Things always seem to work out in the movies. That's especially true when you're dealing with movies set during Christmas. For this reason, it's often nice, or at least surprising, when Christmas films run against expectations and exhibit less sappy or more macabre traits.

If you're going to have one of your characters execute another, why not have him do it in a Santa hat? Irony! Beyond that, Christmas always makes for aesthetically pleasing (to me) and evocative set design, which can't make a film better, but often makes them more enjoyable.

But mostly it's the guys with guns in Santa hats. That shit's gold.

Here are a handful of films that play against Christmas, rather than with it, to varying degrees of success.

Die Hard

What's great about Die Hard is that it's such an "un-Christmas" movie that just happens to be set during Christmastime. It's remarkable that there's only one really bad Christmas joke in the film (see the pic), but even the joke relies more on Alan Rickman's reading than the line itself.

The film actually opens with a strong Christmas theme (the limo ride for John), but that gives way to some of the best action cinema ever made, thankfully.

Batman Returns

Sure, the lush setting of a Gotham Christmas lured Tim Burton to set the Batman follow-up during the holidays, but the actual fact that it's Christmas seems to be the elephant in the room. There are lots of Christmas settings, but the characters in Gotham seem almost forbidden to talk about it, which actually helps to draw Gotham as a very distinct world.

I was hoping this film would get people to start associating penguins with Christmas, but it hasn't happened. Yet?


The fact that Crash is set during Christmas in Los Angeles is just another heavy-handed swipe at selling this movie as more dramatic than it actually is. That was a bit editorial, but the film sort of lumbers through its themes, so the setting seems destined to create a juxtaposition, similar to a boy standing right out of camera, yelling, "THAT'S THE TIME OF YEAR THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SO NICE TO EACH OTHER!"

It also seems as though it is played as a thematic connection between the different people, suggesting that the writers couldn't come up with a more organic one.

Sorry. This was harsher than I meant for it to be.

The Ice Harvest

Don't want to get too spoiler-y here, because the film wasn't seen by many. It's actually an awesomely dark crime film, mostly due to the fatalistic view. Nothing really goes well for anyone in this film, and the tension against the Christmas backdrop is the best since Die Hard.

Okay. Bad stuff happens to Billy Bob Thornton, so that should be enough reason to see the film.

The Ref

I can't tell if violent crime films set at Christmas are darker by nature, or if the Christmas backdrop is that somber in most films. Either way, The Ref smartly leverages Christmas as both the end of a long year for the hostage family and as the one day a year they are REALLY supposed to repress their vitriol. I don't really know if intra-family bickering and hatred is really an anti-Christmas or a Christmas characteristic. It doesn't matter. The Ref is a pretty tense look at the resentments we harbor, all set in a crime film.

Trading Places

Sure, the bad guys in this film get their comeuppance by the end of the film, and the good guys end up drinking on the beach with hot women, but here's the thing: It doesn't get resolved in time for Christmas. It's not until New Years and the following days that revenge is exacted. At Christmas, everyone was bummed and the story was still building. It's odd, but something that always bothered me. Perhaps because I am odd.

Black Christmas

Again, this horror film doesn't play to the Christmas theme as much as you would think (fear?), despite having "Christmas" in its name. Nothing terribly symbolic or thematic here. Just a bunch of sorority girls getting hacked up during the holidays. Not very Christmas-y. Not a bit.

Reindeer Games

Haha. REINDEER GAMES! It's a movie set during Christmas that has an awful Christmas pun/double entendre in the title. In fact, that's all the title is!

Ben Affleck gets forced to commit a robbery... during Christmas.