30 ‘Christmas Movies’ That Aren’t Actually Christmas Movies At All

Die Hard

Yep, we went there! Don’t get us wrong, Die Hard is one of the most important action films ever made, but is it really a Christmas movie? It’s certainly set at Christmas: John McClane crashes the office Christmas party, dresses a dead bad guy as Santa, and the whole thing ends with Let It Snow.

But where’s Santa Claus? Where’s the Christmas spirit? The festive season is a time to put your grievances aside and come together with family. Dropping a terrorist off a skyscraper doesn’t seem very Christmassy to us. Die Hard is simply a brilliant, but there’s precious little that's festive about it.

The Railway Children

The Railway Children follows some posh British kids slumming it in Yorkshire and stopping a train crash with their petticoats. Let’s be honest though, the only reason The Railway Children is ever included on lists of Christmas films is that it’s often screened during the holiday season (particularly in its native United Kingdom).

The steam train is also a key factor: for whatever reason, trains just feel festive! They made an entire film about a Christmas train: 2004's The Polar Express! But is that enough to make The Railway Children a Christmas film? Absolutely not.

Trading Places

A modern take on Mark Twain’s classic novel The Prince and the Pauper, the plot of Trading Places (1983) involves an upper-class commodities broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a homeless street hustler (Eddie Murphy) crossing paths and unknowingly being made part of an elaborate bet.

Like Die Hard, Trading Places is another film that’s definitively set at Christmas, but really has very little to do with the festive season. Still, the film has become a Christmas staple for many - especially in Italy, where it has been shown on TV every single Christmas since 1997!

Batman Returns

Would it be Christmas without vigilante justice in a corrupted gothic city? Yes, it would. Batman Returns is a dark twist on a Christmas movie, with its gaudy decorations on snowy streets, a pageant queen called The Ice Princess, and a few quippy lines about the season when Batman and Catwoman are under the mistletoe.

Unfortunately, there's nothing Christmassy about the plot, which sees Penguin conspire to kill all of Gotham’s firstborn children. You might argue that the Penguin’s scheme mirrors Herod’s execution of children after Jesus’ birth - but if it’s inspired by something that comes after Jesus’ birth, surely it’s more of a New Year’s story?

Lady and the Tramp

Following the touching romance between two dogs from very different class brackets, many of you will undoubtedly have fond memories of sitting down to watch Lady and the Tramp at Christmastime. Unfortunately, that alone isn’t enough for it to score festive points.

Themes of charity and generosity abound, but that doesn’t change one hugely important fact that should disqualify this film from any Christmas list. Since the majority of the action takes place at a time when it isn’t Christmas, how could you possibly call this a Christmas film?

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music may not be all that Christmassy, but the film is certainly a worldwide phenomenon, and somehow manages to contain both a scene about yodelling puppets and one about being pursued by Nazis without the entire movie collapsing in on itself.

That’s not to say that Christmas goes completely unmentioned: Julie Andrews chirping about warm woollen mittens and sleigh bells does rustle up a certain festive hygge. But as much as we love the film, there’s no way of sugar-coating it: The Sound of Music has nothing to do with Christmas.

The Lord of the Rings

There’s nothing more escapist than high fantasy, and for many people, there’s not a Christmas that goes by without at least some of Peter Jackson’s incomparable Lord of the Rings trilogy playing on TV. Alas, The Lord of the Rings contains – count them – zero mentions of Christmas in any of its films.

Granted, this might be because the story takes place in a completely separate world, but even The Chronicles of Narnia managed to squeeze in Santa Claus, so Peter Jackson could really try harder! Still, given Gandalf is a kindly, all-knowing old man with a big white beard, it's easy to get St. Nick vibes.

The Great Escape

Against all odds, The Great Escape marks the second instance of running away from Nazis on this list. This landmark prisoner of war film has become a Christmas watch for many, especially in the UK where frequently enjoys TV screenings on Christmas Day.

Unfortunately, beyond prolific viewing during Yuletide, there’s not much Christmassy about The Great Escape. True, the prisoners do sing The 12 Days of Christmas to mask some deft slat thievery, but that’s about it. Even worse, the film’s sombre ending falls short of the kind of heartwarming Christmas morals we’ve come to expect.

Home Alone

Let’s get really controversial. Many list Home Alone (1990) as their top festive film, but it has a lot less to do with Christmas than you might think. Sure, it's set at Christmas, and features Kevin listening to carols at a church. He even meets a guy dressed as Santa. Must be Christmassy, right?

Well, the main thrust of the film's plot leaves a lot to be desired in terms of festive cheer. Now, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992), that’s an honest-to-goodness Christmas film, as it sees the Wet Bandits attempting to rob a toy store on Christmas. Macaulay Culkin’s first outing? Not so much.

Gremlins

Let’s be frank: Gremlins isn’t a Christmas film. Much of the film’s Christmas credentials hinge on the fact that Gizmo the Mogwai is given as a Christmas present, and there’s a scene in which Kate describes how her father died and rotted in a chimney while dressed as Santa Claus, which doesn't exactly fill us with Christmas spirit.

But apart from these points, Christmas is largely irrelevant. It’s worth remembering that Gremlins wasn’t even intended as a Christmas flick: it was released summer 1984, and sparked controversy for its violence - not to mention the aforementioned dead dad story, in which Kate flatly tells the kids in the audience that Santa isn't real.

Jumanji

Christmas is a time for board games, but we’re talking Monopoly and Cluedo, not ones that suck you into a dangerous jungle. Still, Jumanji (1995) has become a festive classic due in part to its star Robin Williams, something of a real-life Santa Claus in the eyes of many.

Sure, the film ends at a Christmas party, but the bulk of the film takes place earlier in the year. So as much as we love the film, there just isn’t enough here to call it a Christmas movie. We certainly wouldn’t say no to rewatching during the summer though.

Rent

Rent takes place between Christmas Eve 1989 and Christmas Eve 1990. There are some memorable winter moments in the film, which sees a group of queer people living the bohemian New York lifestyle against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. It also features themes of togetherness and battling against the odds, which is certainly Christmassy.

However, this movie also features characters cheating on each other, stealing money from an ATM and even discussing killing a dog in cold blood for Thanksgiving food money! Ultimately, Rent is another good example of a film set between two Christmases that fails to live up to the jollity of the season.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

This is a complicated one, whose status as either a Christmas film or a Halloween film has been subject to debate since the film was released. There are great arguments on both sides: there’s a whole sequence in Christmas Town, Jack dresses up as Santa Claus and of course, the real Santa Claus features.

At the same time, we spend most of the film watching gruesome creatures make ghoulish presents, and who can forget the finale in which Oogie Boogie is unzipped, revealing a writhing mass of horrible bugs? Overall, the film is far more concerned with the aesthetics and gothic horror of Halloween.

Iron Man 3

Not many people would say that Iron Man 3 is their favourite Christmas film. In fact, there aren’t many who’d say it’s even their favourite Iron Man film. The conclusion to Marvel’s Iron Man trilogy sees Tony Stark battling against the devious Mandarin and his attempt to assassinate the president.

However, much as the film might be set at Christmas, its plot really doesn’t evoke any kind of Christmassy vibes. For one thing, it’s about people being filled with goo that makes them super strong and fast. When we fill ourselves with turkey and eggnog, we get a lot slower!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Is the first Harry Potter a Christmas film? Some think so, as one of it's most memorable moments is the castle’s transformation into a Christmas extravaganza. Oh, and it's another movie which prominently features a steam train, which as we've noted seems to make any movie feel festive.

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that this or any of the Harry Potter films really qualify as Christmas movies - not even fourth instalment Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with its lengthy, pivotal Yule Ball sequence. Christmas may briefly appear, but it's not the focal point of the narrative.

It’s A Wonderful Life

Maybe it’s ambitious to disqualify what many see as the greatest Christmas film of all time from the festive rankings – but hear us out! It’s a Wonderful Life is a bonafide classic, a heartwarming story of how each human life has value - but still, it doesn’t really have much to do with Christmas.

Sure, George Bailey contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve, and the idea of an angel coming down from heaven fits with the classic nativity story, but otherwise, the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life is far more concerned with the life of one man and the fate of a local building society.

Mean Girls

One of the most iconic scenes in Mean Girls is a rendition of Jingle Bell Rock, in which the film's central female quartet are dressed up in relatively risqué Santa suits. For this reason alone, the 2004 teen comedy has often been listed as a Christmas movie.

However, much like the Harry Potter movies, Mean Girls is set over the course of an entire school year - and while that may inevitably include Christmas, this doesn't mean the movie is actually about Christmas overall. You never heard Santa say "Get in loser, we're going shopping," did you?

Eyes Wide Shut

Best known for being the last film of the late, great director Stanley Kubrick and the final on-screen collaboration of the soon-to-be divorced Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut is also notable for being set at Christmas time in New York City, which is famously picturesque in the holiday season.

Still, not only was the film actually shot in England, it also fails to capture the spirit of Christmas at all. Is there really anything particularly festive about marital strife, obsessive jealous, and a search for a sexual experience which somehow ends up with a secret society performing some vaguely Satanic rite?

Edward Scissorhands

Edward Scissorhands may be one of the best-loved films of director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp. But for those insisting that this is a Christmas film: cut it out. Depp stars as the eponymous artificial man, an unfinished creation who’s adopted scissors for hands – festive, right?

The basis for Edward Scissorhands being considered a Christmas film is mostly down to the ensuing snow when Edward beautifully crafts an ice sculpture.But, come on now, you can’t say that’s something’s a Christmas film just because there’s snow! You wouldn’t call Snowpiercer a Christmas film, would you?

Jaws: The Revenge

Completed in only nine months (and it shows on camera), 1987's Jaws: The Revenge is one of the most notoriously awful blockbuster movies ever, and sees a widowed Ellen Brody face off against, you guessed it, a rather large shark. And guess what? It's set at Christmas!

The film's opening scene sees a character killed by a shark because his pleas for help were drowned out by carolling! But you’d have to be an utter contrarian to genuinely argue that this is a seasonal flick just because of that. Put the shark in a Santa hat, though, and we might reconsider.

Rocky IV

One of the most popular entries in the beloved boxing drama franchise (and probably the corniest), 1985's Rocky IV sees Sylvester Stallone's Italian Stallion step in the ring with Dolph Lundgren's Soviet superman Ivan Drago - and on Christmas Day, no less!

Given that it's partially set in the Christmas season, features scenes of Rocky training in an idyllic winter wonderland, and ends with Rocky wishing his son a Merry Christmas, some would argue Rocky IV counts as a Christmas movie... but really, it's just another Rocky movie that happens to be set at Christmas time.

Lethal Weapon

It opens to the tune of Jingle Bell Rock! There are Christmas trees everywhere! Riggs watches a festive Bugs Bunny cartoon! Surely Lethal Weapon qualifies as a proper Christmas movie, right? What's more festive than a suicidal widower cop and his middle-aged partner killing scores of bad guys to rescue the older cop's kidnapped daughter...?

While it may deal in part with the importance of family bonds, Lethal Weapon isn't especially Christmassy. All it really did was establish that screenwriter Shane Black has a thing about setting movies in the holiday season, as we saw earlier in the list with Iron Man 3, and will see again later...

Grumpy Old Men

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon co-star in 1993 comedy Grumpy Old Men, and as the title suggest they play elderly gentlemen of a less than sunny disposition. The movie is also set largely in the less-than-temperate final months of the year, with a portion of the access taking place over Christmas.

To further that connection, Grumpy Old Men even opened in theaters on Christmas Day, 1993. Still, while it's snowy and there are Christmas decorations all over the place, it's debatable as to just how significant the holiday season really is to the film in terms of plot.

Black Christmas (1974)

Remade twice (in 2006 and 2019), Black Christmas is sometimes considered the original slasher film - and given that the holiday is right there in the title, many also consider at dark alternative to the standard festive favorites. In truth, though, Christmas doesn't really have that big a role to play in the Canadian shocker.

The movie involves the tenants of a sorority house coming under attack by an unseen maniac. This ultimately could happen any time of year, and when you think about it, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense happening at Christmas, as most college students go home for the holidays.

Reindeer Games

Any movie whose title is lifted straight from the lyrics of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer must be a full-on festive flick, right? Well, not necessarily, as 2000's Reindeer Games is another one that's set around Christmas but hardly imbued with the reason for the season.

It may star Ben Affleck and Gary Sinise as criminals in Santa suits who pull a casino heist on December 24th, but otherwise this twisty-turny crime thriller has very little festive about it. They could have set it in the summer with thieves in Hawaiian shirts, and it would have been basically the same movie.

Meet Me in St. Louis

1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis is often considered a Christmas classic for one simple reason: it features Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, a poignant ballad which has long since become standard listening during the holiday season.

However, while the song is without a doubt a Christmas classic, the seasonal scenes in Meet Me in St. Louis are brief, and occur midway through the film. The story is actually set over the course of a year, from summer 1903 to spring 1904.

The French Connection

Look, kids! It's Santa Claus! And he's... chasing a perp down a New York street, then roughing him up and harshly interrogating him without reading his Miranda rights! That's right, it's The French Connection: multi-Oscar winner, stone cold classic cop thriller, and sort-of Christmas movie.

Director William Friedkin's movie opens with Gene Hackman's hard-nosed cop 'Popeye' Doyle posing as a street Santa collecting for charity. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that the Christmas spirit is one of the many things Doyle doesn't care about, others including due process, speed limits, and the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Night of the Comet

Stars have a special symbolic importance to Christmas, so if a comet came passing the Earth in the days leading up to Christmas, it makes sense that many people would go out and watch. However, in 1984's Night of the Comet that proves a big mistake, as the astral phenomenon wipes out the spectators.

There's nothing especially festive about the idea of 99% of humanity being wiped out overnight, with the few human survivors being forced to battle mutant zombies to survive. Still, giving the setting, it's no wonder this quirky sci-fi horror comedy has become something of a cult favorite around the holiday season.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Screenwriter Shane Black does it again. 1996's The Long Kiss Goodnight is another of the writer's smart-mouthed action thrillers that takes place over the holiday season, and even features a scene in which Geena Davis' homely amnesiac dresses as Santa's wife for her small town's Christmas parade.

Of course, this is before she discovers she less Mrs. Claus, more Black Widow, as a surprise attack brings to light lethal skills she never knew she had. A roaring, bullet-ridden bloodbath ensues, and from that point all the jolly festivity goes straight out the window.

First Blood

Rocky IV wasn't Sylvester Stallone's original stealth Christmas movie. The same can also be said of First Blood, the debut of the iconic character of John Rambo. Far less gung ho than its sequels, the 1982 film sees the PTSD-stricken Vietnam veteran snap and go on the warpath in a small Pacific Northwest town.

While no one in the film ever directly comments on it being Christmas time, there are plenty of trees and decorations littering the town, some of which Rambo winds up obliterating with his machine gun. Once more, the holiday is little more than winding dressing in the movie, and hardly essential to the story.

Ghostbusters II

Most of us would say a man in red slipping down our chimney in the middle of the night would qualify as something strange in our neighborhood. While Saint Nick himself doesn't make an appearance, Ghostbusters II is set around the holiday season, though the film tends to downplay this.

If you choose to watch the 1989 supernatural comedy sequel on Christmas, we won't hold it against you - but surely it's more of a New Year's movie, as its quasi-apocalyptic climax is set on the January 31st that ushered in that then-new and exciting decade, the 1990s.

Holiday Inn

Before it was the name of a global hotel chain, Holiday Inn was a beloved 1942 musical comedy starring the legendary Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It also became a seasonal classic thanks to the presence of a certain little song called White Christmas.

The filmmakers did not consider this to be Holiday Inn's standout song, but White Christmas proved so popular it became a seasonal standard, and later the title track in the 1954 film White Christmas. However, Holiday Inn's Christmas scenes are fleeting, the story being spread out over many months.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Having proven his love for Christmas on several films as a writer, Shane Black demonstrated it once again on his directorial debut, 2005 comedy thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The film sees Robert Downey Jr.'s smalltime crook/aspiring actor and Val Kilmer's private investigator get embroiled in a bizarre mystery - in late December, no less.

Sure, we've got Christmas decorations all over the place, Downey robbing a toy store for his son's gift, and Michelle Monaghan in a saucy Santa dress, but otherwise the holiday season again doesn't have much to do in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang other than show up in the background.

The Apartment

1960's The Apartment is arguably director Billy Wilder's masterpiece. Winner of five Oscars including Best Picture, it's a bold blend of romantic comedy and hard-edged drama, tackling what were very sensitive subjects for the time. And, you guessed it, it's also set around Christmas.

The case could be made that the film's optimistic conclusion echoes the hopeful spirit of the holiday season. Alas, any film that features multiple middle-aged men committing adultery and one of their mistresses attempting suicide can hardly be considered all that festive.

Three Days of the Condor

Considered one of the all-time great political/spy thrillers, Three Days of the Condor casts Robert Redford as a CIA historian forced to go on the run when the rest of his team is murdered. Exactly which three days they are is never specified, but it would certainly appear to be in December.

Christmas is never really addressed in the film, so it's the kind of taut, suspenseful movie that's entertaining to watch any time of year. Still, some argue it should be considered a Christmas film thanks to the abundance of decorations, Santa suits and caroling going on in the background.

Invasion USA

Yes, believe it or not this deranged Chuck Norris action romp from 1985 might be considered a Christmas film. The movie sees cartoonish Soviet bad guys attack the US during the holidays, even going so far as to bazooka a suburban house decked out in lights!

Chuck may rock a great beard, but his double denim doesn't look much like Santa's red and white suit, and the only gifts he hands out are bullets and roundhouse kicks. Unless you're someone who dreams of a blood-red Christmas, Invasion USA really shouldn't be considered a festive film.

Jumanji: The Next Level

After legacy sequel Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (which drops hints of being set around Christmas) proved an unexpectedly big box office hit at Christmas 2017, the filmmakers embraced the season more whole-heartedly on 2019 sequel Jumanji: The Next Level.

The film shows the real world young heroes going home for the holidays, and takes them into snowy realms within the video game world. Still, the third Jumanji movie is ultimately a comedy adventure that can be watched any time of year.

Cobra

We're beginning to suspect that Sylvester Stallone might be Hollywood's biggest closet Christmas nut. On top of First Blood and Rocky IV taking place against a holiday season backdrop, so too does his 1986 thriller Cobra, in which he plays a tough cop on the trail of a deranged cult of serial killers.

Christmas is barely mentioned in the movie, and Lt. Cobretti most definitely doesn't display good will to all men. Even so, there are enough trees and decorations in the background for some to argue Cobra should be considered a Christmas movie... even though they're wrong.

Carol

Surely there's no surer mark of a festive film than for it to be set at Christmas, and entitled Carol! Still, while some fans of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara might like to put this one on in the holidays, it would be a bit of a stretch to consider it a bona fide Christmas movie.

Centered on a same sex relationship at a time when this was massively frowned upon by society, the 2015 film earned rave reviews and many accolades (including a Best Actress Award for Mara at Cannes, and Oscar nominations for both Mara and Blanchett). It's status as a Christmas film, though, is debatable at best.

Die Hard 2

Well, we already mentioned the original, so of course we also need to touch on Die Hard 2! There are those who argue this is more of a Christmas movie than Die Hard, at least in part as it's set in snowy Washington rather than sunny California, which immediately makes it feel more Christmassy.

Of course, much like its predecessor, Die Hard 2 may take place on Christmas Eve, but it's hardly festive in tone and content. We want to see Santa coming down from the sky on his sleigh, not an entire plane full of passengers crashing to their fiery deaths!