind up terrified. It’s a perfect way to introduce the dark whimsy of The City of Lost Children. – Christopher Campbell

The Proposition (2005)

The Proposition Captain Stanley

Families are monsters. If you don’t recognize them as such during the rest of the year, the holidays will certainly reveal their true nature. John Hillcoat pits hateful brother against hateful brother and underscores the misery of the conflict by climaxing their violent bout atop a Christmas dinner. If the world can produce such treacherous villainy, we don’t deserve good cheer. And goodwill to all men? F that noise. We deserve to choke on the dust of the Outback. – Brad Gullickson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Maybe The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has more sadism and graphic violence than we’ve come to associate with Christmas films, but David Fincher’s masterfully crafted crime drama is bookended by Christmas settings, so if you ask me, it counts. The murder mystery plot takes journalist Mikael (Daniel Craig) and hacker Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) to northern Sweden, which means swirling snow and chilly landscapes to satisfy the winter imagery necessary for a good Christmas movie. – Anna Swanson

First Blood (1982)

First Blood

Before he was a one-man killing machine taking on the entire Soviet army, John Rambo was a punishing representation of our shameful treatment of those we abandon to war. Back on the unwelcoming soil of the U.S. of A., the young soldier drifts across the landscape until he catches the sour eye of a provincial, patriotic Sheriff. Rambo’s mixing of hippie longhair with a military jacket rankles the elected official’s sensibilities. A lesson in manners escalates into bloodshed when Rambo unleashes the government bred beast inside. The idea that the manhunt for the mentally fractured G.I. is set to the backdrop of Christmas lights only underscores the wretched hypocrisy at work. – Brad Gullickson

Krisha (2015)


If you’ve already seen Krisha once, you might not ever want to see it again. Trey Edward Shults’ directorial debut stands out in its ability to portray the average middle-class family in all of its most revealing aspects. It slowly pulls away the thin veil of commercialized, sterile family fun that capitalist society insists exists over the holidays to reveal the chaotic, bitter, and furious roots that can form in explosive familial conflict when everyone communes in one house. The editing, score, direction, and non-actor performances make for a painfully realistic and recognizable experience that is as engrossing as it is gross. Good luck. – Luke Hicks

Trading Places (1983)

Trading Places Santa

We’re all just pawns of the rich. With the flick of a switch, our lives could be turned upside down. While it is a delight to witness Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd attack each other once their economic statuses are flipped, the real pleasures provided by director John Landis occur after the two comedians team up against those diabolical Duke brothers. Crossing over Christmas and into New Year’s, Trading Places gives the bird to your ho-ho-ho. Santa will not crawl down your chimney to save you from poverty. You got to burn the system down yourself. – Brad Gullickson

Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard

The debate as to whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie has grown stale, and it brings out the worst in some people. So let’s all just agree that it’s most certainly a Christmas* movie and move on with our lives as friends. However, despite the lack of festive cheer on display as we see John McClane (Bruce Willis) snuffing out terrorists, the film still contains some of the values we associate with typical Christmas movies — family, becoming a better person, overcoming hurdles, etc. So while it might not be a traditional Christmas flick, the underlying message would make Santa and Jesus proud. – Kieran Fisher

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

All That Heaven Allows

All That Heaven Allows is the quintessential fall/winter melodrama. The film begins during glorious, golden autumn and is quickly overtaken by deep blue and white as Christmas approaches. Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson are devastating as Cary and Ron, a mismatched couple who fall in love despite the glaring differences in age and class that threaten to keep them apart. What could be more tragic than falling for a tree farmer, breaking up with him, and then running into him while shopping for a Christmas tree? Because this is a melodrama, things do get more tragic when Cary spends Christmas alone, surrounded by sparkling tinsel and glittering ornaments along with an unwanted, bulky television gifted to her by her absent son, Ned (William Reynolds). All Cary can do is stare at her own forlorn expression reflected back at her in the television screen, a reminder that she has given up happiness in order to retain the status quo that her children and neighbors so forcefully assert. All That Heaven Allows is a perfect Christmas movie if you are the type of person who likes to wistfully stare out the window watching the snow fall, tearfully thinking about lost loves and how things could have been. – Angela Morrison

Elle (2016)


Paul Verhoeven’s 2016 thriller stars Isabelle Huppert as Michele, the head of a video game company who is attacked and raped in her home one night. As Michele, who is distrusting of the police, begins her own attempt to figure out who the masked assailant was, she gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse with him while also contending with the traumatic fallout from the attack. Verhoeven is never one to shy away from difficult themes or to refrain from challenging his audiences, and this complex film is all the better for his refusal to pull punches. The movie never pretends that the viciousness of Michele’s attack should be palatable or that recovery is a straightforward process. And as for Christmas, the events also take place leading up to, during, and following the holiday. Not to mention Elle gave us the greatest Christmas gift of all: a career-best performance from our greatest living actress. – Anna Swanson

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

When most people think of appropriate Christmas attire, the first thing that comes to mind is an ugly Christmas sweater. But allow Phantom Thread into your heart as the ultimate unconventional Christmas movie, and famed high fashion dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) will make you rethink that. The dark green and deep red gowns — one even has a delicate white lace trim — he meticulously crafts for his lover and muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), are what you’ll want to wear to your next Christmas party. Whatever your Christmas traditions are, Phantom Thread will probably remind you of them in some way. It’s got several scenes by warm, crackling fires. Reynolds and Alma go on a beautiful, snowy, mountainside getaway. And Reynolds has dysfunctional relationships with everyone he’s close to (in varying degrees). And finally, Alma gives the other vital aspect of Christmas it’s own fun spin: food and its preparation. In fact, prioritize watching Phantom Thread before you make Christmas dinner to give yourself some cooking inspiration. Spend this Christmas with Alma and Reynolds to make it one you won’t soon forget. – Madison Brek

The Silent Partner (1978)

The Silent Partner

This 1978 Canadian crime-thriller stars Elliott Gould as Miles, a mild-mannered bank teller bored of his mundane job as the Christmas season approaches. When he figures out that Harry Reikle (Christopher Plummer) plans to rob the bank dressed as Santa, Miles cooks up a plan to secretly take the money for himself. What he doesn’t know is that Harry is a complete psychopath and he’s about to get in over his head. The Silent Partner is proof that every Christmas movie should have a heist element and, speaking as a Canadian, this film is one of the things that I’m most proud of my country producing. To the rest of the world, you’re welcome. – Anna Swanson

In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges

All the rooms except for one with two twins, at the cozy inn sought by bickering assassins Ray and Ken, are booked because it’s almost Christmas; as if Bruges wasn’t already a shithole. This quaint, historic city, practically lifted right out of the pages of a fairytale (to quote their bad-mouthing boss, Harry), is the campout place for the pair as they await further instruction for a hit they’ll need to carry out. It’s to Ray’s utter dismay and Ken’s delight, as Ray just can’t wrap his head around Ken’s appreciation for canal rides, medieval buildings, and a vial of Christ’s blood. He’d rather be out getting piss drunk, punching Canadians, and snorting so much cocaine that he feels like he’s about to have a heart attack. If the sound of all that doesn’t get you in the mood to throw a Christmas party, I don’t know what will. – Brianna Zigler

Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns

The most important lesson you ever learned about mistletoe came from Tim Burton’s second Batman movie. Which is impressive in its own right, as only two directors have ever been invited back to make a second big-screen Batman movie. But, back to the task at hand, it’s a safe bet to say that most of us were unaware of the dangers of mistletoe — and subsequently, the dangers of a kiss — until Michelle Pfeiffer slinked her way down those steps looking super fine and super devious and went mistletoe-to-mistletoe with the Best Bruce Wayne. If we’re going to have conversations about any movie being an unofficial or slip-a-hand-under-your-Bat-armor sneaky Christmas classic, we should start with Batman Returns. And maybe end with Batman Returns, if we’re not careful. – Neil Miller

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut

I’ve yet to see anyone capture the multi-colored glow of the winter holidays with such grave beauty. The premise of Stanley Kubrick’s last film/masterpiece (they’re one in the same for Kubrick) is exactly what we all imagine when we think “Christmas”: infidelity, secret cults, wandering the streets alone at night, and mass orgies of the patriarchy. Alright, well maybe not all of us. But regarding its standing as one of the all-time great Christmas films, it’s the lavish environment, heavy warmth of light, and ethereal glow of winter energy that makes the film so irresistible in December. That Kubrick could blend such a bizarre and disturbing tale of New York’s upper echelon with the wonder of winter is only testament to his brilliance. – Luke Hicks

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