ou’ve unwrapped your gifts, gorged yourself on a massive breakfast, and curled up next to a roaring fire. It’s Christmas, and it’s time to throw on the perfect movie. Sometimes, however, the obvious Christmas classics feel a little too obvious. We’re here to help with a list of Christmas movies that aren’t really Christmas movies. These are the movies, for some reason, we keep coming back to for the holiday season.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

12. Phantom Thread (2017)

Ho ho haute couture!

Phantom Thread was released on Christmas, and it’s not hard to see why. While the film isn’t overtly about the yuletide spirit, it emanates a lush, wintery aura that fits in perfectly with the holiday. Yes, one of the film’s most memorable scenes happens during a New Year’s Eve party, but it really does feel Christmas-y.

Phantom Thread inhabits an unusual space in Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography, far more understated than his most popular works like Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood. But upon revisit, you’ll see it has just as much to offer.

Non Christmas holiday movies


Phantom Thread may not exactly be synonymous with Christmas, but its gorgeous winter-time cinematography and twisted love story make it a great Christmastime watch.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

11. In Bruges (2008)

Merry Christmas from Bruges

Christmas in Europe just hits different. Christmas in Europe with two sociopathic killers hits really different. 

In Bruges is a cult classic, and for good reason. Martin McDonough’s knife-sharp dialogue is on full display, and perfectly delivered by Colin Ferrell and Brendan Gleeson. The duo bounce off of each other so well that they teamed up with McDonough again for The Banshees of Inisherin.

Watching Ray and Ken bicker as they wander through the gorgeous streets of Christmastime Bruges is a delight. It’s an ever-green December watch.

Best non Christmas Christmas movies


Martin McDonough was an acclaimed playwright before In Bruges, but it’s In Bruges which launched him onto the film scene. Watching the film, you won’t have to wonder why.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

10. Batman Returns (1992)

A yuletide brawl

Batman Begins is arguably the best entry of the Keaton leg of the franchise. It’s a bit campier than Batman but more serious than the Joel Schumacher sequels which would follow it. Plus, it boasts two of the greatest Batman villain performances ever, with Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.

Batman Begins could also be seen as Tim Burton’s Christmas movie (remember, he didn’t direct Nightmare Before Christmas). It’s everything a Tim Burton Christmas movie should be: goth, perverse, and anarchic. Few movies pair better with eggnog.

Best non Christmas Christmas movies


Iconic performances, gorgeous set design, and a thoroughly entertaining story make Batman Returns a fantastic Christmastime romp. Plus, you can cater to your goth cousin and superhero-obsessed nephew at the same time.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

9. Tangerine (2015)

Xmas brought to you by iPhone

A Christmas movie doesn’t have to be snowy. Tangerine, a high-octane dramedy that takes place on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, is a case in point. It rebukes your traditional Christmas aesthetic, with its orange color palette and iPhone image quality.

This movie was many people’s introduction to Sean Baker, an uncompromisingly original filmmaker who continues to surprise with each project. But Tangerine highlights everything he does best, representing underdogs who are just trying to survive. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and, at times, it’s a little scary. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Movies that are technically Christmas movies


Tangerine was a groundbreaking movie when it was released, filmed entirely on an iPhone. But it’s not the technology involved which makes it stand the test of time, it’s its story and unforgettable characters.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

8. L.A. Confidential (1997)

Bloody Christmas

What gets you more in the Christmas spirit than a hard-boiled mystery involving tabloids, blackmail, corruption, and murder? L.A. Confidential is a quintessential work of noir, made fifty years after the genre’s heyday. Based on James Ellroy’s novel, the film examines the seedy underbelly of La La Land, covering the unseemly sides of both Hollywood and the LAPD.

It may not seem exactly like great Christmas material from this description, but the film largely takes place during the holiday season, complete with colorful string lights and an initial line of dialogue that compares one of the protagonists to Santa Claus.

Expertly written and performed, L.A. Confidential does what all great noirs do, presenting a cynical look at society through a winding mystery.

Movies set during Christmas that aren’t Christmas movies


L.A. Confidential isn’t the most uplifting Christmas movie ever, but it is endlessly rewatchable. It’s everything you could want out of a crime thriller only Hollywood could make.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Holiday magic

This is probably the biggest stretch on our list, since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone really doesn’t have much to do with Christmas at all. But there’s a reason channels will often run Harry Potter marathons near the holidays — it really is a great series to watch around Christmastime.

It’s hard to nail down a definite reason why this is the case, but it likely has something to do with the cozy atmosphere the first films in particular create. Hogwarts is warm and inviting, filled with lovable (and lovably hate-able) characters at every turn. Watching the movie is a bit like seeing extended family around the holidays. It’s good to check in.

Plus, there is a Christmas scene in many of these movies. For our money, the first, with all its Christopher Columbus gentleness, is the most Christmas-y.

Christmas movies that are not Christmas movies


Harry Potter is less of a Christmas movie and more of a movie you watch around Christmastime. Does that make any sense?

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

6. The Apartment (1960)

Holiday party gone wrong

One of the greatest Rom-Coms of all time is also one of the greatest Christmas movies. The Apartment depicts an iconic holiday romance, complete with some of the sharpest dialogue Billy Wilder ever wrote. Add Jack Lemmon’s greatest performance and Shirley MacLaine’s undeniable turn as Fran, and you’ve got yourself a certified classic.

The Apartment is unique among Christmas movies for its depiction of all the things we’d rather not associate with the holiday. The dreadful office parties. The ever-present sniffles going around. The freezing cold.

It’s this truthful depiction of the season that makes The Apartment so incisive and so great as a Christmas watch. Because, as the ending affirms, there’s still some magic in the air, despite it all.

Non Christmas holiday movies


The Apartment has been hailed as one of the greatest comedies ever. Wilder’s masterpiece is truly something to behold no matter the season, but Christmas is when it hits best.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

5. The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys clip

On paper, The Nice Guys seems similar to L.A. Confidential, following two guys (one of whom is also played by Russell Crowe) tracking a mystery that gets them deeper and deeper into the Los Angeles underground.

But the similarities end there. The Nice Guys is hilarious, a classic Shane Black formula that moves at breakneck speed with a bickering duo along for the ride. And, as is often the case with Shane Black material, the film involves the holiday season, ending on Christmas Eve.

Like many movies on this list, The Nice Guys can be watched again and again. Ryan Gosling and Crowe have perhaps the best chemistry of any Shane Black duo (which is saying a lot). You won’t be able to get enough.

Movies set at Christmas that aren’t Christmas movies


Yes, many people will choose Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as their Shane Black entry in their list of non Christmas Christmas movies. While Kiss Kiss is certainly a fun film, Black perfected the formula with Nice Guys.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

4. Gremlins (1984)

What a present!

Gremlins is very close to being a straight-up Christmas movie. Joe Dante does what he does so well, building a perfect cookie-cutter suburb that feels right out of a Steven Spielberg movie, only to completely undermine it with insanity. In this way, the mogwai is the perfect Dante creature, at first cute and familiar, then ugly and disturbed. 

Gremlins has its cake and eats it too. It’s a horror; it’s a comedy; it’s a holiday movie. The genre-bending is done with ease. The scares never feel cheap, the comedy never undermines the horror, and, somehow, there’s still a Christmas spirit that pervades throughout the film.

To watch Gremlins is to understand what makes Joe Dante so special. But it’s only the beginning — just wait until you see Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Movies that are technically Christmas movies


Gremlins is Joe Dante’s calling card to this day. The film is a demented, joyous watch from start to finish.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

3. Little Women (1994)

Christmas romance

Let’s get this out of the way — this choice doesn’t necessarily mean that we think the 1994 Little Women is better than Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. Both movies are great, and Gerwig’s adaptation is a masterclass in transforming a classic text into a film modern audiences can relate to and see themselves in. 

But 1994’s Little Women has 2019’s rendition beat in the Christmas Vibes department. The snowy, cozy aura of Gillian Armstrong’s version fits just right in the Yuletide season. Mix this with the very ‘90s cast (including but not limited to Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, and Winona Ryder), and you’ve got yourself a nostalgia-twinged retelling of a classic story.

Little Women is a crowd-pleaser, entertaining grandparents and grandchildren. That makes it a great choice for a Christmas Day watch.

Movies that are technically Christmas movies


1994’s Little Women may now be overshadowed in many people’s minds by 2019’s. But Anderson’s take on the material has a lot to offer, especially if you’re looking for a Christmas flick.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Christmas Movies

2. Carol (2015)

Gift giving

Todd Haynes is an enigma. He is at once a director with an inimitable style and also one who is chameleonic, adapting his approach dramatically depending on the material.

Carol finds Haynes at his most restrained. It’s a story told through the minutia — glances, postures, intonation. It is a smoldering romance hidden beneath layers of winter ice. This is because of the story Haynes is telling, which follows a clandestine lesbian affair in 1950s America. It is a forbidden, and forlorn, love story, doomed because of when and where it takes place.

Of course, the movie is on this list because of its exquisite rendering of the holiday season. Ed Lachman’s lush cinematography combined with Carter Burwell’s aching score result in a melancholic Christmas mood unlike any other.

Movies that are technically Christmas movies


Carol is a stirring portrait of forbidden love, featuring career-best performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. It’s one of the best movies made by one of the best directors working today.

Non Christmas Christmas Movies

1. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut trailer

Eyes Wide Shut features the greatest use of Christmas lights in cinema history. There’s no one particular scene which secures this highly coveted award (though the opening gala is close). Christmas lights permeate the entirety of the film. They are everywhere — small and golden, bulbous and multi-colored, all of your favorite Christmas lights are somewhere in this film.

Of course, that’s not the only reason Eyes Wide Shut tops our list. Its depiction of Christmas in New York is second to none, but its screenplay, performances, score, and direction (shocker) are also top-notch. All elements work together to create a dream-like atmosphere that slowly devolves into a nightmare.

The plot of Eyes Wide Shut is remarkably simple: a wife tells her husband that she sometimes fantasizes about other men, and said husband proceeds to spiral into near-insanity. We may be over-simplifying slightly, but this apparent simplicity is what makes Eyes Wide Shut so effective. Upon each rewatch, you’ll notice new elements. It’s a never-ending cipher that continues to reveal itself.

It’s also one of Stanley Kubrick’s only films which has a kind of happy ending. Fitting for a Christmas movie.

Best Christmas movies that aren’t Christmas movies


Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick. Christmas. Eyes Wide Shut has the goods. It may baffle a few family members, but hey, a challenging film on Christmas can be rewarding.

Up Next

Best Christmas Movies Ever

If Eyes Wide Shut isn’t winning the popular vote at the Xmas dinner table, perhaps you’d like to check out our list of the best Christmas movies of all time. There’s no debate about these– they’re for and about Yuletide. Check them out.

Up Next: Best Christmas Movies →
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