Holiday Movies: A Terrific Tradition

Traditions feel especially important during this time of year. The act of getting together with family and friends to celebrate the season by engaging in personal rituals that have been passed down from one generation to the next is both uniquely individual and a bond that ties us all together. We may be a little biased here, but we assert that there’s no better tradition that gathering with loved ones to watch a holiday movie.

When British film pioneer George Martin Smith released his Santa Claus short — widely believed to be the first Christmas-themed movie — in 1898, little did he realize that he was helping to usher in an enduring film genre that would mean so much to so many. As the decades passed, filmmaking techniques became more nuanced, storytelling more complex. Yet, at their very core, motion pictures ranging from White Christmas to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to The Night Before all have a deeply embedded love for the season of giving.

Some of the best Yuletide films are ones that underperformed during their original theatrical run. Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story–the 1983 classic starring Peter Billingsley as a 1940s kid who dreams of nothing more than receiving an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time”–is the most obvious example. But what you may not realize is that the feature that is widely considered to be the best holiday film ever made, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, also was a box office disappointment. Other movies that initially failed and later had a second life through television airings and home video rentals includePrancer,One Magic Christmas, and the 1985 Dudley Moore effort Santa Claus: The Movie.

Then there are what people refer to as the non-traditional Christmas films. These are movies set during the holidays, but not focused on them per se. Die Hard, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon, Trading Places, Rocky IV, Iron Man 3, and (arguably) Home Alone all fall in this category. Despite not having overt seasonal messages, all the aforementioned “Christmas-adjacent” flicks are fondly watched in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. (You can go right ahead and throw Planes, Trains and Automobiles on this list too, as that John Candy/Steve Martin effort from contemporary legend John Hughes is a perfect blend of broad comedy and gut-punch emotion).

Let’s also not forget the abundance of TV specials and holiday-themed episodes that make spirits bright. There’s a reason why A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (and all its companion Rankin-Bass programs) endure, and that’s because they are hugely entertaining with a great message about why the holidays are magic. The same can be said for Christmas episodes of sitcoms from I Love Lucy to Cheers and beyond, which help bring some ho ho ho hilarity to what can be a stressful time each year.

The lesson to be learned here is that movies and holiday programs connect people, during the hustle and bustle of December and always.

On behalf of the entire Movies Unlimited family, we also wanted to take a second to wish you and yours the most joyous of holiday seasons and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. Now what do you say, are you ready to make some memories with us?