When you ask most people what their favorite Christmas movie is, you’ll probably hear one of the following answers: White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle On 34th Street, Elf, or A Christmas Carol.
You might get a few oddballs in there who like some animated Christmas specials such as The Little Drummer Boy or Frosty the Snowman.
Now, while these films are all well and good (except for White Christmas, I wasn’t a huge fan of that film) you guys are BARELY SCRATCHING THE SURFACE. There are a LOT of other awesome Christmas films that I rarely see mentioned – if ever! WHAT’S WITH THAT?
People have a tendency to discuss these classics as if they are the ONLY Christmas films out there, and that is simply not true.
Well, FORTUNATELY FOR YOU, ALLISON IS HERE TO BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS AND REVITALIZE AND REVOLUTIONIZE YOUR CHRISTMAS.
Right this way, ladies and gentlemen. Please follow me into a winter world of entertaining possibilities.
A brief message from your sponsor: Several of these film have objectionable content that I skip or edit out. If you would like more specific details about a particular film’s nasty content – feel free to ask in the comments.
That was all, proceed. 10 Christmas films you’ve probably never heard of . . . in no particular order.
# 1 – Donovan’s Reef (1963)
Three World War II Navy veterans — Donovan (John Wayne), Doc Dedham (Jack Warden) and Gilhooley (Lee Marvin) — live their wild lives on the French Polynesian island of Haleakaloha. When Dedham’s prim daughter (Elizabeth Allen) shows up to try to wrest control of family stock from her father, Donovan and Gilhooley hatch a plan to keep her from ruining Dedham’s new life and his new family.
This is an . . . unusual film. What is it’s genre, exactly? A comedy? Yes. A romance? Yes. A Christmas film? Yes. There’s also a hint of mystery, the exploration of post-war effects on an island and its inhabitants – this movie has a twist of everything, well-matching the exotic setting.
Oh yeah baby, stick me on a remote island with sandy beaches, tropical parties, and warm holiday weather and leis instead of garlands. Ohhh yeah. This is the way I would want to celebrate Christmas.
Lee Marvin steals every scene as the drunken and repulsive Gilhooley.
The romance between John Wayne (aka Guns Donovan) and Elizabeth Allen (Miss Amelia Dettam of Boston) can be a bit cringe-worthy at times as John Wayne is in a particular fine chauvinistic fettle in this movie, but, like the rest of the movie, it’s nothing to be taken seriously. It’s a zany romp – as light and fizzy as a tropical drink, and should be enjoyed as such.
# 2 – Courage Mountain (1990)
Heidi is now a teenager and attending an Italian boarding school. When WWI breaks out, the Italian army take over the school and the pupils are sent to work for child-slaver Signor Bonelli. Heidi and four friends escape but their only hope of freedom is a perilous journey over the Alps to the safety of Switzerland and Heidi’s home.
This movie combines a sweet coming of age-girl film with a fairly epic survival story. This is a good film to watch with your girlfriend gang, sister, aunt, or mom. It’s alternately cozy and exciting with a cast of relatable and (for the most part) lovable characters that you’ll be rooting for. I especially love Juliette Caton as Heidi, who presents the perfect blend of girlish vulnerability and inner strength.
One of the many themes that I enjoyed about this film is that, unlike most coming of age stories that insist that our hero must elave home and hearth if they ever want to reach their full potential, this film opted for another message. Heidi was right where she belonged all the time, there was nothing wrong with staying in her small corner of the world but, sometimes, we are called into the unknown for someone else’s sake and, in the process, learn something about ourselves.
# 3 – Bushfire Moon (aka Miracle Down Under) – 1987
Set during the 1890s in Australia, the son of a poor Outback farm couple encounters a bearded drifter and mistakes him for Santa.
The I was already a fan of Charles Tingwell, but I had no idea he could play a role like THIS. He is absolutely hilarious and irresistibly heartwarming as the irascible thief/bum that the titular character mistakes for Santa Claus. Speaking of the MC, this tiny hero is irresistibly adorable (his teensy weensy Australian accent would melt anyone’s heart) and he has just the right blend of irresponsible mischievousness and big-hearted wonder.
This film is not only a wonderful exploration of Christmas in other countries, but a warm coming of age story of a family struggling to survive. And in the process, they find the heart of the season. Pass around the tissues – you’ll need them. But not necessarily because you’re crying. You might need those tissues to mop up the aftermath of uncontrollable fits of hilarity.
There is one particular scene in the film that made me laugh so hard I was sobbing and nearly made myself sick. It has one of the funniest and most memorable holiday scenes I’ve ever seen, and I still crack up when I think about it.
# 4 – We’re No Angels (1955)
After breaking out of prison on Devil’s Island, Joseph (Humphrey Bogart) and his two cohorts flee to a nearby town and hide in a shop run by a kindhearted and his family. The three men plan to rob the store and board a ship the next day, but they soon change their minds after sharing Christmas dinner with the family. When they learn of the family’s financial troubles, the convicts decide instead to carry out a few “good deeds.”
Funny, irreverent and utterly diabolical. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of pairing Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Al Robbins into a comedic trio is was an absolute genius. No matter how many times I watch this unlikely, it never fails to make me laugh. Mix together Ustinov’s cheeky class, Bogart’s tough-guy sarcasm, and Robbins’ empty-headed looniness and we get something truly spectacular. It’s so good, it’s almost criminal . . . literally.
Note: This film definitely falls under the category of “black comedy” since the main characters are all dasterdly criminals who are basically planning a murder to “help” someone. This movie is definitely not for everyone, but it appeals my family’s weird sense of humor. *coughs*
# 5 – Bush Christmas (1947)
In the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, the Thompson family boast of their mare, Lucy, to strangers led by Long Bill, not realizing that the men are thieves. When Lucy and her foal are stolen, the children, sworn to silence by a bribe from Long Bill, set off in pursuit with Neza, a skillful young Aborigine, and visiting British friend Michael. They tell their perplexed parents that they are off for a Christmas camping trip in the wilds of the bush.
It’s not often that cross-country adventure stories are combined with Christmas. This one (and the aforementioned Courage Mountain) are the only two films that come to mind for this unique and exciting combination. These adorable and scrappy little kids are so much fun to watch!
This movie is less concerned with the fuzzy sentiments of Christmas and more with the nitty-gritty of the holiday (sweets and presents) and our tough and reserved little heroes are more interested in time off from school than the spirit of the season. Nevertheless, it still takes place during Christmas time and, while you might not be full of the old holly jolly watching this, you will definitely be entertained.
# 6 – The Story Lady (1991)
An advertiser (Stephanie Zimbalist) and her boss get their hands on a retired widow’s (Jessica Tandy) quality TV story hour for children.
Grace is the essential grandmother character, but Jessica Tandy brings her to life and adds a warmth and believably to her part that make you want to reach through the screen and hug her. Or rather, have her read you a story.
The Story Lady is a little more typical of the Christmas film genre. It’s an incredibly sweet and precious, with a strong family message as the irrepressible leading lady changes the lives of everyone around her. You will be so in love with this character by the end of the film, that you WILL begin to get a little bit stressed at the end because of Things That Happen, but, don’t worry, like Grace’s beloved fairy tales, there is a happy ending for this one too that is more than satisfactory.
# 7 – The Thin Man (1934)
The story of a retired detective who, while spending much of his time managing his wife’s considerable fortune and consuming quantities of alcohol, is asked to follow the trail of a missing inventor. Although reluctant to interrupt his holiday in Manhattan, he is persuaded to investigate by his wife‘s craving for adventure, and together they embark upon a case that leads to the disclosure of deception and murder.
Okay, technically speaking this isn’t a Christmas movie, per se. It’s a detective / mystery movie. But it DOES take place over Christmas (and the New Year) and we see the characters shopping, gift-giving and celebrating, so I’m counting it! #CantStopMe
Nick and Nora Charles are THE quintessential bickering couple and the inspiration for many of the famous couples you know today. I can never get enough of this loving couple.
Many creatives have tried to emulate these couple, but have failed. They forget the one vital ingredient that makes a bickering couple work (and what made Nick and Nora Charles work). While they might give one another grief, they never break rank and are always unfailingly loyal to one another. It’s very clear that deep down inside, they’re crazy about one another.
And the dialogue, my goodness. If you looked up witty in the dictionary, you should find this series. It’s unbeatable.
This holiday season, make sure you treat yourself to these crazy and classy mystery with a couple that is are as bubbly as champagne and nutty as a fruitcake. Resistance is futile. You WILL fall in love with these two.
# 8 – It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947)
While rich businessman Mike O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) resides in Virginia, his luxury townhouse in New York City appears vacant. However, in reality, drifter Mac McKeever has been staying there. Mac invites Jim, an unemployed veteran who has just been evicted from a building owned by O’Connor, to stay at the house without revealing he’s squatting . . . and the guests keep coming.
A sweet and amusing situation comedy that had a few refreshing twists. One of the main character arcs (and romances) took place between a couple in their 50s or 60s – a welcome change, indeed, from the usual infantile love affairs we are often served during Christmas film fests. This is a gentle and warmhearted little film that explores some rarely touched-upon aspects of post-war America and shows us that the United States was attacking its problems after the war with the same determination and positivity they brought to bear during WW2.
While one could watch this movie and quite easily shred the dubious motivations of some of the central characters, I would encourage you not to. This is, first and foremost, a romantic comedy, making a brave attempt at wisdom. A few of the themes even come across, but not all of them. Enjoy it for the breezy little snowflake that it is and let your questions melt away. It’s fun, don’t overthink it.
# 9 – Window Wonderland (2013)
A department-store window decorator learns there is a vacancy for her dream job in the run-up to Christmas, only to find a professional rival has his eye on it too. When the head of advertising gives them a challenge, the competition is on: each will create a series of seasonal storefront windows twice a week until Christmas. The creator of whichever window display gets the most attention from passersby will get the job.
I could count on one hand the number of hallmark movies I’ve actually liked. This one is quite touching and is as sweet as sugar – but manages to dodge the cheese. You can’t help rooting for this irresistibly likable couple who are strong characters in their own right, and become even better when they come together as a couple. The dialogue is quite snappy and is a refreshing salute to the quality black and white films of bygone eras when people were actually witty.
This film is fun, touching, and full of relatable character arcs involved in a down-to-earth romance (*gasps* is that legal?). I’m telling your right now, don’t skip this one – it is precious.
# 10 – Fitzwilly (1967)
Tireless and loyal butler Fitzwilly (Dick Van Dyke) hides from his eccentric spinster boss, Victoria Woodhouse the fact that she has been bankrupt since her father died. Through wily schemes with his fellow servants, he creates one racket, swindle or con after another to maintain the household and fund his employer’s frivolous philanthropy. When new secretary Juliet (Barbara Feldon) is hired on, Fitzwilly’s life gets even more complicated.
Dick Van Dyck shows what a fine actor he is in this hilariously weird film. I would have never thought of casting Van Dyck as a dignified butler with thieving tendencies, but he is absolutely perfect in the role. And while I’m not usually a fan of Barbara Feldon, but she was great in this role and she and Van Dyck have an undeniable chemistry. But, let’s admit it, ALL of the actors in here are incredible, down to the smallest bit part. It’s a massive cast, but every one of them stands out in this crazy caper.
There’s a slightly Mission Impossible vibe to this classy and strangely sweet film. There was nothing to dislike about this film – it’s a must see.
# 11 – Jingle All The Way
Workaholic Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wants to make things up to his son, Jamie. He promises to get Jamie the hottest toy of the season, Turbo-Man – even though it’s Christmas Eve and the toy is practically sold out. As Langston hunts down the elusive gift, he runs into mailman Myron (Sinbad), another father on the same quest. With the clock winding down, Langston’s moral code is tested as he starts to learn the real meaning of Christmas.
My favorite Christmas movie of all time. This movie is one never-ending string of hilarity. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I will never ever get tired of it. It STILL shocks me when I realize there are people in this world who haven’t seen this movie. I mean, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
I kid of course, but you still need this kind of Christmas cheer in your life.
One of my favorite elements in story (and one of my favorite things about life) is when we step back and observe the basic absurdity of humans and human behavior. So many of us take everything so seriously, and, honestly, it’s nothing short of hilarious. This gem of a film captures the basic frivolity of the human psyche with incredible skill. The non-stop insanity is sure to knock you off your feet.
Who would have thought Arnold Schwarzenegger could do comedy? Well he can, and he does it well. But the real highlight of the film is Sinbad as the crazed mailman who competes with Schwarzenegger throughout the film. Sinbad will do anything to win the Turbo Man toy (and I mean ANYTHING).
Watch this film, guys. Where else are you going to see the Terminator taken out by a bunch of angry moms with candy canes, wrapping paper tubes and purses???
Trust me, this one will make you laugh.
BOOYAH! Another eye-opening slam dunk blog post by yours truly.
This has been me, Allison, redefining everything you know about Christmas entertainment. You’re welcome.
And there we have it, my friends! Some of my favorite Christmas films of all time – and probably some holiday flicks you’ve never heard of before!