Movies set at Christmas, that aren’t ‘Christmas Movies’

When is a Christmas Movie not a Christmas Movie…?

We all know that the most wonderful time of the year is almost upon us, and many of us have already had our fill of Santa flicks, magical Chritmas fairies, or are saving ELF and LOVE, ACTUALLY for the lull between breakfast and dinner on the 25th. To remain in the Christmas spirit, but in an attempt not to be bombarded with sleigh bells, mistletoe and mulled wine, have gathered together some movies, which are set at Christmas but keep the holly-jolliness to a minimum…


Fans of writer/director Shane Black will know that he has a fondness for the festive season, as it is a time when people take stock of their lives, come together with the people they love, and try to re-connect with friends they have lost. Black first explored winter wonderlands in LETHAL WEAPON in 1987, and reminded audiences that Christmas, while magical, does not inherently change the people we are.
KISS KISS, BANG BANG stars Robert Downey Jr as Harry Lockhart, a thief who masquerades as an actor to avoid the police. Harry finds himself at a Hollywood party, having been hired for a screen test, and it is there that he reconnects with his childhood crush, and meets Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), and is drawn into a tale of betrayal and murder.
KISS KISS, BANG BANG lovingly sends up the hardboiled literary genre, and ties together murder, romance and a touch of Christmas nostalgia to create a sharp and funny film that has tons of Black’s trademark gunplay, and some of the best performances from Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr in years.


Ruben Fleischer’s film about an LA police team in the 1940s that was gathered together to take on the Mob may not have been the most successful, but there is something charming in having such a dark and noir inspired film set at Christmas. The sparkly trees compliment Emma Stone’s beautiful wardrobe, and setting the film at the time of year where emotions run high means that the set pieces take on a different feel when juxtaposed against snow, Christmas carollers and twinkling lights.
That said, the film is a bit of a mess, even if it looks good, stars pretty people and has some great one-liners. The cynics in the audience may argue that setting the film during the festive season was a deliberate move to try and insert some emotion into this thin and lacklustre affair, but whatever the reason, this aspect of the film is perhaps the only one that truly works.


There are some movies set at Christmas, which trade off the emotion that runs rife at the most wonderful time of the year, and then there are others that are set at Christmas yet preach the opposite of good will to all. Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL is precisely one of those films.
The film opens with a family listening to Tiny Tim’s heart warming speech from A Christmas Carol, but the secret police soon barge in and arrest one of their number, shattering the peace and tranquillity of the festive season. Christmas lights, decorations and trees recur throughout the film, but BRAZIL uses these elements to cast a comment on the consumerist nature of the festive season, rather than to tie everything up with a happy ending. However, if you truly expected a happy ending, perhaps you forgot that this is a Terry Gilliam film…


It’s not really a secret that Tim Burton loves the holiday season – THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS celebrates the filmmaker’s devotion to Christmas (and Halloween) – so it is not too surprising to learn that EDWARD SCISSORHANDS has multiple references to Santa’s busiest time of the year.
Tim Burton uses Christmas to pass comment on the bright and shiny suburb where the Boggs family lives, but he also uses snow, twinkly lights and Christmas trees to create an atmosphere of romance and wonder, which runs throughout his Gothic tale. The film is bookended with images of snow, and the setting gives Burton an excuse to create a new myth about why it snows at Christmas.


Christmas is a facet of Martin McDonagh’s wonderfully dark tale about two hitmen hiding out in Bruges after a hit goes wrong, but it is not truly integral to the plot. Instead, the film uses the look and feel of the medieval town of Bruges during the festive season to create an atmosphere that allows Ray (Colin Farrell) to open up to his friend and colleague about his guilt over an accidental murder.
As well as this, the Christmas feel allows for some darkly comic juxtapositions; Ralph Feinnes shouting profanities down the phone in front of a Christmas tree and the hotel owner trimming a tree as a gun battle takes place around her. Also, it has to be said, Bruges looks pretty in the winter…

Honourable mentions to: BATMAN RETURNS, EYES WIDE SHUT and of course, DIE HARD.

Do you have a favourite film set at Christmas? Let us know in the comments below…

Words: Brogen Hayes