Photo: ‘Cast Away’/20th Century Fox
When December comes around, there are a few things that come with the month. Lights, decorations, and Mariah Carey are some of these ever-present reminders of the holiday season. On television, you are sure to see some of the classic holiday tales pop up, and on streaming services, some of these films will be the top rentals and purchases. Classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Home Alone are some examples of traditional holiday movies.
Although many of these films are great movies and fun holiday traditions, sometimes it’s necessary to switch things up. There will always be joy and meaning found in rewatching some of the classics, especially when you need a lift and haven’t seen one in a while. If you’re not in the mood, though, it’s nice to have other options.
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Below is a list of ten unconventional holiday movies to mix things up.
*There are spoilers, so if you don’t know the film or want to go into it without specific details, just view the titles and enjoy!
People who have seen ‘Cast Away’ might question why the movie makes the list. For those that don’t remember or those that haven’t seen the film, the beginning is all about the holidays. Tom Hanks’ character Chuck Noland is a systems analyst who solves production problems at FedEx depots around the world. Noland gets called in for work during the family Christmas dinner and hops on a plane to Malaysia that crashes in a violent storm. Noland makes it to an uninhabited and uncharted island in a life raft but is on his own. The Christmas scenes and the subsequent isolation are a stark contrast. Tom Hanks gives a brilliant Oscar-nominated performance, which can be a reminder to be grateful for what you have.
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While ‘Trading Places’ often comes up on Christmas lists, it is definitely an unconventional take on the holiday spirit. Two brothers who own a brokerage firm make a bet on their opposing views of nature versus nurture. They conduct an experiment to get results. This experiment involves switching two lives on the opposite ends of the social hierarchy. Dan Aykroyd plays a managing director of the brother’s firm and gets framed by the brothers with the consequence of having everything taken from him. A street hustler, played by Eddie Murphy, is chosen to take Aykroyd’s place in the firm. While Murphy’s character Valentine succeeds in his new role, he learns about the bet and the plans to dump him. Murphy teams up with Aykroyd and a sympathetic Jamie Lee Curtis to turn the tables on the brothers. The film doesn’t present the best morals, though, so it should be viewed for its comedy and left at that.
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‘Gremlins’ tell the story of a boy who receives an unusual Christmas gift. His father, a struggling inventor, visits an antique store in hopes of finding a present for his son. He spots a small furry creature that peaks his interests, but the owner won’t sell it to him. The shop owner’s son decides to secretly sell the creature and warns the man of three critical rules not to be broken. When the son of the struggling inventor receives the present, he forms a bond with it, but the rules are broken, which creates chaos in the local community.
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An older woman tells her granddaughter the tale of a young man. The film then goes into the story of Edward, an artificially created humanoid, whose inventor dies before giving him hands. Years later, he is found by Peg Boggs, Diane West, and is brought home to stay with her family. Edward, Johnny Depp, falls in love with the daughter Kim, Winona Ryder, and is welcomed by most of the community, except Kim’s boyfriend and a religious fanatic, Esmerelda. Edward begins to find his talents in trimming hedges, the residents’ hair, and ice sculptures at Christmastime, but he is vilified by those who don’t like him. This sad but beautiful tale is a wonderful creation from Tim Burton. ‘Edward Scissorhands’ is a must-watch.
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A Nightmare Before Christmas
This might be considered a Halloween film, but it doubles as a Christmas movie. For those whose favorite holiday of the year is All Hallow’s Eve, you can enjoy the spirit of both holidays with this film. ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ follows Jack Skellington, “Pumpkin King,” in the world of Halloween Town as he becomes bored with continuously celebrating the holiday of his land. In wandering the woods, he finds seven trees with doors to towns representing different holidays. Skellington goes to Christmas Town and becomes enamored. He decides it’s unfair for Christmas to be solely enjoyed by this town and plans to take over the holiday. The story in this film is another wonderful tale from the mind of Tim Burton.
This Disney Channel movie ‘Full-Court Miracle’ is based on the true story of Lamont Carr. Alex Schlotsky, a freshman basketball player at Philadelphia Hebrew Academy, is determined to find a good coach to help them win a holiday tournament against their rivals. Alex sees Lamont Carr practice at a local park and convinces him to be their coach. Carr is separated from his family as he pursues his NBA dreams, while Alex struggles to have his love of basketball accepted by his mother. The resulting story has a lot of growth for each character, culminating at the final of the holiday tournament, where the game hinges on a backup generator and faith.
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The Black Candle
A documentary film is not usually associated with the holiday experience, but ‘The Black Candle’ is a worthy addition to this list. The film is narrated and written by Maya Angelou and uses Kwanzaa as a vehicle to traverse and celebrate the African-American experience. The film is directed by filmmaker and author M.K. Asante and covers obstacles and triumphs of African-American communities and their culture. The documentary follows Kwanzaa’s growth from the Black Power Movement in the 1960s to the present day. This film won’t make most holiday movie lists, but it is a good film for those who are interested.
While Christmas time can be full of joy and wonder, it can also be a tumultuous time with a lot of stress. In ‘Carol’, there are both. Therese, a young aspiring photographer, meets a slightly older glamorous woman during Christmas time while she works at a department store. The older woman, Carol, played by Cate Blanchett, struggles with a difficult divorce and custody of her child, while Therese, played by Rooney Mara, is disillusioned with her boyfriend and subsequent suitors. The two women meet again and decide to go on a trip together. They have a sexual experience, which, along with Carol’s past, is leveraged against her by Carol’s ex-husband. This results in strain, and the two women separate, only to have one final chance meeting.
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The Night Before
‘The Night Before’ is a hilarious tale of three friends, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie, as they spend the night in New York City trying to find the Holy Grail of Christmas parties. The three friend’s tradition of spending every Christmas Eve together is coming to an end as each of the adults are faced with the responsibilities of their lives. Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) is not yet ready to let go of the tradition, but they agree that this will be the last year. Supporting this already all-star cast is Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, and Michael Shannon. It is a comedy that has plenty of laughs and a solid story as well.
Yes, ‘Die Hard‘ is a Christmas movie. It was also nominated for four Oscars and spawned four sequels. The unconventional holiday tale follows New York cop John McClane played by Bruce Willis as he visits Los Angeles to repair his marriage. He goes to meet up with his wife at her office Christmas party as a band of German terrorists take over the party and hold the partygoers hostage. There are many twists and turns in the film, including McClane as a one-man saboteur to the infiltrators’ plans. This action thriller is a classic in its own right but should be considered a holiday classic as well. Yippee-ki-yay!
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There are so many holiday films to choose from, but each of these provides their own unique flavor to the season. If you’re looking for a bit of a different experience than the usual holiday film, the movies above should provide it. Still, there is heart, laughter, and meaning to be found in the list above. We hope you enjoy your holiday season and enjoy some good movies as well!
Happy Holidays from Hollywood Insider!
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Drew Alexander Ross writes for Hollywood Insider with the aim of bringing the reader an uplifting and insightful experience. He combines his degree in film and business to show a unique point of view on cinema and his beliefs coincide with Hollywood Insider‘s values of promoting positive and meaningful content. Drew enjoys reading at the pace of one to two books a week and loves movies of all genres. He has placed in several screenwriting competitions and has short stories featured in several different publications.