Cult movie exhibitor Kristian Fletcher compiles his list of top Christmas movies hits – and misses – over the years.
When December hits each year, we wade through the shopping crowds and eat outselves stupid as we count down to the 25th and anticipate our summer holidays. Like a pudding of mixed flavours, this period also dishes up the inevitable Christmas movies.
Copyright on It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) lapsed in the seventies, making it prime (and cheap) fodder for television stations who would screen the movie each Christmas. Since annual re-runs began, we have warmed to the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) who ponders what life would have been like had he never existed. The Christmas element is only briefly shown but the message of the entire movie fits with the Christmas spirit. Hard to fathom the movie is essentially about attempted suicide – but it works nonetheless and has endured.
Whenever I screen Santa Claus Conquers The Martians from 1964, there are many chuckles but people still fall under its spell as a Saturday afternoon pantomime. It often tops ‘Worst Movie’ lists but it seems more agreeable and enjoyable than the stop-motion Christmas movies made around this time.
During the 70s and 80s, the horror film genre came into its own. In turn, Christmas movies became ominous. Whilst Psycho is considered the granddaddy of the slasher film, it was the sleeper Black Christmas (1974) which re-invigorated the genre and provided the direct inspiration for such films as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
Which brings us to Silent Night Deadly Night and Christmas Evil (director John Waters’ favourite festive movie: “I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year and, if they didn’t like it, they’d be punished!”). Both were 80s ‘Santa slashers’, and saw the maniac lead character don a Santa suit and go on a murderous rampage – but first, of course, he must witness mummy kissing Santa underneath the mistletoe (which always seems to set off the psychos in those types of movies…).
For me, the unforgettable image of the man in the red suit was burnt into my memory from primary school viewings of Santa Claus The Movie (1985) which set the story straight on how SC arrived on the scene. It was live action and had a dark, slightly culty, Willy Wonka-esque vibe about it. If Christmas movies had continued in this vein, though, who knows how twisted (and dark) childhoods might have become.
Into the 90s, the genre experienced more misses than hits. Among voters of a recent poll I took, Jingle All The Way (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause series (in particular, part 3, which wasn’t released until 2006) hit rock bottom. Tim Allen seemed the embodiment of the Christmas movie in the 90s – but we’re not sure if that is a good thing. Arnie was also an unlikely icon for a cinematic vehicle about the silly season. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to be the only 90s Christmas movie worthy of recommendation.
Today, praise is heaped onto modern Christmas fare like Bad Santa and Elf. Both now ten years old, what is it about these two movies in particular which have helped them endure? Perhaps it’s the fact they deal with both the good and bad sides of Christmas. Hmm… Comparing the amount of re-runs these movies have annually, are we essentially looking at our generation’s It’s A Wonderful Life?
TOP 11 CHRISTMAS MOVIES:
- Santa Claus The Movie (1985)
- Home Alone (1990)
- Nightmare Before Christmas (1994)
- Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
- Elf (2003)
- Bad Santa (2003)
- Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
- Gremlins (1984)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
- Christmas Story (1983)
AVOID THESE CHRISTMAS MOVIES…
- The Santa Clause 3 (2006)
- Jingle All The Way (1996)
Kristian Fletcher is a Brisbane cult movie exhibitor. For full details about his upcoming events click here.