What Makes A Good Christmas Movie?

Every Christmas, whether it’s because the weather is crap or we like to have a bit of outside stimulus to get that holiday cheer going, people watch movies. Either it’s the “classics” like Miracle on 34th Street, contemporary “classics” like Elf or a little more alternative like Die Hard.  But what makes you watch these movies over and over again through the years? What makes a Christmas movie, a CHRISTMAS MOVIE? I have a few ideas:

1) Family Issues – The holidays are all about getting together with your loved (and sometimes not so loved) ones. We spend 364 days out of the year, avoiding our family, only to be thrust together under the same roof, with all the issues and stuffing you can handle. Some great Christmas movies show off the pain you can’t share. Can’t stand the in-laws? Try National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Spouse getting on your nerves? Watch The Ref.

2) Sentimentality – It wouldn’t be a good Christmas movie if it didn’t try to show us the quote/unquote “true meaning of Christmas”, whatever that means. Usually it’s realizing the holidays aren’t all about you (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Bad Santa) or discovering the feeling of love to friends or family (Love Actually, It’s a Wonderful Life) or that there is something bigger than yourself and your world to believe in (Miracle on 34th Street, Nightmare Before Christmas). Usually these movies are by far the cheesiest of the seasonal movies but through a Christmas lens, they still come off as more enjoyable than painful schlock.

3) Nostalgia – When many of us think about this time of year, it’s usually about what it was like in our own households growing up: the traditions, the belief in Santa Claus, the best or worst present ever, etc. A movie that reminds of what we had or puts us back into headspace will always have a seat at the Christmas movie table. Fitting the bill: A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

4) Violence – There’s something to be said for kicking, maiming or blowing up tradition. A good movie doesn’t have to be about nostalgia or sentimentality but rather to get your mind off of if these things. Christmas can get a little over loaded with sweetness and cheer, add a pack of Gremlins, a double cross during the Ice Harvest or buddy cop it up for Lethal Weapon to put a smile on your face. See it as a palette cleanser.

After looking over good Christmas movies, and the traits that make them so, the commonality was the same as it is for all good movies: emotion. Does it make you feel something – a feeling of home, family, childhood, familiarity…what ever it is, as long as it has an emotional impact, you’ll have an excuse to watch it year after year.

What is your favourite Christmas movie and why do you make it part of your holiday tradition?

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  1. All good points! I like Love Actually, but I guess that’s the obvious choice. Rather than despairing at the fact I’m slave to the commercial wave, I believe some things are just SO good that everybody likes them. Same with Love Actually. It’s very sentimental, in a homey way. And most of all, it’s real. And there’s lots of stories there, which is the point of Xmas. Everybody gets the spotlight: the boy in love, the jealous friend, the painfully shy woman, and the idealist writer. See? I’m already itching to see it again!

  2. Thanks for the comment Lyn. Love actually is a great movie, portraying various scenarios that we can either see ourselves in or wish we were in. And check out the people in it: Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, etc. etc. Though now I have to blame the Brits for inspiring such American sappy ensemble attempts as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Great, now I have to see Love Actually again too. Is this your “have to” Xmas movie?

  3. Hello Russell
    My name is Rob and I have been given a writing assignment that requires me to create a 600 word, (8th version MLA format) essay. The prompt is to “define” a single “movie sub genre” of my choice. I am allowed to use one internet source and one library source for citation purposes. So as my first attempt to make a choice, I picked “Christmas movies”.
    My first source of inspiration is your article and my search term-(what makes a good Christmas movie?) Do you know of any other sources that describe or define what makes a good Christmas movie. I am a beginner and very handicapped in writing and computer skills. I need all the help I can get, finding user-friendly resources to help. Thank you for this article, your time, and any other recommendations or sources you might be willing to share. I could send you a copy of the assignment if your interested in the details. Sincerely Rob

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