Growing up, what was better than the holidays to a kid? You were out of school, the weather had a chill in the air, and stuffing your face with great food and opening presents were right around the proverbial corner. But for me, the best part of the holiday season hands down was going to the movies. And what better time could be had than being in the multiplex for hours on end watching big budget, holiday-themed movie extravaganzas?
Hello, Gremlins. Hello, Home Alone. Hello…Die Hard? More on that last one in a moment.
This holiday season, I suspect most of us will not be headed to the multiplex on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day like we used to back in pre-pandemic times. But I’m safely certain that, for a couple hours at least, between holiday brunch and the next pants-tightening festive feast - there will be a screen somewhere close playing some classic holiday movie. Because the Holidays wouldn’t be the same without them. And for a few precious hours, fully decorated households will be filled with an air of nostalgia, sentiment, and tradition where everyone is parked in the same living room/den watching a flick together.
So, what is a holiday genre movie, anyway?
If cinema, which I think we can all agree, is a medium designed to evoke strong emotions from an audience, then my loose definition of the holiday genre is one that creates memories of a particular moment in time. Often, better times when everyone was together and being self-reflective. What are holidays, if not a time to stop our everyday existence and reflect on life and the times we are living in?
But that’s only a loose definition. If I had to be more succinct, I’d say holiday movies today range from narratives that deal directly with a specific holiday-theme (read any number of Hallmark Christmas romantic melodramas), to more blended affairs such as 2021’s Silent Night, starring Keira Knightley, where a group of friends gather at a posh English country manor for the holidays. But when they learn that the world is about to literally end, they suddenly realize this is their last Christmas. A pretty far cry from your previous holiday movie, Love, Actually isn’t it, Keira?
Not into the Christmas Apocalypse sub-genre, are you? No worries, there is a holiday-themed movie for everyone out there. And that’s largely the point. Because what we call a holiday movie can be boiled down to whatever makes you nostalgic and sentimental for a specific holiday in my book. People argue online constantly about whether Die Hard (1988) with Bruce Willis is or isn’t a Christmas movie. Having been on Earth long enough to remember seeing Die Hard in the theatre when it first came out – I can argue with anyone the merits of it being a Christmas movie, even if the themes of masculinity, gender roles, vengeance and American anxieties over foreign influences are not generally associated with Christmas.
Die Hard often makes the list of best Christmas films, in spite of the fact it was released on July 15, and considered a landmark action thriller that redefined that genre for its depiction of Willis’s McClane main character as a vulnerable and fallible protagonist. But I like to think Die Hard is a Christmas film because McClane fights to save and then be reunited with his wife on Christmas Eve. Because really, what’s a Christmas movie without a Christmas tree visible in the background, snowflakes, and family?
Find out how to write the next great holiday movie script in the upcoming webinar FLICK THE HALLS: Writing The Next Holiday Classic with Jon James Miller on Thursday, December 2 at 1:00 pm PDT, only at Script University.