Lists: Die Hard Is A Christmas Movie: The Movie Sleuth Writers Pick Their Favorite Christmas Movies

This is a collection of favorite Christmas movies selected by the writing staff. It isn't meant to be a best of list, just an individual selection of personal favorites from this demented crew. Check them out below.

Dana Culling - Arthur Christmas, 2011
Directed by Sarah Smith
Aardman Animations / Sony Pictures

With both humor and sweet sentimentality, this CGI film brings to life the mythology of Santa Claus in a unique way without resorting to twee holiday stereotypes or overdoing the touches of genuine warmth found throughout its humor. When Arthur, the youngest member of the Claus clan, discovers his father Malcolm – the current Santa Claus – has forgotten to deliver a present to a little British girl, he must overcome his natural anxiety and bumbling nature to get it to her before she wakes on Christmas morning. The movie tackles the real questions children have about Santa and the ways his magic works in clever ways, unafraid to acknowledge both the traditional and the technological in considering the realities of the Claus world – and it uses the family dynamics of its main characters to imbue the Santa Claus mysteries with the true spirit of the holiday without pandering. Beautifully animated in rich tones and the unmistakable hallmarks of Aardman (the studio responsible for Wallace and Gromit’s adventures), Arthur Christmas is a spark of holiday spirit to uplift the old and the young alike.

Kyle Jonathan - Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)  
Directed by Jalmari Helander. 

An unknown gem, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a wonderful adult offering to the holiday fair that is both a sly critique of retail madness and a surprisingly intense horror film about the origins of the holiday.  Filmed in the blistering cold of Finland, the story revolves around a frozen lifeform (sound familiar?) that is haphazardly freed from its prison of ice by corporate irresponsibility.  A young boy and his father confront the terror amidst the wanton slaughter of reindeer to discover the horrifying truth behind the man in the red suit and his legions of crafty helpers.  Not for the kids, Rare Exports is a shocking treatment of the forgotten mythology that lies underneath the tinsel and wrapping paper.    

Michelle Kisner - Elf (2003)
 Directed by Jon Favreau

Elf is one of those films that shouldn’t work as well as it does. The premise is hilarious: a human child named Buddy (the adult version is played by Will Farrell) is brought up by elves who live at the North Pole and after he discovers his true heritage he goes to New York City to meet his real father. You have a grown ass man running around wearing tights and somehow Farrell makes this completely endearing. I am a bit of a cynical person—my soul isn’t entirely black, but my schmaltz tolerance is very low. In Elf, however, I get completely swept up in Buddy’s sugary sweet demeanor and I love every second of it. I just feel happyafter watching this film because Buddy represents the childlike wonder in all of us, before it gets stomped down by the drudgery of our lives. We could all be Buddy if we could just let go of our inhibitions and just enjoy the simpler things in life. The supporting cast is wonderful as well with James Caan as Buddy's grouchy, no-nonsense father and Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, a store elf with a beautiful singing voice. Overall, this is the Christmas film that brings me the most joy every year.

Lee L. Lind - A Christmas Carol (1999)
Directed by David Hugh Jones

TNT’s 1999 made-for-television production of A Christmas Carol remains the most authentic adaptation of Dickens’s classic holiday novella. The film follows the well known “you’ll be visited by three spirits” format, but also includes several important key moments in the book that are, for some reason or another, often ignored by other productions. Patrick Stewart portrays the grim and cold hearted miser Ebenezer Scrooge, and he brings a no nonsense hardness to the role. Many adaptations are known for incorporating little moments of humor to balance out Scrooge’s grumpy and pitiful demeanor. Stewart’s performance gets it right, without the laughs or elaborate song and dance numbers. The veteran actor portrayed the classic character after a series of successful Broadway stage readings of Dickens’s yuletide tale. Where this production stands out is its inclusion of all of the locations that the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge during his visit. As in the novel, the scene is set in a handful of different countries, and Scrooge is enlightened to how many people across the world celebrate Christmas. The montage is accompanied by the carol Silent Night, which is sung in a variety of languages as the spirit takes Scrooge to visit several stops. The most notable locations are a lighthouse, coal mine, and a ship at sea on Christmas Eve night. I’ve always considered it one of the more important messages in Dickens’s novella, and to see it included in this adaptation has endeared it a quality that trumps all others. While each adaptation has its own charm and style, Stewart’s revelation scenes are hard to beat. Having portrayed the detachment and cruelness of Scrooge to the extreme allowed Stewart’s exuberant joy to shine all the brighter. It’s hard not to get caught up in the moment as a viewer and share in the laughter of Stewart’s wonderful performance. This David Jones directed adaptation is easily the most accurate presentation of this timeless tale, and gives the viewers an authentic look at Dickens’s original vision.

H -  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik

As far as I am concerned, what makes this particular movie my favorite is how exaggeratedly accurate it is. As a movie, it is very well written, acted, and directed. The Griswold’s, as we’ve seen before in National Lampoon’s Vacation, are a uniquely odd and yet sweet hearted family. Clark Griswold is the embodiment of the stereotypical father of the baby-boomer generation. Just an average hard-working man living in the suburbs with his smokin’ hot wife and two children – you know, the Nuclear Family. Now bring in the grandparents (who are from an even more traditional generation), aunts, uncles, and cousins all under one roof. Pure chaos, but it’s the holiday and its family. No one loves you more than family no matter how poor or weird you are. For as far back as I can remember, my family Christmas has always been a Griswold family Christmas. My dad was a saint all year and then, like clockwork, he’d have a breakdown during the week of Christmas and because my entire household is mostly loud, sarcastic, very independent Irish women, we’d just watch him as he melted with smiles on our faces because it was funny to us – just like Christmas Vacation is. It probably didn’t help that both of my siblings’ birthdays are only four days apart in the month of December, but still – it was almost tradition to watch the gates of hell open in the form of my dad. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I think that’s the whole point of the movie. Without all of these things, you’d be nothing. The only people who actually understand you, the only people you love and hate at the same time, the only people you go out of your way for, the only people you would die for, is your family. I love this movie because no matter how far away my family is, I can turn it on and see their faces in the characters and it makes my heart warm enough to melt snow. Excuse me while I dry my tears with Uncle Louis’ hair-piece.

Andrew Kotwicki - The Snowman (1982)
Directed by Raymond Briggs
Despite the many beloved short Christmas films that come about year after year, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Garfield Christmas, the one which remains the most profoundly affecting, whimsical, haunting and touching remains Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman.  Based upon his own children’s picture book published in 1978, the film adaptation directed by Dianne Jackson and supervising animator Jimmy T. Murakami of Briggs’ own When the Wind Blows, the film tells the wordless story of a young boy who builds a snowman in his backyard.  Much like Frosty the Snowman, the snowman comes to life and explores the boy’s house with him.  Deviating from the source however, the film incorporates a number of Christmas elements including having the duo meet Father Christmas himself.  Part of what makes The Snowman such an indelible experience is the score by Howard Blake which from the opening to the closing cues are truly haunting to hear, evoking poignant feelings of loss, the desert landscape of snow and at times a sense of joy.  Though free of dialogue, the film’s one song Walking in the Air sung by Peter Auty with an angelic if not androgynous voice, is truly unforgettable and the centerpiece of the film.  While there have been numerous alterations over the years to this short film, including having the original television debut introduced by David Bowie instead of Raymond Briggs, the film went on to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.  Though it ultimately lost to Tango that year, The Snowman has endured for more than thirty years as a timeless holiday favorite which serves to remind that it isn’t so much the Christmas moment itself that sticks with people as it is the memories of good cheer and camaraderie left behind.

Justin Wicker - Gremlins (1984)
Directed by Joe Dante
I think that many people would not go so far as to say the 80s classic Gremlins is a Christmas movie, and that is precisely where they are wrong. The air of mystery surrounding the mysterious Mogwai, their very specific requirements and potential dire consequences when you fail to follow them, would point to the idea of Gremlins being more comfortable thrown in the bucket of mainstream thriller or even horror flicks. It is this betrayal of the audience's expectations, and the line it walks between joy and terror that makes it such a fantastic and unique holiday film. Where other holiday movies may focus on the seasonal feelings of generosity or togetherness, Gremlins uses its over the top scenes and self-aware sense of humor to remind us of the childlike glee we had throwing a snowball, or getting a present you were sure only Santa could bring you. It takes the Christmas time setting and turns in on its head with tonally with slapstick violence and repressed emotions. And it even does so without losing its dark and dower horror roots. As something of a scrooge myself, I always appreciated the young Phoebe Cates telling the story about why she hates Christmas, It walks the same tightrope between harrowing and absurd that is indicative of the film as a whole. This holiday season I advise you to dust off the old VCR, dig in attic, and have an evening of adolescent pleasure and cute monsters.

Raul Vantassle - Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Directed by R. Winer
This has to be on any Christmas list for being hands down the weirdest and worst Christmas themed movie ever made, making it essential viewing. What happens when you combine a sweaty Santa stuck in Florida, a guy in a bunny costume, another person dressed in a gorilla suit, the story of Thumbelina, Pirates World theme park, and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn commenting on the events from a distance? You get this weird ass children’s movie, described in a Rifftrax ad as “…one of the strangest and most baffling pieces of outsider art that Mike, Kevin and Bill have ever riffed.”
This confusing amalgamation of concepts has made many people lay claim to it being one of the worst movies ever and also one of the weirdest. Part of the reason is that the title characters only briefly appear in this, with the Thumbelina story occupying almost an hour of this picture. There is an alternative version that contains Jack and the Beanstalk, as opposed to the Thumbelina story. 

Christopher S. Jordan - Die Hard (1988)
Directed by John McTiernan

No, I am not being snarky or ironic in saying that Die Hard is possibly my favorite Christmas movie. It may be an unusual choice, but watching this holiday-set '80s action classic has been an annual Christmas tradition in my family ever since I was old enough for my parents to let me watch it. The story of a lone off-duty cop taking on a heavily-armed band of criminals in a high-rise on Christmas eve may not exactly be A Christmas Carol, but the film makes such clever, fun use of the holiday setting that it is an irresistibly enjoyable watch this time of year. Die Hard isn't one of those movies that just happens to be set at Christmas, but could be transposed to any other time and nothing would change; Christmas-ness so thoroughly permeates the film that it is an integral part of its personality. It opens with Run-DMC's Christmas In Hollis, it closes with Let It Snow (a song which always makes me think of Die Hard whenever I hear it), the whole film is set at an office Christmas party, and it fully uses its holiday cheer in cheeky comic juxtaposition to the chaos at hand. That sense of humor and genuine fun is a large part of what makes it such great holiday viewing: this isn't the sort of action film that takes itself too seriously, but instead plays it very tongue-in-cheek, both with its genre tropes and its seasonal setting.
Some of the film's funniest and most memorable moments hinge on the holiday, both courtesy of our hero John McClaine's sarcasm, and our villain Hans Gruber's sly refrain about conjuring a “Christmas miracle” to pull of their ridiculously elaborate scheme. It's not just the humor that uses Christmas as its backdrop either: the holiday is also the focal point of the film's emotional core and central character arc. At its heart, McClaine's personal story arc is that of a former family man – and current embittered jerk, estranged from his wife and kids – rediscovering his priorities, and re-learning how to be a good husband and dad in time for Christmas day. If that's not a good redemptive story arc for a holiday movie, I don't know what is; it just happens that instead of learning those lessons from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, he learns them from a suave German terrorist and Carl Winslow from Family Matters. Yes, Die Hard is first and foremost a semi-comedic 1980s action flick which is great at any time of year. But it's even better around the holidays, when its pervasive Christmasy vibe makes it even more fun. No one says “ho ho ho” quite as well as Alan Rickman.

Christopher S. Jordan - The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Directed by Brian Henson

Brian Henson's 1992 film is not only one of the best Muppet movies ever, but also a truly great adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel. The film does what may seem impossible: it delivers the simultaneously goofy/intelligent humor we expect from the Muppets, but also packs in all of the emotion and depth that makes A Christmas Carol arguably the most iconic story ever written surrounding the holiday. It manages this delicate tonal balancing-act thanks partly to the witty, sensitive, and literate script by original Muppet Movie scribe Jerry Juhl, and partly to the emotionally complex, powerful performance by Michael Caine as Scrooge. I would argue that Caine gives us one of the finest portrayals of Ebeneezer Scrooge ever, perfectly capturing the depth of his journey from icy selfishness to rediscovered humanity, even when the screen is shared by the likes of Fozzie Bear making his usual camp jokes. The Muppet Christmas Carol truly runs the gauntlet of emotions: at times it is hilarious, and it even includes some very fun musical numbers, but if you do not cry during the course of this movie – both with sadness and happiness – then you have no soul. Here, truly, is a Christmas movie for everyone: kids will love it for the Muppets, the songs, and the silly humor, but adults will love it for being a genuinely brilliant adaptation of A Christmas Carol which doesn't hold back on the novel's emotional depth and power. It was one of my favorites as a kid (I was the exact right age to see it when it was new, as one of my earliest introductions to the world of the Muppets), and I think I love it even more now that I can appreciate what a strong, grown-up film it is in many ways.
BUT BE WARNED! The blu-ray and remastered widescreen version on the DVD contain the cut-down theatrical version of the film, missing the “When Love is Gone” number which is so very important to the power of Scrooge's story arc. The sequence was deemed “too sad for a kids' movie” by Disney, but the film is sadly weakened by its absence. The director's cut with the song restored can be found on all of the film's VHS and laserdisc releases, the earliest full-screen DVD, and the full-screen option on the special edition DVD (which is simply the laserdisc master reused). Trust me: it's worth compromising on picture quality to see the film in its intended cut. In that version in particular, this movie is really something special.
Mike Stec - Scrooged (1988)
Directed by Richard Donner
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has had hundreds of different interpretations over the years, but only one has Bill Murray.  Murray is the Scrooge in Scrooged, a TV executive named Frank Cross staging his own live version of Dickens’ classic.  Life imitates art as the infamous three ghosts visit Frank himself in the hopes of showing the stone-cold businessman the true meaning of Christmas.  Some of the costumes and ideas in Richard Donner’s 1988 film are a bit dated today, but the story at its heart, and a great ensemble cast headlined by Murray’s frenetic performance, make Scrooged as timeless as Dickens’ original tale.