Christmas is coming, which means the TV schedules are full of heartwarming movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Home Alone, The Holiday, and Love Actually.
It’s a cosy and sentimental time of year, but what if all this forced jollity makes you yearn to escape? What if, rather than wishing good will to all men, you feel nothing but alienation from them? Bah, humbug, indeed.
El Camino Christmas, launching on Netflix this month (December 8), may just be the ticket. Its offbeat tale of a group of strangers taken hostage in a liquor store on Christmas Eve adds to a growing number of films that turn the festive season on its head. Below are some of the best.
10. Batman Returns (1992)
If any season is associated with director Tim Burton, then it’s probably Halloween, but both Edward Scissorhands and this, his second Batman outing, take place at Christmas. Gotham is dusted with a layer of snow as the Caped Crusader (Michael Keaton) confronts the evil trio of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Penguin (Danny DeVito), and Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). In fact, the film’s final line is “Merry Christmas — and good will to all men. And women,” uttered by Bruce Wayne to his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Gough), though we can be pretty sure he’s thinking of Michelle Pfeiffer in that latex catsuit.
9. Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante‘s cult classic starts with an unusual Christmas gift: a cute little critter called Gizmo. But when he gets wet, he multiplies, and before you can say “don’t feed them after midnight,” the gremlins are raising hell all over town. Lots of yuletide tropes are skewered along the way, not least when barmaid Kate (Phoebe Cates) recounts how her dad died in a chimney while dressed as Santa.
8. Roger and Me (1988)
Michael Moore‘s tale of corporate greed in his hometown of Flint, Michigan acquires added poignancy thanks to its yuletide setting. The documentary maker finally meets General Motors CEO Roger Smith on Christmas Eve, but gets short shrift when he tries to tell him about the GM workers being evicted the previous day. A reminder that Christmas is not Christmas for everyone.
7. The Ice Harvest (2005)
“Only morons are nice at Christmas.” Billy Bob Thornton makes his first of two misanthropic appearances on our list in this comedy thriller by Harold Ramis. His character Vic and Charlie (John Cusack) steal $2 million from their mob boss right before the holiday, then discover it’s too icy to leave town.
6. Black Christmas (1974)
It wouldn’t be a Christmas list without at least one horror movie. The tension in this psychological thriller is intense, as a group of sorority girls are hounded by threatening phone calls while a man stalks and murders them one by one. As the film’s tagline says: “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight.”
5. The Ref (1994)
Just as the thieves in Home Alone weren’t expecting Macauley Culkin, Gus (Denis Leary) is not expecting husband and wife the Chasseurs (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) when he drops in on them uninvited on Christmas Eve. Miserably married to one another, their constant bickering and awful relatives threaten to get them all killed by the end of the day. Hilariously hateful.
4. Trading Places (1983)
John Landis‘ role-reversal comedy might not strike you as a holiday classic, but in Italy it’s so associated with the festive season it’s shown every Christmas Eve on national TV. A wealthy commodities broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a street hustler (Eddie Murphy) become unwitting pawns in a cruel bet by a pair of finance executives, meaning it has as much to say about poverty and corporate cynicism as Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol.
3. Bad Santa (2003)
Billy Bob Thornton‘s department-store St Nick is hardly a saint: he swears like a trooper, drinks like a fish, and the less said about his sex life the better. Director Terry Zwigoff turns even this bad guy into a sympathetic hero, however, which is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
2. Ordinary People (1980)
“I want this to be a nice Christmas,” says Mary Tyler Moore in this stylish, Oscar-winning film about a normal middle-class family in suburban Chicago. The trouble is, her husband (Donald Sutherland) is distant, their eldest son Buck has died, and their other son Conrad (Timothy Hutton) is struggling with clinical depression having tried to take his own life. The family’s woes are bad enough, but they are made all the worse by the impending festivities.
1. Die Hard (1988)
Nothing is more likely to give us a fuzzy feeling than killing terrorists in L.A.’s Nakatomi tower. That’s where police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is trapped after attending a Christmas party, during a heist led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, in his breakout movie role). No-one has ever uttered a “ho ho ho” less convincingly.
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