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Underrated and alternative Christmas films

By Kara Santos Published Dec 02, 2020 11:23 pm

Typical Christmas movies are notoriously cheesy and formulaic. Just browse through the holiday special selection on Netflix and you’ll see what I mean. Most offer purely escapist fairy tale romances set to the backdrop of snowy landscapes or misfit family movies where everything will inevitably work out in the end.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with watching shows like that. We could all use a bit of holiday cheer amid all the doom and gloom.

But if you're looking for something a little different to watch this year, here are a few underrated and alternative Christmas films that still manage to capture the spirit of the season.

Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

While the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard adaptation released in 2000 has its fans, it didn't have the same magic as the original animated version of Dr. Seuss' Christmas tale by Warner Bros.

Featuring the voice talents of Boris Karloff as both the narrator and the Grinch himself, the first Grinch to leap from the pages of Dr. Seuss books to steal Christmas (and our hearts) onscreen debuted as a cartoon special in 1966.

This cartoon gave us the memorable song You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch, along with some of the most iconic Christmas images that have been referenced in numerous other Holiday films. Who can forget that sly smile that creeps across the Grinch's face, or the moment the Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grich Stole Christmas is a timeless classic worth watching every year.

You can watch the full TV cartoon special online from Daily Motion.

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins, written by Chris Columbus and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, is a classic Christmas story gone awry. The black comedy set during Christmas time draws on legends of folkloric mischievous creatures that caused malfunctions ("gremlins") in the British Royal Air Force going back to World War II.

The film, starring Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, starts out with a father who just wants to buy a present for his son. Unfortunately, he ends up buying a strange creature called a mogwai from a Chinatown shop that magically spawns destructive, evil creatures, leading to good, old-fashioned holiday bedlam.

Despite being a critical and commercial success, the film was heavily criticized for some of its more violent sequences, leading its sequel Gremlins: A New Batch (1990) to adopt a more cartoon-like and slapstick approach.

Gremlns is available to watch via YouTube.

Scrooged (1988)

This American Christmas comedy film offers a modern retelling of Charles Dickens's 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, featuring Bill Murray as the Ebenezer Scrooge-like Frank Cross, a cynical and selfish television executive, who is visited by a succession of ghosts on Christmas Eve intent on helping him regain his Christmas spirit.

Originally released in 1988, Scrooged was only a moderate box office hit during its opening weekend, but is now considered a cult classic that was way ahead of its time. While it’s been criticized by experts as being too mean-spirited and for how it condemns the commercialization of Christmas, Scrooged has also been described as the “perfect holiday movie for bitter, reluctant, closet Christmas lovers.”

Scrooged is available to watch on YouTube.

Babes in Toyland (1986)

This low-budget made-for-TV holiday movie may have been buried under obscurity over the years, but the fact that it stars a young Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, may be of interest to fans of old films.

The Wizard of Oz-ish Yuletide story follows Lisa (Barrymore), a girl who awakes in a magic world of Toyland, where she joins a toy-master (Pat Morita) and storybook figures like Jack (Reeves) against an evildoer Barnaby (Richard Mulligan).Though this may not be at the top of any Christmas movie lists, it's still a fun, sweet, Christmas family movie for all.

Babes in Toyland is available to watch via Amazon.

Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard’s status as a Christmas movie is considered meme material at this point. The 1988 action film starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexandar Godunov and Bonnie Bedelia, follows New York City police detective John McClane (Willis) who gets caught up in a terrorist takeover of a Los Angeles skyscraper while visiting his estranged wife.

While Die Hard is often considered one of the greatest action films ever made, it’s also been retroactively called one of the best Christmas films, since the film’s events take place on Christmas eve.

Die Hard is currently streaming on Netflix.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

When people think of Tim Burton and Christmas, the first movie that immediately comes to mind is The Nightmare Before Christmas. But three years before we got the iconic stop-motion dark fantasy musical, we were introduced to another gleefully grim holiday movie featuring apuppet-like humanoid named Edward, who has scissor blades instead of hands.

Edward Scissorhands contains some of the most memorable holiday scenes Burton has ever put to film, notably when Edward (played by Johnny Depp) carves an angelic ice sculpture for Kim, Winona Ryder’s character. The ice shavings are thrown into the air and fall like artificial snow.

With themes that tackle alienation and acceptance, Edward Scissorhands is a great pick-me-up for anyone feeling isolated or melancholy during the holiday season, which will probably apply to practically everyone this year.

Edward Scissorhands is available to watch via YouTube.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol is an American musical fantasy comedy film produced by Jim Henson Productions and released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Another adaptation of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, this family-friendly film stars Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, alongside Muppet performers portraying various roles, including Gonzo narrating the film as Charles Dickens, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, and other muppet cast members including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Robin the Frog, and Statler and Waldorf.

The Muppet Christmas Carol was released in December 1992, to only modest box office success, as it faced competition from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Disney’s own Aladdin.

However, since its release, it's become a favorite holiday classic. The Muppet Christmas Carol offers a funny and heartwarming take on the classic Christmas tale and serves as a good holiday movie for young viewers.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is available to watch via YouTube.

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

We’re not talking about the new K-drama here with the same name, but the 1995 romantic film starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher.

In the film, Bullock plays Lucy, a lonely toll booth worker who doesn't have any plans for Christmas until she saves a handsome stranger (Gallagher) when he falls off the train tracks. Things get complicated when the family of the comatose man, including his brother (Pulllman) assumes she is his fiancée. The modern fairy tale manages to recapture the spirit of the season and family dynamics without being too sappy or predictable.

While You Were Sleeping is available to watch via YouTube.

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (2006)

If you enjoyed The Nightmare Before Christmas, you'll probably like Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. Set in the Discworld, Sir Terry Pratchett's fantasy realm of wizards and dwarves, Hogfather sees the Grim Reaper trading his scythe and black cloak for a red-furred coat and sleigh as he serves as a substitute for the world's version of Santa. As a whole, this obscure film offers a strange and dark comic fantasy with Monty Python-esque humor and writing, vastly different from the typical Christmas movies Hollywood churns out year after year.

The Hogfather is available to watch via Amazon.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

For those looking for a Christmas film like they've never seen before, the premise of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale sounds just too good to pass up. This little-known Finnish fantasy film written and directed by Jalmari Helander has been described as an “R-rated evil Santa Claus origin story.”

The movie, set on Christmas Eve in Finland, follows a group of people living near the Korvatunturi mountain who discover the secret behind Santa Claus after unearthing him in an archaelogical dig. The trailer shows such a bizarre blend of deadpan comedy, weird horror, and Christmas-related craziness, making this a welcome addition to balance out other saccharine selections.

While Rare Exports is currently not available on any streaming sites, it has has been released for home media on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

The Grinch (2018)

The 2018 American computer-animated version produced by Illumination and distributed by Universal Pictures is the third and most recent onscreen adaptation of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! This time around, the Grinch is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, while the story is narrated by Pharrell Williams.

Like the previous versions, the film's plot follows the Grinch and his dog, Max, as they plan to ruin Whoville's Christmas celebration by stealing all the town's decorations and gifts.

The Grinch manages to give the classic Seuss source material a modern and brightly animated update that's suitable for younger viewers while remaining faithful to the source material.

The Grinch (2018) is available to watch via YouTube.