It’s easy enough to recommend Die Hard to someone looking for an unconventional Christmas movie, because yes it is absolutely a Christmas movie. But sometimes you’re looking for something you may not have previously heard of. That’s where this list comes in. This is my shortlist of Christmas movies that don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve. (And no, Die Hard isn’t on it.)
1. 8 Women (2002)
Comedy – Crime – Musical – Rated R
The French musical/murder mystery won’t be for everyone, but it boasts a charming cast of characters attempting to uncover the perpetrator of a murder, and a stylized direction that will captivate anyone with a love of musical theatre. If you can open your mind to it, I guarantee you’ll be having a good time within minutes of pressing play.
2. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Anime – Adventure – Comedy – Rated PG-13
This is a beautifully animated film from the legendary Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika). It centers on three homeless people on a quest to find the parents of a baby they discovered abandoned in the trash. Following along with their adventure is a genuinely good time, so don’t pass on this film. I won’t even tell anyone if you prefer dubbed over subbed.
3. Rise of the Guardians (2012)
Animation – Adventure – Action – Rated PG
Though not strictly a Christmas movie, one of the main protagonists is a Russian, tatted-up Santa Claus, and isn’t that what we all yearn for during the holiday season? We follow a group of “guardians” as they try to protect the innocence of children all across the globe. I’ll never forgive the general public for sleeping on this film, because it is a seriously good time deserving of multiple sequels. Chris Pine as Jack Frost should be enough to convince you.
4. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
Comedy – Horror – Musical – Rated R
Surprise! Another musical! Anna and the Apocalypse is a British musical about a small town invaded by zombies over the holiday season. Any zombie lover will enjoy watching the bright and colorful imagery of Christmas juxtaposed beautifully against the bloody gore of a zombie apocalypse. And the music is surprisingly top notch!
5. Happiest Season (2020)
Drama – Comedy – Rated PG-13
2020 was a bad time, but the one good thing we got out of that year was the sleeper hit Happiest Season. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s delightfully queer. It should be required viewing for all Christmas lovers, young and old. Bonus points awarded for every single scene with Dan Levy.
6. Better Watch Out (2016)
Comedy – Horror – Thriller – Rated R
Not much can be said about this movie without spoiling the best parts, so it’s best to go into it blind. Don’t seek out trailers, don’t read any reviews, just turn it on and watch the magic. If you still need convincing, just think Home Alone, but for adults. You’re welcome.
7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Comedy – Crime – Mystery – Rated R
Come for Robert Downey Jr., stay for the genius direction and storytelling of Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Iron Man 3). Inspired by the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday, it’s a journey into the pulpy crime novels that captured the imaginations of many over the years. It’s oftentimes hilarious, and possesses a real head scratcher of a mystery that you’ll be dying to figure out.
8. Arthur Christmas (2011)
Animation – Adventure – Comedy – Rated PG
Another sleeper hit, I actually watched this completely by chance while spending time with my sister and her young son. I didn’t give it a second thought when it began to play, but by the end of it I was applauding its comedy (even for adult viewers), and the real heart behind the story. If you only choose to watch one from this list, make it this one.
9. The Night Before (2015)
Comedy – Rated R
This might be a divisive choice, especially for those that struggle with these types of adult comedies, but the chemistry between its three stars is enough of a draw for me to recommend it. Anthony Mackie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Seth Rogen are all perfectly cast, and bring an organic realness to their proposed friendship. Watching them search for their white whale of a holiday party is both hilarious and endearing.
10. Almost Christmas (2016)
Comedy – Drama – Rated PG-13
If you’re looking for a less R-rated comedy, this should suffice. This family dramedy is heartfelt enough to bring forth actual human tears from my eyes during one particularly sad moment between Danny Glover and his onscreen son, Jessie T. Usher, while also making me choke-laugh whenever Mo’Nique so much as opens her mouth. The entire cast is gold, and the story is so astoundingly relatable that you’ll feel like you’re part of the family.
Sound off in the comments: Have you seen any of these films? Any that you think deserves to be on this list? Whether you agree or disagree, I wanna hear it.