What constitutes a Christmas movie?

GiftWe’re currently marching our way through the month of December, and as with years past, I’m trying to maintain a festive air around the blog by including a fair number of Christmas movies in my reviews. But just what makes a movie a Christmas movie? Surely Christmas Vacation is a Christmas movie, but is Lethal Weapon? How much Christmas does a movie have to contain to be a Christmas movie?

This question was on my mind the other night as I attempted to dig up some Christmas movies to schedule for the next few weeks — it’s harder than one might think, at least if one wants to avoid the Hallmark/ABC Family schlock. I see little point in watching something called A Girlfriend For Christmas when I know it’s just going to be terrible. But back to the main topic, when I got to looking at IMDb’s “Christmas” tag and Wikipedia’s list of movies with Christmas elements, I saw that there was often a very broad interpretation at work. So I thought I might say a few words about the differences as I see them.

Before I go on, let me shoot down one common argument in favor of some questionable films being Christmas movies. A lot of times in these questions, the argument is made that “We watch this every year at Christmas, so it’s a Christmas movie.” One’s personal traditions, while certainly worthy of respect, do not alter a film. You could watch Independence Day every December 25th, but it’s never going to be a Christmas movie. To me, the question is purely a matter of content.

A Christmas movie is a movie about Christmas. Redundant, perhaps, but the fact that the question is asked means there’s a small lack of clarity in the eyes of the public at large. A movie is about Christmas if the themes and events of Christmas are central to the plot — not mere set dressing. A film about the birth of Christ would be a Christmas movie. A film about Santa Claus or his helpers would be a Christmas movie. A film about trying to arrange a Christmas celebration is a Christmas movie. If taking Christmas out of the story would make it so the story doesn’t make any sense, it’s a Christmas movie. If you can’t picture watching the film any time but Christmas, it’s probably a Christmas movie. These are the main films I’m looking for when I’m looking for entries for my Christmas Cinema category.

A film that is set around Christmas, but has a non-Christmas plot, is not a Christmas movie; it is a movie with a Christmas setting. Lethal Weapon and Die Hard both feature Christmas decorations and are set in the days leading up to Christmas, but Christmas is not a key component to either movie. One’s a buddy cop film, the other’s about terrorism (sort of). They could just as easily have been set on June 13, a date of no particular significance. The same could be said of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Iron Man 3, or a few other films by Shane Black. It seems to be a thing with him. While a Christmas movie generally only makes sense to watch at Christmastime, a movie with a Christmas setting is often still enjoyable at other times of the year — consider Iron Man 3‘s box office success in May. To me, films with a Christmas setting are a decent way to provide some variety in Christmastime movie marathons, but they are not themselves Christmas films. They are my secondary choices for the Christmas Cinema category, but if I were to make a Top X list of Christmas movies, they would not be eligible. Why? Because they’re not about Christmas; it’s just being used as decoration.

A film with a single Christmas scene is just a film. There’s a step in between “films with a Christmas setting” and “films that don’t involve Christmas at all”, and that’s a film where Christmas shows up for a single scene. Often this happens in films where a lot of time passes during the course of the movie. Annie Hall, for example, features a Christmas party in one scene. It’s not a Christmas movie. It doesn’t even have a Christmas setting aside from that one scene. It doesn’t count at all for Christmas movie discussions, in my opinion; it wouldn’t go into my Christmas Cinema category because there’s just not enough to count there. To be a film with a Christmas setting, it would have to take primarily around the days leading up to and following Christmas. One scene doesn’t suffice. Maybe if a movie started on one Christmas and ended on another, it would count, but if Christmas is just a pit stop in the story, it’s just another movie.

That’s my opinion, any way. Christmas movies are about Christmas. Christmas-setting movies are ones that take place around Christmas. Everything else is just a movie. And while I do have some non-Christmas movies slated in for this month — partly due to another significant date taking place but mostly due to wanting to get a few more 2013 films in before the year ends — for the most part I’ll be looking for Christmas movies and Christmas-setting movies.

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About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
This entry was posted in Ramblings and Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What constitutes a Christmas movie?

  1. Spikor says:

    You can write as many words as you want. Die Hard is still gonna be my favourite Christmas movie. 😛

  2. S says:

    I enjoy watching good movies during the Christmas season, but will concede fully that not all seasonal decor movies are Christmas films per se; in fact Die Hard was initially released in July. Tim Allen [The Santa Clause,etc & Christmas with the Kranks] and Chevy Chase [Christmas Vacation] pics spring to mind. I’ll back you up wholeheartedly here as a movie with a seasonal Christmas message should be appreciated during the holidays though I can’t say that for all run of the mill pics that sound like but are not seasonal fare as you rightly noted of Hallmark Channel though there may be several that fit the bill. Generally, HMC pics are a little ‘schmaltzy’ for me (that is until I discovered over Turkey Day break that ‘schmaltz’ in Jewish cooking is rendered chicken fat for flavor – got that of The Chew TV show). Rock on Morgan! 🙂

    • Yeah. I’m willing to give the concept of Hallmark original movies a chance, but I’ve yet to see a specific film that didn’t sound like it was laden down with four tons of schmaltz. 😀

  3. Pingback: Non-Obvious Christmas Movies? | Morgan on Media

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