Top 10 Christmas movies that aren't It's A Wonderful Life
With all due respect to Frank Capra and his 1946 ode to the lessons learned from near-suicide, It’s A Wonderful Life will not appear on this list. Instead, it's composed of some obvious choices with a few unexpected picks thrown in. Let the debate begin.
10. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977) The Jim Henson company’s adaptation of Russell Hoban’s 1971 children’s book was produced for HBO in 1977 and rebroadcast on ABC three years later. Most people under the age of 30 will remember Emmet Otter from the countless re-airings on Nickelodeon during the early 1990’s. The movie is so wonderfully saccharine, you might wind up with diabetes.
9. Gremlins (1984) Worst. Christmas present. Ever. Never buy a talking rat from a creepy old Chinese opium addict. And if you do, for the love of God, don’t get that sonofabitch wet. This Christmastime movie has Muppets too, they’re just not the cuddly kind. Allegedly, the original script called for the gremlins to decapitate Billy’s mother, then roll her head down a flight of stairs. You see, once upon a time – before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull punched my childhood in the groin – Steven Speilberg made awesome, awesome movies. They were smart, funny, and unapologetically violent. Gremlins is no exception.
8. Home Alone (1990) See? Child abandonment can be fun. Before Macaulay Culkin was [allegedly] diddled by the late King of Pop, he was assaulting dimwitted home invaders played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern with near lethal force in this Chris Columbus-directed holiday film. There’s an important lesson here, parents. If you have a large, Irish Catholic family (an acceptable stereotype in Hollywood, apparently), and you’re late for a trans-Atlantic flight, use the buddy system.
7. Batman Returns (1992) A festive holiday motif provided the perfect juxtaposition to Tim Burton’s signature macabre visual style. Let their be no doubt, this movie is effin’ W-E-I-R-D. A pretty good argument can be made that it isn’t really a Batman film at all, but rather a typically bizarre Burton Christmas movie that used Bob Kane’s vigilante battling a gang of deranged circus freaks led by Danny DeVito’s black goo-drooling Penguin to make it commercially viable – which it was.
6. Scrooged(1988) No list of Christmas movies would be complete without some variation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Richard Donner’s 80’s update starring Bill Murray stands alone among interpretations thanks to an all-star cast, perfect blending of sarcasm and sentiment, and clever setting in Reganomics-era New York. Whoever cast Buster Poindexter (real name David Johansen – lead vocalist of the New York Dolls) as the Ghost of Christmas Past deserves a medal. Fun fact: Poindexter was famous for that irritating and still ubiquitous 1987 cover of Arrow’s “Hot, Hot, Hot,” which he now describes as the “bane of his existence.”
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) Like his long time collaborator, Tim Burton, composer Danny Elfman makes his second appearance on this list (he also scored Scrooged). Just before Pixar ruined non-CG animated films for nearly two decades, Burton & Company gave us a stop-motion masterpiece that has become one of the truly great, stylized and enduring cult classics. The Nightmare Before Christmas is Elfman’s sonic tour de force (he also provides Jack Skellington’s singing voice), and is a visual feast from the twisted mind of producer Burton. Eyes up here, Disney. Mothball those sexy Silicon Graphics workstations once in a while and give us some more stop-motion goodness.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) Ah, to see the world through the eyes of Clark W. Griswald – America’s second greatest pop culture dad (Bill Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable gets the nod, thanks to his impressive collection of hideous dad sweaters). Nobody combined sardonic wit with childish naïveté quite like Chevy Chase. Throw in a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Nicholas Guest as the loathsome, obnoxious yuppie neighbors and a big ‘ole helping of Randy Quaid’s endearingly vulgar Cousin Eddie and you have a top vacation movie.
3. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas(1966) Arguably the greatest director of animated shorts ever, Chuck Jones delivers a visually stunning representation of Theodore Geisel’s, aka Dr. Seuss, perennial holiday favorite. Narrated by Boris Karloff (the titular Frankenstein’s Monster in 1931’s Frankenstein) with Thurl Ravenscroft (who was the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger for five decades) lending his trademark baritone to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Jones’ trippy classic stands head-and-shoulders above any of today’s animated fare.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas(1965) The somber-yet-somehow-comforting “Christmastime is Here” from the Vince Guaraldi Trio could only have been improved if Nat King Cole had lived long enough to provide the vocals. The song is pure holiday perfection, as is the charming, sophisticated animated Christmas film from the brilliant mind of Charles Schultz. Although ostensibly about eternal sad sack Charlie Brown’s selecting a pitiful little tree to be the centerpiece of his school Christmas pageant, the half hour special is most notable for Linus’ soliloquy on the true meaning of Christmas – the birth Jesus. JESUS?! Somebody call the ACLU. That can’t be right. Oh wait, it was still okay to talk about Jesus in 1965.
1. A Christmas Story (1983) Why does Jean Shepherd’s nostalgic pre-World War II story of a bespectacled little boy and his Red Rider carbine action air rifle top our list? Because it’s a family-friendly Christmas movie with no moral. Go ahead; watch it again. What does Ralphie Parker actually learn by the end of the movie? Absolutely nothing. He lies about shooting his eye out and gets away with it! It’s endlessly quotable, cynical, and incredibly funny, especially when viewed as an adult. The leg lamp, the pink bunny suit, Flick’s tongue stuck to the pole, “I triple dog dare you,” I could go on. It all combines to create not only the best Christmas movie of all time, but one of the great period films ever produced.