Everyone loves Christmas movies. Well, maybe not everyone, but certainly enough people to justify dedicating an entire channel to them and endlessly looping a few over and over around the holidays. This year though, maybe you'll want to watch something different, something illuminating a different side of the holiday. Not all of the 25 movies below are strictly Christmas Movies, but all of them have something very specific to say about Christmas.
"Christmas Evil" (Lewis Jackson, 1980): There's no shortage of Christmas horror movies, but few delve as deeply into the holiday's central lie, and how it introduces children to the complexity of adult truth. A childhood trauma sees Harry refusing to internalize the hypocrisies of adulthood, instead nurturing a furtive, Oedipal obsession with Santa Claus that spills over into murderous rage. In the most morbid way possible, "Christmas Evil" also argues, in its final minutes, that rich fantasy lives may have some merit after all.
"Silent Partner" (Daryl Duke, 1972): A bored bank teller notices a thief doing a dry run of a heist and, instead of reporting him, uses the eventual robbery as an excuse to lift a significant amount of money for himself. Unfortunately, the deeply psychotic, repugnant thief figures out he's been made a patsy and decides to get his money one way or another. Elliott Gould is at his droll '70s best in what is essentially an extended fantasy about what it would be like to go through Christmas completely prepared and unfazed by anything.
"Blast Of Silence" (Allen Baron, 1961): An excoriating, transcendentally grim story of a hit-man that interprets noir the same way Sunn O))) interpreted Black Sabbath. Stalking through a uniquely overcast black and white Cleveland, Allen Barron (director, writer, and star) encapsules a familiar experience of working during the holiday season. He tries to ignore both the seasonal cheer and his baggage while focusing on the task at hand until, inevitably, he is overwhelmed.
"The Junky's Christmas" (Nick Donkin, 1993): Christmas is a time for nostalgia and nothing on this list is as evocative of a certain period than William Burroughs droning bitterly over some '90s-MTV-looking claymation.
"Metropolitan" (Whit Stillman, 1990): "Love and Friendship" director Stillman's hilarious and beautiful first movie is a Christmas miracle. Stillman uses the least sympathetic group of characters possible—upper-class Manhattanites on Christmas vacation from their first year in college—to paint a painful picture of how the holiday party season provides teenagers ample opportunity to inflict their almost-adulthood on each other.
"A Carol For Another Christmas" (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1964): It's not a massive surprise that "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling wrote one of the most somber and singular adaptations of "A Christmas Carol." Little will prepare you for the surreal, UN-funded, beauty of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future trying to sell a wealthy industrialist on the merits of international cooperation. Sterling Hayden is at his most grizzled and stentorian, while Peter Sellers is at his most bitter.
"Tangerine" (Sean Baker, 2015): After being released from jail on Christmas Eve, a woman lays waste to anything in her path, with her friend reluctantly in tow, as she careens around L.A. searching for her cheating boyfriend. The perma-sun of L.A. doesn't stop "Tangerine" from invoking the classic Christmas Eve movie tropes of tenderness, slapstick, and catharsis. "Tangerine" refuses to distinguish the milieu of sex work and sexuality—both women are trans sex workers and the boyfriend/pimp is cheating with a cis woman—from any other aspect of society.
"Comfort And Joy" (Bill Forsyth, 1984): A Scottish radio personality in the midst of a post-breakup, depressive episode discovers new purpose during the Christmas season when he becomes mediator in a Glasgow turf war between two Italian family ice cream businesses. "Comfort and Joy" effortlessly creates the warm, earnest feeling so many Christmas movies aim for—it's worth mentioning this really is based on a true story.
"Meet John Doe" (Frank Capra, 1941): There's another famous Frank Capra movie based around a planned December suicide that you might be watching this Christmas, but "Meet John Doe's" anti-fascist conclusion to the story of a supposedly grass roots political campaign, orchestrated by shady corporate interests and fronted by a clueless figurehead, might be the cathartic fantasy you need this particular year.
"Donovan's Reef" (John Ford, 1963): The baggy quality of John Ford's Christmas meditation on race and community on a Polynesian island does not in any way diminish its stunning formal beauty. Equally sour and hopeful, and race-conscious (when it isn't presenting blatant racism, at least), "Donovan's Reef" is a strange hangout film of the best kind. It culminates in a multicultural Christmas pageant in the midst of a monsoon that has to rank as one of cinema's most powerful Christmas scenes.
"The Curse of the Cat People" (Gunther von Fritsch & Robert Wise, 1944): This children's Christmas fantasy is technically a sequel to 1942's psychosexual horror "Cat People." The gentle, dreamy ghost story features one of most beautiful black and white Christmases ever shot, making it all the more shocking when intrusion by a "Grey-Gardens"-esque mother and daughter betrays its horror roots.
"Homicide: Life On The Street: All Through The House" (Peter Medak, 1994): This special episode effortlessly folds Christmas Eve into "Homicide's" trademark mix of dark humor and unsparing reality: Detective Munch's cynicism is punctured after caring for a child whose father has been murdered while dressed as Santa Claus as the entire cast illustrates how a non-conventional family unit can limit Christmas' capacity to further isolate the lonely.
"Quai des Orfèvres" (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947): A bawdy, misanthropic thriller about a couple accused of murdering a seedy old man, pursued by a tenacious, irritable detective. The more unlikely the plot becomes, the more real the characters feel: Every interaction is shot through with cynicism and passion. With the detective consistently failing to have lunch with his visiting son and the couple's real affection cracking under the weight of the pressure, it's another great noir about how difficult it is to get anything done during the holidays.
"The DuPont Show with June Allyson: A Silent Panic" (Arthur Hiller, 1960): In this late-career performance, Harpo Marx plays a man who witnesses a murder while performing as a mannequin in a department store's Christmas display window. Though the police quickly realize he's a less-than-ideal witness when it becomes clear he is deaf and mute, the culprits do not. Eschewing the standard frivolity of Christmas specials, "Silent Panic" inverts Harpo's Marx Brothers persona to play a frail, elderly man whose life has been severely limited by his inability to speak or hear.
"Christmas in Connecticut" (Peter Godfrey, 1945): Surprisingly for a '40s romantic comedy, "Christmas in Connecticut" is a perfect satire of the performative food photography that dominates Instagram and recipe blogs. An endearingly convoluted plot forces a woman who normally sits in her apartment eating sardines while transposing her friend's recipes to improvise an idyllic farm-and-family existence when she's asked to host a returning war hero for Christmas dinner.
"Christmas Again" (Charles Poekel, 2014): This slight, minimalist account of a Christmas tree salesman focuses on the sensation of being on the periphery of other people's Christmas cheer. Great performances and camera work combined with commitment to showcasing both drudgery and transience make this an effective, heartfelt portrayal of seasonal work.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (Elia Kazan, 1945): Director Elia Kazan's debut, an adaptation of the Betty Smith novel of the same name, is an emotionally pulverizing account of negotiating poverty during Christmas. The harsh realities at play here make a Christmas story that will be much more familiar to most than idyllic holiday movies, with an optimism as resonant as it is cautious.
"The Holly and The Ivy" (George More O'Ferrall, 1952): As promised by the title, barbs fly in this lived-in account of a recently-widowed vicar who has unknowingly alienated his family through dedication to religion. With each family secret uncovered, his bewilderment and grief grows, ending with a cathartic explosion of bitter empathy. One of cinema's most unsparing looks at welcoming your children home for Christmas only to be confronted with strangers.
"Le monte-charge" (Marcel Bluwal, 1962): This Clouzot-inflected French thriller allows the chaos of Christmas Eve shopping to mirror the alienation of the main character, a recently released prisoner breaking parole curfew. Here, the shadows so vital for noir are cast by the loneliness of being bereaved at Christmas, a tough thing to deal with even before an additional dead body shows up.
"My Night at Maud's" (Éric Rohmer, 1969): This Christmas you should probably be prepared to talk religion and politics with your family. Why not prepare with Eric Rohmer's subtle, charged story of a devout Catholic spending a Christmas night debating Pascal's wager with an atheist and a Marxist to fend off a literal and metaphorical seduction. This intricate tapestry of body language and inferences also features top-quality cigarette smoking.
"Christmas Holiday" (Robert Siodmak, 1944): This characteristically harsh Siodmak noir isn't softened by its seasonal setting, nor does it let it sink into the background. With a plot put into motion by Christmas transport chaos and a painfully detailed rendering of the grinding, surreal tedium of somehow mysteriously ending up at Midnight Mass, "Christmas Holiday" could scarcely do more to capture the essence of the holiday.
"Cash on Demand" (Quentin Lawrence, 1961): This tense thriller casts Peter Cushing as a bank manager taken hostage on Christmas Eve, forced to play along with an ingenious thief. Having someone else's plan inflicted on you and seeing that plan fall apart to disastrous effect through no fault of your own will be a familiar Christmas feeling to many.
"Dragnet: The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas" (Jack Webb, 1952): Bleaker than anything else on this list, this Christmas episode of classic cop show "Dragnet" spares none of its usual blunt moralizing. An 8-year-old opens his Christmas present early, killing his friend in the process.
"Plácido" (Luis Garcia Belanga, 1961): A man desperately tries to pay a bill on his three-wheeler truck, his only source of income, on Christmas Eve in a Spanish village. A dense riot of characters, "Plácido" can be difficult to grasp the first time. Fortunately the film's breathtaking, casual beauty is underlined by beguiling camera work that complements the humor, making repeat viewing an enticing prospect.
"Tokyo Godfathers" (Satoshi Kon, 2003): One of iconic anime director Satoshi Kohn's lesser-known works, this unique take on the classic story of three hapless characters trying to reunite a baby with their parents is an affectionate ode to the power of unconventional family units. Full of the magical coincidences and the lucky breaks that characterize classic Christmas movies, this touching story of three homeless people beating the odds and helping themselves and others overcome tragedy is perfect Christmas escapism.