It’s the holiday season once again, and that means we’re going to be jonesin’ to watch some good holiday movies. As the world embraces the fresh surge of holiday cheer, many of us are also bracing ourselves for all the movies and TV specials that focus on holiday romances in small towns, complete with snowy montages and lots of surprises. But what if you want a movie steeped in holiday fun without a romance driving the plot? What other kinds of holiday movies are out there?
With that in mind, here are eight of our favorite holiday movies that don’t revolve around romance.
The Long Kiss Goodnight
This 1996 action drama starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson revolves around a spy with amnesia, Charlie Baltimore (Davis), whose past comes back to shake up the holidays long after she had adjusted to her new life as a schoolteacher, wife and mom. When her memory comes back, she instantly resumes one of her previous missions and shows just why she was the best in her agency. It’s got so much action, comedy and Christmas cheer, you almost forget it’s a brutal action film while scarfing down your Santa-shaped sugar cookies.
One of our favorites from the ’80s, Gremlins is a fantasy horror film about a young man (Zach Galligan) who receives a weird pet, the Mogwai, for Christmas. He’s given three cardinal rules to take care of his Mogwai (don’t expose it to bright light, don’t get it wet and never feed it after midnight), but things go haywire when the rules are almost immediately broken and his quaint little town is overrun with gremlins.
Though Die Hard star Bruce Willis declared his film was “not a Christmas movie,” we beg to differ. Police officer John McClane’s visit to his estranged wife’s holiday party at the fictional Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles goes seriously awry when terrorists attempt to take over the building and everyone in it. It’s up to McClane to save the day (with the help of a few surprising allies), and he does, just in time to save the holidays for everyone.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
There are several versions of this adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s children’s book, but our favorite has to be the 1966 animated version of the surly green furry fellow who just hates Christmas. In an attempt to quash the cheer-spreading all around, the Grinch devises a plan to steal Christmas, but then he realizes just what his actions do to all those involved. This film is a holiday staple as it resonates with grumpy folks who hate the season but ultimately fall prey to how amazing it is — and it doesn’t have anyone smooching it up at the end.
Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
A Home Alone double feature? Yes, please!
In 1990’s Home Alone, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister is accidentally left home alone when his family goes on Christmas vacay without him. Though he enjoys being by himself, the fun quickly ends when he has to outwit a couple of burglars — Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern — casing his home. In its 1992 sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Kevin makes it to the airport with his family but accidentally gets on the wrong plane and finds himself spending the holiday season in a luxury hotel. Unfortunately for him, the two burglars are also in the city, and they’re out for revenge.
How could a story of being poor at Christmas ever make a great holiday film? Because it stars Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis, who bring some much-needed levity to an otherwise grim plot. A spin on the classic Prince and the Pauper tale, Trading Places finds a privileged stockbroker (Aykroyd) swapping places with a hustler (Murphy) at the hands of two elderly dudes who are toying with the men for their own amusement (including setting up the switch). The movie follows the ascension from squalor and the fall from grace, the eventual reveal of the ruse and the plan crafted by Aykroyd and Murphy’s characters to get back at the two old geezers who turned their world upside down.
The Santa Clause
In this 1994 family film, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is a self-absorbed divorced dad who seems to have forgotten the meaning of the holiday season. While spending Christmas with his son, he accidentally kills Santa after he and his son run outside, see the big guy on their roof and startle him into a fatal fall. Of course, this turns out to be the best thing that can happen to Scott as — surprise — he becomes the new Santa Claus. We watch Scott over an entire year as he gets his sea legs (or, shall we say, snow legs) as Santa, with amusing results.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas uniquely doubles as a Halloween film and a Christmas film. Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown and the scare guru for Halloween. However, he has a bit of a mid-life crisis and decides to spice things up after taking a trip to Christmas Town by bringing the warmth of Christmas to Halloweentown — and the real world.