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What Is It Exactly That Makes A Movie A Christmas Movie?

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Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

What exactly necessitates if a movie is a Christmas movie? Does the movie and its plot have to completely revolve around the holiday? Can it only take place on Christmas/Christmas Eve? Does Christmas Day have to be a scene included in the movie for it to be clarified?

This is an argument that has long been debated among people who celebrate the Christmas holiday, a holiday that often includes the viewing of many classic movies, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life, just to name a few. Everyone has their favorites but everyone also has their opinions on what is and isn’t a Christmas movie, a debate that’s continuously sparked by Die Hard.

I’ll save writing the detailed plot of Die Hard for you all but basically John McClane meets up with his estranged wife at her company’s Christmas party on Christmas Eve when suddenly it gets taken over by German terrorists. So, why isn’t Die Hard a Christmas movie? The only reasoning I can come up with as to why people are so adamant about Die Hard not being a Christmas movie is that it’s an action movie. I can’t think of any Christmas movies that are action movies but does that mean all action movies are excluded from Christmas movie parties? For a movie to be labeled a Christmas movie can it only be featured in certain genres? 

For instance, probably about 70 percent of It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t take place during the Christmas season, yet it’s considered one of the greatest Christmas movies of all-time, replaying constantly on cable television for all to see during the holiday. The movie starts on Christmas Eve and ends on Christmas Day years later but what I believe catapulted the movie into its Christmas categorization is it’s wholesome, feel-good story. The movie carries a great message about life, what it’s really about, what’s most important about it — and, of course, the Christmas season just spruces that feeling up even more so. But if you really look at that movie, it rarely takes place during Christmas time. Die Hard, on the other hand, takes place during one entire Christmas Eve night and John McClane showcases an entire two hours during the Christmas season, while George Bailey has maybe thirty minutes. Again, is it because Die Hard is an action movie, full of guns, explosions and foul language and It’s a Wonderful Life is a heart-warming story that ends in good cheer?

Comedy is another genre in which Christmas movies are given a green-light. Some of the all-time favorites revolve around comedy, like Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and it’s first sequel and Scrooged. But what about Just Friends, starring Ryan Reynolds? The movie, for about ninety percent of it, takes place during Christmas time, yet there may be some that wouldn’t consider it a Christmas movie. This could be for a few reasons. I think, overall, it’s a very underrated movie, often forgotten. It’s plot also doesn’t necessitate the Christmas season being there as it could have been replaced very easily. But you could probably say that for a few movies. It’s biggest issue, however, is that looking at the poster or title doesn’t give the impression it involves anything to do with Christmas. Anyone could rent or buy the movie without ever knowing it took place during Christmas until they started watching it. This brings me back to Die Hard once again. Look at all the Die Hard original posters and you will see nothing involving Christmas on any of them — even the trailers barely imply anything to do with Christmas.

So, now we must decide how we should decipher a Christmas movie from a non-Christmas movie.

First of all, we must be all inclusive when it comes to genres — comedy, drama, musicals and romance can’t be the only inclusions. An example of this is Batman Returns. The entire movie takes place during a snowy Christmas time in Gotham City where even a tree lighting ceremony takes place. I wouldn’t expect Batman Returns anywhere near the top of anyone’s list, but it should still be recognized for its Christmas setting.

Second, don’t judge a movie by its cover. If a poster or trailer doesn’t show the movie involving Christmas, this doesn’t mean that it can’t be a Christmas movie. This also goes for the title of the movie. Home Alone certainly had no problems being categorized in the Christmas movie genre since the movie was and still is heavily marketed toward the holiday. 

Third, the setting matters as far as how the Christmas season, and the length of it in the movie, is used. Trading Places is a good example here, specifically the length of time the Christmas season is used. The movie takes place over all three of the end of year holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I would not consider this a Christmas movie because the Christmas setting being so short in it, although I would suggest watching it at some point during the holidays. The Christmas setting is obviously an integral part of a movie depending on not only how much it’s used, but also how much it’s talked about during the movie, if it’s often recognized by the characters in some way or if nothing else simply by the decorations.

It doesn’t always have to be a feel-good story, or make you laugh, or be on the Hallmark channel to be considered a Christmas movie and Die Hard and Batman Returns are prime examples of that. So, lets not forget those this Christmas season that have been trampled on and belittled season after season for not being “Christmas” enough to be labeled a Christmas movie.