Great Christmas Movies
(chronological by film title)
Intro | Classics (1) | Classics (2) | Modern-Day (1) | Modern-Day (2)
(in chronological order)
|Film Title/Year/Director, Setting and Brief Description|
A Christmas Story (1983)
A fishnet leg lamp and a tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole. Ralphie pulverizes his glasses with his new BB gun, a dog eats the Christmas turkey, and the Parkers' holiday goes up in smoke. Peter Billingsley headlines Jean Shepherd's Christmas memoir with an incessant quest for a BB gun.
In the Small Town of Hohman, Indiana (a Fictional Hammond, Indiana) Just Before WWII
This modern-day classic holiday film from director Bob Clark is a bittersweet coming-of-age story. It opened in small-town America in Hohman, Indiana. It began with the early 1940s childhood recollections of Ralphie Parker as an adult (Jean Shepherd) about the Christmas season (his musings were based on the writings of American humorist Jean Shepherd). He began the voice-over narration:
Young 9 year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) thought that a BB gun would be the perfect or ultimate gift to find under the tree delivered by Santa ("I want an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle"). He imagined himself single-handedly protecting his family by holding off a group of criminals (in black and white striped prison uniforms) assaulting the house.
But during his epic quest, he ran into opposition ("You'll shoot your eye out, kid") from three groups of individuals in successive vignettes: his parents (Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon), his elementary school teacher Miss Shields (Tedde Moore), and even a creepy department store Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen).
There were many memorable sequences, often accentuated by Ralphie's vivid imagination:
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) (aka Santa Claus)
The fanciful 'historical' origins of Santa Claus are presented - he is known as the "Chosen One," and given a red suit and immortality to be a gift-giver - and a defender of good against evil.
In Scandinavia in the 14th Century, the North Pole (land of the Vendequm), then in Modern-Day (mid 1980s) New York City
This extravagant Christmas film was supposed to be an historical "biopic" about the origins of Santa Claus. With a $50 million budget, the over-produced, hypocritical film (and a disastrous box-office flop for producer Alexander Salkind) was remarkably misguided and deadening, in its presentation of a homogenized view of all the Santa myths and tales (although there wasn't a single mention of religion). Salkind was hoping to create a money-making franchise out of the Santa Claus character, as he had previously done with the character of Superman. However, there would be no sequels or remakes. Some critics rated it as one of the worst Christmas movies ever made, although there were some who enjoyed portions of the film. Its taglines were: "THE LEGEND COMES TO LIFE. SEEING IS BELIEVING."
In the first half of the film, kindly and childless Uncle Claus (David Huddleston) was portrayed as a craftsman/woodcutter in medieval times (14th century) who made toys for children in his Scandinavian village. Upon his return home with wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) one Christmas Eve on his sleigh pulled by two pet reindeer Donner and Blitzen, they froze to death during a deadly blizzard! However, they were magically reanimated, kidnapped by immortal green elves and taken to a new home - the Ice Mountains in the Arctic land of the legendary Vendequm, populated by industrious elves in toy-making shops.
Claus was informed by the eldest wise elf Dooley (Burgess Meredith), the Ancient One, that he was prophesied as the "Chosen One" - he was given a tailored red suit, and immortality, with a mission to deliver gifts and toys to children around the world each year:
Claus asked how he could deliver so many gifts around in the world in just one night, and was told: "Time travels with you. The night of the world is a passage of endless night for you, until your mission is done. This is your legacy, and your gift. As is the gift of flight" - with his famed sleigh and flying reindeer. He was renamed Santa:
Much of the early part of the film gave magical explanations for how the reindeer flew (they were fed with a magical grain), and how letters got to the North Pole.
The job of main 'toymaker' and Santa's assistant, after a competition, went to inventor elf Patch (Dudley Moore), noted for 'elf' jokes and puns. He made toys on an upgraded, automated, mass-production assembly line. (However, over time, the toy machines failed, producing breakable and defective toys of inferior quality.)
19th and modern-day 20th century subplots in the second half of the film were presented and interwoven. During his deliveries on Christmas Eve, Santa met homeless, orphaned begging street urchin Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick), and gave the disbelieving boy a sleigh ride (between NY skyscrapers). They attempted a roller coaster-like maneuver called the 'Super Duper Looper' - a 360 degree flip, but failed because of reindeer Donner's dizziness. After they arrived to deliver gifts at the home of young 9 year-old Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim), the wealthy step-niece of toy tycoon B.Z. (John Lithgow), she met up again with her friend Joe. As Santa left them, he promised to return the following year ("Next Christmas Eve, we've got a date, OK?"). [There were some very obvious product placements in this film for fast food and soft drinks - Joe gazed longingly at a family inside a McDonalds restaurant, and Cornelia left a can of Coca-Cola (Coke) and leftovers for Joe to consume at her doorstep.]
However, there was a major backlash against Santa and anyone associated with him due to the shoddy and cheap toys on the market that were upsetting children. Broken-down toys were being returned to the North Pole, where Santa was dismayed. Cornelia was bullied by some young classmates: "How can you be so dumb, Cornelia? Everyone knows he gives out shoddy cheap toys. My daddy says he's an old fake."
Disgraced, ashamed but well-intentioned elf Patch resigned - the misguided and naive Patch left the North Pole, and defected to work for evil, cigar-chomping industrialist toymaker B.Z. in the big city of New York. One of B.Z.'s cheap and dangerous products was a black and white teddy bear stuffed with nails, sawdust and glass. Another was a Betty Beauty doll that was highly volatile. As a result of a Congressional investigation, the government recalled the B.Z. Company's toys and was threatening to revoke its license and shut down the entire business ("The retail outlets are pulling our toys off the shelves so fast you'd think they were disease carriers").
Undeterred, B.Z's newest plan was to commercially take over the entire Christmas market for financial gain (with his all-new 'Christmas 2' - a second or sequel Christmas-day on March 25th), rather than giving away gifts for free. He exploited Patch's secret formula of magical Christmas powder-dust to make magical lollipops or suckers that allowed people to float and fly. His next product, using the formula, was anti-gravity candy canes (although potentially dangerous and bound to explode when exposed to heat). Santa sank into a depression, unable to compete, as B.Z. gloated ("Santa Claus is finished"). Knowing full-well that his product was dangerous, B.Z. planned to quickly make a fortune with the harmful product - and then flee to South America to avoid prosecution.
However, in the predictable conclusion of good vs. evil, superhero Santa came to the rescue in his sleigh, joining forces with Cornelia to destroy all of the deadly candy canes loaded into Patch's Patchmobile. They saved Joe and Patch (with a successful 'Super Duper Looper') - and ultimately prevented the dangerous commercialization of Christmas. The film ended with B.Z. soaring helplessly into outer space, after escaping authorities (who had come to arrest him) by overdosing on candy canes.
In a modern spin on Dickens', Scrooge (Bill Murray) is a TV exec and the Ghost of Christmas Past is a wise-guy NYC cab driver. With cameos from Mary Lou Retton, Lee Majors and the Solid Gold Dancers.
Producer/director Richard Donner's dark fantasy-comedy was a modern-day, updated version or retelling of the Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge tale. In part, it was also an updated version of Network (1976) in its satire on television. Its title was a bit of a misnomer because no one in the film was named Scrooge. It was not to be confused with two earlier black and white films from the UK: Scrooge (1935) or Scrooge (1951). Its tagline was: "The spirits will move you in odd and hysterical ways."
It told about cynical, cruel, depraved and selfish Francis Xavier "Frank" Cross (Bill Murray) who was a top NYC TV executive of the IBC-TV Network ("YULE LOVE IT"), interested only in improving its ratings. The film opened with Cross and his associates previewing new holiday season promos, including Lee Majors in the action flick The Night the Reindeer Died (with Santa holding an AK-47 and machine gun-armed elves at the North Pole), and a strange variety show - Bob Goulet's Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas. One of the promos was for Scrooge, which was set to air live on Christmas Eve. He screamed his distaste at his staff: "You guys have got an ad with America's favorite old fart reading a book in front of a fireplace! Now I have to kill all of you!"
The ruthless Cross showed his executives the dark, sadistic and terrifying promo that he preferred (with no relation to Scrooge), with sensational narration and visuals (including an H-bomb):
Cross commented: "Not bad, huh?" As a result, one of the viewers died as headlined in the Daily News: "IBC Kills Old Woman." Cross was pleased: "You can't buy publicity like this!" Examples of his stingy and maniacal behavior were many - he fired Eliot Loudermilk (Bob Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve after he expressed a critical personal opinion, shrugged off a Christmas-dinner invite from his brother, stole cabs from old ladies, was a cheap tipper, harassed street musicians as they entertained holiday shoppers, left his humanitarian award in the backseat of a cab, and called IBC's audiences "idiots and hicks." He gave everyone on his Christmas list either a bath towel or a VHS home video recorder.
His plan was to broadcast A Christmas Carol (titled Scrooge) as a live Christmas Eve special on national television. The vulgarized show would feature Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, and Solid Gold Dancers with G-strings. "We'll own Christmas," Frank declared. He decided to force his entire office staff, including overworked secretary/assistant Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard, the Bob Cratchit character), to work on the holiday evening to produce the show ("We're indivisible. If I'm working late, you GOTTA work late!").
In the reconfiguration of the original story, he was first visited by his decomposing former boss and mentor Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), the Jacob Marley character, a corpse imprisoned on earth, who warned: "If you don't change your ways, you're gonna wind up doomed, just as I am...I had it all. I was a captain of industry, feared by men, adored by women...I'm warning you, Frank. Don't waste your life as I did mine...Mankind should have been my business: charity, mercy, kindness, that should have been my business. Don't wait. Get yourself involved."
Cross was then haunted by three spirits who took him on a tour of Manhattan, although he doubted their effectiveness ("You're here to show me my past, and I'm supposed to get all dully-eyed and mushy. Well, forget it, pal, you got the wrong guy!"):
The Ghost of Christmas Past reminded him of his awful childhood that caused him to hate Christmas, and the 60s era when he was at one time happy during the holiday season with his true love, Claire (Karen Allen).
By film's end, he had an emotional change of heart - on air - accompanied by a deranged but inspired monologue at the conclusion of the live show when he urged the studio's cast and crew to care about each other:
Grace's mute son Calvin (Nicholas Phillips) spoke up with Tiny Tim's familiar phrase: "God bless everyone." Cross kissed and reconciled with Claire as everyone sang: "Put a Little Love In Your Heart."
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) (aka National Lampoon's Winter Holiday, UK)
Filled with sight gags and one-liners, Clark (Chevy Chase) and the Griswold family attempt to have an old-fashioned Christmas celebration, including chopping down a Christmas tree and lighting the house. Poor Clark wants nothing more than a happy holiday, but things go from bad to worse once his redneck relatives come to town.
Northern Chicago suburbs in the town (fictional) of Shermer, Illinois
Written by John Hughes with non-stop sight gags and one-liners, this hilarious comedy ("Yule Crack Up") was the third of the National Lampoon Vacation series of films. The suburban dysfunctional Griswold family, led by the inept, disaster-prone "family man" Clark (Chevy Chase), also included his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), son Rusty (Johnny Galecki), and daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis).
Clark was determined to have a good old-fashioned Christmas celebration.
Things didn't happen as expected during their family's seasonal festivities:
Home Alone (1990)
Step one: Hold cheeks. Step two: Scream!!! Kevin's (Macauley Culkin) fretful mom and tormented tormentors definitely do not feel the holiday spirit, as the young boy single-handedly defends his home against burglers on Christmas Eve.
In a Northern Chicago Suburb
This family-oriented holiday comedy was written and produced by John Hughes (and directed by Chris Columbus). Although it had a Christmas setting, it was not about the holiday itself, and has not been officially categorized as a "Christmas movie." Nonetheless, in a 2012 survey by the UK's video-on-demand service Blinkbox, it emerged as the favorite movie for families to watch over Christmas. It turned out to be a sleeper hit, and the highest-grossing (domestic) film of its year at $286 million.
The premise was very simple - and slightly plausible - a boy was left in his "home alone." The film's publicity materials included the image of the boy holding his cheeks and screaming - based on the famous painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. However, the scene wasn't related to his predicament, but to the fact that he had just applied stinging shaving cream to his face. He often screamed, though, at the sight of scary shovel-wielding neighbor Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom).
8 year-old youngest son Kevin (Macauley Culkin) woke up in the attic guest room to find that he was left behind. His family members, including his father and mother, Peter and Kate McCallister (John Heard and Catherine O'Hara) and two older brothers and sisters, had all taken an early flight to Paris, France to spend the Christmas holidays. The confused rush to leave was caused by a overnight power outage, high winds, and a late wake-up.
At first, Kevin was pleased that his earlier wish had come true and that he had made his family disappear ("This house is so full of people it makes me sick. When I grow up and get married, I'm living alone. Did you hear me? I'm living alone! I'm living alone!") and he welcomed the change. He was able to do things usually forbidden, such as jumping on the bed, sledding down the stairs and out the front door, stealing his brother Buzz's (Devin Ratray) savings and using his air-rifle, watching late night TV (including the hard-boiled noirish gangster film Angels with Filthy Souls, a takeoff on Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)), and eating junk food (including ice-cream sundae gorging).
He was forced to defend his Chicago home ("This is my house and I have to defend it") on Christmas Eve against The Wet Bandits ("It's Santy Claus and his Elf"), who had been casing homes in the northern suburban neighborhood in a blue van:
He set up Rube Goldbergian booby traps (with a "BATTLE PLAN" map) to ensnare the two bumbling, dim-witted thieves, and the resultant effects were seen in "violent," cartoonish, adult-bashing slapstick sequences, similar to wacky animations by Warner Bros' Chuck Jones, or the Roadrunner cartoons:
Kevin asked the besieged pair: "Do you guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?"
The film ended with the family, after a circuitous route, returning home, and Buzz finding destruction in his room: "Kevin, what did you do to my room?"
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Same 'Christmas Carol' story, but with a new execution that features a green frog and a singing diva pig. The Muppets retell the 1843 Dickens tale with Michael Caine portraying Scrooge and Kermit as Bob Cratchit.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Victorian London
This was the fourth feature-length Muppet movie (the first three Muppet films were released from 1979 to 1984), and the first Muppet movie to adapt and retell a classic story. (The children's family film was directed by Brian Henson, son of the deceased Muppets founder Jim Henson.) It was Disney's first feature film collaboration with the characters.
The puppet film was narrated by bent-nosed Gonzo ("a blue furry Charles Dickens") and his accident-prone assistant Rizzo the Rat. Rizzo provided helpful asides, anticipating young viewers' thoughts: "That's scary stuff. Should we be worried about kids in the audience?" Kermit the Frog was Scrooge's kindly, lowly assistant Bob Cratchit, with his wife Emily (Miss Piggy) and their sickly son Tiny Tim (Robin the Frog) walking with a crutch.
The Muppets retold the familiar 1843 Dickens tale - Michael Caine portrayed live-action, miserly, mean money-lender and mortgage company owner Scrooge ("Mr. Humbug"). "Even the vegetables don't like him." Gonzo described Scrooge:
He was happy about making even more money during the holidays:
He did not share in the merriment of the season:
His staff of nervous rodent bookkeepers, including Bob Cratchit, had to beg to have Christmas Day off from work. He stated: "I do not make merry at Christmas."
When Scrooge returned home on the eve of the holiday, he was first visited by two residents of the afterlife in chains - his former business partners Jacob and Robert Marley (hecklers Statler and Waldorf). As in the original story, they warned him to avoid the path that they had tread. They predicted that he would be visited (or "haunted") by three spirits during the night, beginning when the bell tolled one. Scrooge was fearful: "Can't I meet them all at once and get it over with?"f
The three ghosts were:
Bitter old Scrooge was made cognizant of his evil ways and vowed to redeem himself ("I, I will honor Christmas, and try to keep it all the year! I will live my life in the past, the present and the future. I will not shut out the lessons the spirits have taught me!"). He decided to be kind to others, including the Cratchits, and surprisingly, he raised the salaries of his workers.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Dont forget to read the fine print! Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) learns that the hard way after accidentally accepting the role of Santa. He deconstructs Saint Nick -- and reconstructs his waistline -- as a hapless Santa in training.
Fictional city of Lakeside, Illinois, also at the North Pole
This family holiday-fantasy film and surprise box-office hit was the first of three films - two sequels were The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006). It had the tagline: "No ifs or ands...Just one big butt."
During Christmas Eve, innocent pre-teen son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) was staying over at the house of his bitter father, 38-year-old divorced toy company marketing executive Scott Calvin (Tim Allen in his screen debut). Scott's ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) and Charlie's psychiatrist step-father Dr. Neil Miller (Judge Reinhold) wanted to instill disbelief in their jaded son about Christmas - that there was no Santa Claus. They stated that "Santa was more of a feeling. More of a state of mind than an actual person."
The two were awoken in the night when they heard noisy clatter on their rooftop caused by a trespasser. Scott accidentally startled Kris Kringle ("Hey, you!"), who fell from the roof into the snow on the ground - and then vanished, leaving behind his Santa clothing, sleigh filled with gifts and eight reindeer. In a note card left at the site, there were instructions in the event that anything happened to Santa ("If something should happen to me, put on my suit. The reindeer will know what to do"). The finder was to don the red clothing, enter the sleigh, and continue rounds. Charlie thought his father had 'killed' Santa. A reluctant Scott (with initials the same as Santa Claus) put on the red suit and was obligated to complete Saint Nick's deliveries before magically returning to the North Pole.
There, chief elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) explained that due to the "Santa Clause" in the fine print on the card, Scott had become the "new Santa" and accepted the contract when he put on the hat and jacket: "You put on the suit, you're the big guy." He was to fully assume Santa Claus' duties on Thanksgiving Day in 11 months.
Bernard described to Scott what would happen if he refused:
When Scott magically awakened the next day in his home, he dismissed everything as a dream. But the fact that he was becoming Santa Clause was evident, when Scott was putting on weight (with a voracious appetite) ("I've gained 45 pounds in a week") from eating cookies with hot chocolate, growing a white beard that resisted shaving, and adopting Santa-like behaviors about who was naughty or nice. Scott's boss Mr. Whittle (Peter Boyle) observed: "You're starting to look like the Pillsbury Doughboy," but Scott explained his weight gain as a "bee sting."
Charlie's mother and step-dad were worried that he had become delusional, so they had Scott's visitation rights with Charlie suspended. They became even more frantic when Charlie and Scott were whisked off to the North Pole for Christmas duties, believing that the boy had been kidnapped.
When Scott/Santa was making his deliveries at Laura's and Neil's house on Christmas Eve, he was arrested. However, everything turned out fine when a team of rescue-elves, the ELFS went to his rescue and freed him from jail.
After Scott's new identity was accepted, Neil and Laura received presents that they had always wanted (but were denied as children, making them disbelieve in Santa): an Oscar Mayer 'Wienie Whistle' and a 'Mystery Date' board game. They tossed restrictive custody papers into the fireplace.
Bernard told Charlie how to summon Scott/Santa at any time with a magical glass snow-globe:
Charlie was taken for a sleigh ride as the film concluded. As he flew away, Santa intoned that he was off to Cleveland: