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The Top Ten Alternative Christmas Movies

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Mark Kermode | 08:14 UK time, Friday, 23 December 2011

I love It's A Wonderful Life and all those other seasonal classics but I also enjoy the darker side of Christmas cinema...

Here I give you my top ten alternatives to traditional festive film fare.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Where is THE AMAZING MR BLUNDEN????????????

  • Comment number 2.

    Me watching this video: Ok, ok, so far so good. none of these choices makes any sense, wonderful, let's keep it up, Kermode. Please don't mention it, please don't mention it, (down to number 4) please don't, don't (number 3), good, very good, Dr. K, keep it up, don't mention it! Don't mention it! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
    We KNOW that Die Hard took place during Christmas. I thought it could stop here, but you've continued the never ending plague of "clever" critics, bloggers, and vloggers putting Die Hard on their list of top Christmas films as if it appears on ANY OTHER KIND of Top 10 list!

    Tisk, Dr. K. Tisk.

  • Comment number 3.

    How could you not include Trading Places. A) A grumpy, drunk and homeless Dan Ackroyd stealing food (and it getting tangled in his beard). B) Eddie Murphy in his funny heyday pushing himself in a little trailer, pretending to be a cripple. And of course C) Jamie Lee Curtis getting ready for bed in front of the mirror, then joining Dan Ackroyd in bed - Merry Christmas Elwood Blues ding dong :-)
    Merry Christmas Dr K
    Oh and Muppets Christmas Carol beats It's a Wonderful Life by miles as my favourite Christmas movie.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great list as usual Mark, a couple I haven't seen but will check out.
    Was suprised at no Bad Santa or maybe scrooged, and the bonkers Dutch pyscho Santa film "Saint",
    Seasonal greetings to you and your family Mark

  • Comment number 5.

    As much as I know lists are about what is in the list and not what isn't in the list, I can't believe that you wouldn't include The Proposition! Actually, I can, since it's almost slightly less unpleasant than the director's follow-up film The Road, but it's a fantastically made film and is both the antithesis of the standard Christmas movie, but is also a crazy re-interpretation of the modern western. I'd use the phrase "post-modern" if I didn't think it would speak poorly of the film.

    And I agree with strummerpunk: Bad Santa is a fantastic film. I watched with my family in a bad theater on Christmas day and it was a wonderful experience. Or as wonderful as that film is capable of being.

    All in all, a good list and I'll make sure to check out these movies. Then again, they're no "Santa with Muscles."

  • Comment number 6.

    Great to see Rare Exports on the list. Well worthy of it.

    I'm surprised that there is no The Exorcist on there to be honest. At the time of year when everyone is pretending they're religious to hide the ignorance of what is really going on around them what better time than this to watch the most Satanic movie ever put on film.

  • Comment number 7.

    Really..... Jingle all the way. The lowest point in someone who was in batman and robin's carrer. It's not really even an alternative Christmas film or at least I don't think it was trying to be. What should have been at number 10 was batman returns, a flawed movie but twisted, weird and crazy. I think I once heard you say you thought the burtan batman film's were boring and I agree with you on the first one but I really think batman returns is a good movie even though some scene's with the penguin dragg. Like most burtan films it's about isolation and being an outcast. This would have been perfect for your list. Or anything but jingle all the ways! Batman returns is not a great film but for me it has a 90's butan charm. I would incourage you to give it another chance if you get the opportunity. Apart from that good as always.

  • Comment number 8.

    Here's a left-field suggestion I heard the other day and which I found hard to disagree with.
    Groundhog Day might be one of the best versions of A Christmas Carol committed to film. It's certainly the best version Bill Murray has done (and yes, I know, I know...)
    A man is shown what he is really like, and is given the unique opportunity to change himself through experience. Isn't that what the Christmas message is all about?

  • Comment number 9.

    My No 1 alternative has to be Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece "Fanny & Alexander" -
    The most lavish Christmas ever filmed before turning to the dark side -

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you for including Black Christmas. Still one of the creepiest movies ever made, and still runs a shiver up my spine whenever I think of the unicorn murder. Just shows that there is a deep underlying darkness to Christmas. Just a shame that the basic plotline to Black Christmas was condensed into the first 20 minutes of the dreadful When A Stranger Calls.

  • Comment number 11.

    'Rare Exports' is indeed a great counter balance to all the sickly sweet of the festive season… it's going to be our Christmas day movie. If we haven't already gorged ourselves into a turkey, mince pie and mulled wine fuelled coma by 10pm, I may well float the idea of following it up with your top pick and throw on my new blu ray of 'Brazil.'

    Have a great Christmas everyone!

  • Comment number 12.

    If you can include Die Hard for its Christmas background then Trancers should have made it in instead of the early padding. With its Santa shoot out , Punk rendition of Jingle Bells and Helen Hunt in a Santas asistant getup.

  • Comment number 13.

    Dr. K,

    I hope you know that we will now expect all your posts to be nearing the 8 minute mark!

    I've been telling people for years about the relationship between Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Nightmare Before Christmas, thankfully I now have your backing on the matter.

    Merry Christmas all

  • Comment number 14.

    Light and dark double bill? Life is Sweet and Midnight Cowboy. Soaringly and achingly human. Merry Christmas Mark/Simon, fellow bloggers, Jason Isaac, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen.........

  • Comment number 15.

    John Waters hilarious Female Trouble always makes my top ten, complete with Devine's tempestuous trashing of her family christmas tree. It all goes wrong from there. Who doesn't want Cha-cha heels for Christmas?
    A first class list, good Doctor!

  • Comment number 16.

    Glad you had Die Hard in there, love that movie. Jingle All The Way is an awesome film just because it is so bad yet so watchable.

  • Comment number 17.

    If 'Die Hard' counts then surely 'Lethal Weapon' deserves a mention too; if anything it is even more Christmassy!

  • Comment number 18.

    Howabout Eyes wide shut? not Kubricks finest work but worth a re-examination. And theres hardly a scene in that film without some tinsel or someone wrapping some gifts. A film more Christmassy than many most.......

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    #17 Tweek

    I second 'Lethal Weapon'. What could be more Chrismassy than the opening shot of a girl jumping to her death, high on cocaine. :) 'What did one shepard say to the other?'"Let's get the flock outta here!"'

    'The Corpse Bride'. Infinitely better than 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'. No, it is. No arguments.

  • Comment number 21.

    #8 Scurra

    You know, I've never thought of 'Groundhog Day' being a retelling of 'A Christmas Carol', but now I think about it, it really makes sense. Only one slight problem: it's not set at Christmas. Still a great Christmas film, regardless.

    'Curly Sue' has a similar theme: a heartless lawyer regains her humanity and discovers the meaning of life when she meets a little girl and her dad, living rough on the streets. Corny, but it still makes me all warm and fuzzy inside! Pity it doesn't seem to be anywhere in the Christmas schedules.

  • Comment number 22.

    It may not be a film but for me nothing says Christmas like Big Pussy Bonpensiero playing Santa in 'The Sopranos'.

    Great list Doc i've already added 'Rear exports' to my wish list.

  • Comment number 23.

    As we are "stretching the rules", may I suggest L.A. Confidential? The opening fifteen minutes are set during Christmas, where women-beaters get their Merry Christmas from Russell Crowe, plus we are treated to a corrupt police force beating Mexican prisoners. Hence, 'Bloody Christmas'.

    Also, another dark Christmas horror movie: Christmas Evil (a.k.a. You Better Watch Out). Murderer rampaging dressed as Father Christmas.

  • Comment number 24.

    'Batman Retruns' will always be my ultimate Christmas movie. I liked 'Rare Exports' but didn't love it. Though it was closest thing the world will ever get to live action South Park. Especially a certain chase sequence invloving a helicopter, that was just... words weren't quite designed for that type of film makng.

  • Comment number 25.

    Mean Girls

    Three words: Jingle Bell Rock.

  • Comment number 26.

    Tokyo Godfathers.
    It's Anime but don't be put off, it's a thing of beauty.

  • Comment number 27.

    To the many fine suggestions above, by Dr K (must see Comfort and Joy again, there's a gap in my Forsyth collection) and others (Female Trouble, John Waters is after all, one of the champions of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians), etc. I'd like to add two that come to mind:

    Diner -- Barry Levinson's debut ensemble comedy takes place over the festive season, and reminds me of the camaraderie I'd often renew with my hometown friends at the holidays, plus it has a drunk Kevin Bacon filling in for a stolen nativity display baby jesus ("Put the sheep down, we'll pick up the three wise men and get outta here.").

    Dr Strangelove -- the apocalyptic satire also has a seasonal theme, and let's not forget catalyst Brig. General Jack D. Ripper is paranoiacally obsessed with POE = Purity of Essence = Peace On Earth.

    Note: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians features child star Pia Zadora who later as an ingénue won the Best New Star from the Golden Globes amidst allegations that her husband had bought the award by aggressively courting the voters, oddly she won Worst New Star the same year for the same role from the Golden Raspberry Awards. This is often cited as a prime example of the perfidy of the Golden Globes. Zadora and her husband later bought Pickfair, then conveniently forgot their promises to restore the film landmark and knocked it to the ground.

  • Comment number 28.

    As 'tweek' said upo above, if you're going to include Die Hard, I think you HAVE to include Lethal Weapon. No matter how many times I see it, Bugs Bunny saying "Merry Christmas" gets me every time.

    I don't have a darker attitude towards Christmas but Gremlins should be on your list, no matter how many times you've discussed it.

    But how about the original Tales From The Crypt with Ralph Richardson, Peter Cushing and Joan Collins? The Collins episode of the horror anthology features a deranged axe wielding Santa.

  • Comment number 29.

    Sweet list Dr K. I love a film with xmas trees,xmas songs and a little plastic santa , the Godfather of cause.Its a black Christmas for the Corleones as daddy takes five,and im not talking Bruebaker. Or Omen2 perhaps ( always a personal favourite of mine) Yuletide sucks in the Thorne residence when Damien enters puberty.
    Im glad Mark didnt include Bad Santa.I cant stand it. Its a nasty ,grubby little piece of horribleness which is probably the point, but i stil felt unclean after it .
    Merry christmas everybody and God Bless us Everyone.

  • Comment number 30.

    I ment Brubeck,silly me. New newyears resolution , no more typos !!

  • Comment number 31.

    Although not every part of the film is set in Christmas, it is there in the Godfather part II and there is something really wintery about that movie I love watching it round this time of year...I love watching it anyway but just something really special about it in Winter.

  • Comment number 32.

    'Toy Story' and 'Night of the Hunter' neither are traditional christmas films but both end with christmas scenes.

  • Comment number 33.

    I'm disappointed that Ernest Saves Christmas isn't included but it's understandable.

    What's more upsetting is that Tim Allen's The Santa Clause isn't even mentioned. Maybe it isn't really an "alternative" Christmas movie being a Disney production with a typical "the spirit of Christmas is great" message, but I still think that the story of The Santa Clause is pretty out there. It's a movie in which Tim Allen undergoes the process of physically changing into Santa Claus against his will. I mean, how often do you see a Disney Christmas movie that is derivative of David Cronenberg's The Fly?

    That said I'm delighted to see Jingle All The Way included. It's nice to see a movie starring Jake Lloyd that isn't The Phantom Menace.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Comment number 34.

    Fantastic list!

  • Comment number 35.

    I just watched the Japanese animation 'Tokyo Godfathers' (2003).
    If you haven't seen it, it's about three homeless people who find a baby and then search for its parents.
    Not explicitly Christmas, but set in a snowy Tokyo winter with a plot that revolves around coincidences that could be seen a miracles.
    Worth a watch.

  • Comment number 36.

    Merry Christmas, Mark. Thank you for cheering my year.

  • Comment number 37.

    Dr. K clearly lost his nerve and put The French Connection in rather than The Exorcist

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm going to nominate PSYCHO. I know there's not a tree, a Santa or an inch of tinsel to be seen, but the movie starts on December 11 and runs up to around December 20.

  • Comment number 39.

    After watching this video I finally know why the Anti-Censorship site 'Melon Farmers' is called such.Thank you Mark.

  • Comment number 40.

    Straining a bit too hard to be "alternative" here. Surely Bad Santa or Batman Returns have got to be above Jingle All The Way (and p.s. do you really believe the people who defend Showgirls Mark?)

  • Comment number 41.

    I like to add The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, It's Christmas at the start (and in the American Version it ends with Christmas the next year).

  • Comment number 42.

    Another one missed: Crash (no, not the David Cronenberg one, the Paul Haggis one). While it has the requisite darkness, it's set at Christmas and has one apparently genuine miracle. Which made me blub buckets in the local World of Cine.

  • Comment number 43.

    I have to disagree with you on this. I would argue that a Christmas movie is defined not only by its setting but by its subject matter. Movies that deal with themes such as family, charity, reassessing one's life or being kinder to others are clearly embodying the 'spirit' of Christmas. They capture all the elements of the season in their usually redemptive stories. Just because a movie is set at Christmas time or happens to feature someone dressed as Santa, that doesn't automatically qualify it. Lethal Weapon happens to be set at Christmas. Is that a Christmas movie? Is Hot Fuzz, simply because someone in a Santa suit stabs Simon Pegg's character in a flashback (a clear nod to one of your choices, The French Connection)? I don't think so.


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