Alternative Christmas Films: Ranked From Least To Most Christmassy

Culture
By Patrick Dunne | 17th November 2023
Carol

If I was ever to write a film, irrespective of the subject matter, you better believe that I’ll be setting it at Christmas. Post-apocalyptic zombie horror? Set it at Christmas. Dystopian outer-space drama? Christmas. Place your film in the festive period and you’re guaranteed yearly rewatches, willing or unwilling, from households around the world. 

In celebration of the best movie-watching time of the year, we’ve decided to create the perfect alternative Christmas film list: All these films are, technically speaking, Christmas films, but Christmas is not the main theme. It floats in the background, allowing those that need a break to retain the ability to market these films as festive to get the family on board. Most crucially, they’re all good – a great option if you’ve already ticked off all the usual favourites and found yourself staring down the barrel of Fred Claus. 

1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

There’s not a lot of Christmas in this cold war spy drama, but there is arguably the greatest Christmas party scene ever filmed. Paranoia is whipped up to the extreme as everyone suspects everyone of being the mole at the heart of MI5, Colin Firth (who’s very presence secures extra festive bonus points) is swaggering around with charm, Mark Strong is sulking in the corner and there is drama abound. 

Festive credentials: The frigid aesthetic is very Christmassy, spy dramas are an essential part of the festive film bill, and this might be the ultimate movie your dad gets completely engrossed by in the living room once he’s reached the point of no return of in-law tolerance. And, once again, Colin Firth. 

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and more.

2. Little Women (2019)

Little Women

It’s wholesome, it’s safe, it might be the ultimate film you throw on in the middle of the day while sipping Baileys in that purgatorial period between Christmas and New Years – it’s Little Women. There may be defenders of the 1994 version, but Saoirse Ronan’s Jo pushes Greta Gerwig’s modern adaptation ahead in our view. 

Festive credentials: There’s an all-timer of a Christmas dinner scene, and the general air of familial drama, love, squabbling and solidarity surely encapsulates the spirit of the festive season to a tee. Certified Christmas film in our view. 

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Channel 4, and more.

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This neo-noir comedy crime film is full of mistaken identities, unlikely alliances, and Christmas-adjacent vibes. Robert Downey Jr plays a thief pretending to be an actor, who’s shadowing of a detective to study his craft turns into a very real mystery full of murder, old flames and buddy-comedy.

Festive credentials: A comedy of errors where everything goes wrong, multiple personality clashes, meetings between people who have a complicated past, and tinsel – what could be more Christmassy?

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Youtube, and more.

4. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Catch Me If You Can

To this date Leo’s best performance? There’s a lot of competition, but his portrayal of professional forger Frank Abagnale Jr (who managed to bluff his way into jobs as a doctor, lawyer and pilot) is still tough to top. Tom Hanks is equally good as the exasperated detective hot on his trail, and this wildly-entertaining romp is a certified crowd pleaser.

Festive credentials: The film is punctuated with an emotional through-line of Hanks and DiCaprio sharing a phone call every year on Christmas Day which, although antagonistic, sees the two aligned by a shared loneliness. The enhanced emotional heft of the festive season used as plot device? We’re suckers for it.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Curzon, Youtube, and more.

5. Go (1999)

Go

“You know what I like best about Christmas? The surprises” says Katie Holmes in the opening scene of this multi-perspective view of a drug-deal gone wrong. If you’re looking for an action film set during the festive season that isn’t Die Hard, this might fill the void. Starring alongside Holmes is Taye Diggs, Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Polley and a host of other actors. Go wasn’t appreciated in it’s own time but has since become a cult classic.

Festive credentials: Features several instances of the most inappropriately worn Santa hats in film history. For that, it makes the list.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Youtube, and more.

6. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut

The last film of legendary director Stanley Kubrick, who deliberately set the film at Christmas to lull the audience into a false sense of comfort, switching up the novel’s Mardi Gras background. This dream-like tale of adultery explores the black heart of Christmas.

Festive credentials: The warming, wholesome tones and aesthetics are in jarring contrast to the psychosexual warfare waged between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman – so pretty good, then.

Where to watch: Apple TV, Youtube, and more.

7. Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard

You know we had to include it. Depending on your outlook, it’s either the least Christmassy Christmas film or the most Christmassy non-Christmas film, but its festive claims surely can no longer be denied. “Now I have a machine gun ho-ho-ho” has entered the lexicon of iconic Christmas film scenes, along with Mr. Napkinhead and “Merry Christmas ya filthy animal”.

Festive credentials: There’s no debate – it’s a Christmas film. It doesn’t take top place because, well, it’s too obvious.

Where to watch: Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and more.

8. Carol (2015)

Carol

Todd Haynes memorable drama featuring an affair between Rooney Mara‘s aspiring photographer and Cate Blanchett‘s recent divorcee in 1950s New York is widely considered a modern masterpiece, and those observant enough to realise it’s set during Christmas have anointed it as a must-watch festive staple. The acting is inimitable, the filmmaking perfectly crafted, the Santa hats are stunning – a knockout.

Festive credentials: Not A Christmas Carol, but definitely a Christmassy Carol.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Curzon and more.

9. Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine

The story of transgender sex worker Sin-dee who, upon release from prison, tears across Los Angeles in search of revenge against her pimp/boyfriend is considered a cult modern American classic, and a festive favourite. Gaining notoriety for its guerilla filmmaking – director Sean Baker shot it all on an iPhone 5S – the vibrant colour palette deliberately subverts its Christmas Eve setting

Festive credentials: A classic in the ‘set in LA where it’s warm at Christmas’ genre. There’s a Christmas dinner scene, decorations, and hazy orange sunsets – maybe not an ideal film to get the kids hooked on the romance of Christmas, but its festive validations are pure.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Curzon and more.

 

10. The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight

The ultimate alternative Christmas film. Dev Patel engaged in a festive game with an otherworldly, mythical knight on Christmas Day in Arthurian England, and his adventure of body and soul to find the courage to meet his destiny on the same day the following year. The countdown to Christmas feels a little different when it’s marked as the day your head is going to be chopped off.

Festive credentials: All the main modern Christmas motifs are present – the politics of gift-giving, hospitality, scrooge-like ghostly epiphanies – and turned on their head. In a way it’s an interrogation into the traditions themselves, and in another way it’s just a great film.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and more.


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