Our own Rachael Kelly presents her Top Ten Forgotten Christmas Films…
Though we can surely all agree that the greatest Christmas movie of all-time is Die Hard 2, what do you do in the unlikely event that you ever find yourself tiring of watching a young Colm Feeny pilot an aeroplane into a snow-covered runway in a ball of festive flame? Trick question, of course: the answer is — obviously — that you watch It’s A Wonderful Life for a bit instead. But what if you find yourself hankering for some alternative festive fare; something that, potentially, you can’t quote verbatim from titles to closing credits?
Well, they don’t call me the Christmas Fairy round these parts for nothing. For your seasonal delectation, please find below a selection of Christmas films that, for whatever reason, haven’t attracted the same obsessive devotion as the Home Alones or the Christmas Carols of this world.
Ho ho ho, etc.
1 Prancer (dir. John Hancock, 1989)
I’m not crying, you are. Don’t watch this one around children too small to have any idea that Father Christmas might not be… well, you know… because there’s a lot of frank discussion about this very topic and a bunch of adults trying to convince our young heroine not to believe.
That said, this film is pure Christmas magic. Jessica Riggs is a farmer’s daughter from rural Michigan whose widowed father is struggling to keep the homestead going. When she finds an injured reindeer in the run-up to Christmas, she believes that he’s Prancer, one of Santa’s sled-pullers, and realises she must nurse him back to health. The film did reasonable box office on its November 1989 release, but has inexplicably never reached the dizzying heights of a festive classic.
2 Rare Exports (dir. Jalmari Helander, 2010)
From the team that brought you President Samuel L Jackson fleeing murderous terrorists through the snowy Finnish tundra (2014’s Big Game, in case the reference escapes you), comes this deliciously dark festive action thriller about the horrors that lurk beneath the ice of Lapland. A team of scientists taking drill core samples close to the Russian border unwittingly awake something dreadful… and it might just be Santa Claus himself.
3 Klaus (dir. Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López, 2019)
I’M NOT CRYING. I’m just… allergic to snow, all right? Though the production team for this 2019 animated delight are Spanish, it features a voiceover cast of big-name English-speaking actors such as Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones and Joan Cusack. A Father Christmas origin story that makes zero reference to Old Saint Nick, Klaus tells the story of a self-centred postman and the reclusive toymaker he befriends on a punishment-posting to the far, frozen north. To be fair, this one is less “forgotten classic” and more “big-budget movie released just before a global pandemic; give it time” but I love it more than I can say. And it’s my list.
5 Father Christmas (dir. Dave Unwin, 1991)
The film that answers the eternal question: what if Santa Claus was a crotchety old Cockney living in a terraced house in modern-day England? Voiced by Mel Smith, and from the team that delivered that eternal Christmas favourite The Snowman, we see rather more of the jolly old fellow that we might have expected as he converts his sleigh into a caravan and heads off on a round-the-world summer holiday that leads to him bare all from behind, and features more than a few swimsuit scenes. An absolute bloomin’ hoot from start to finish.
6 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989)
Though a box office hit on its release, and the highest grossing of all the National Lampoon films (also, I would argue, the best of the series — fight me), this comedy gem appears to have passed a generation by and begun the slippery slide into relative obscurity, judging by how few of my extremely scientific poll of a few of my mates have seen it (a) recently or (b) at all. And that’s a shame, because it not only features a young Juliette Lewis in one of her earliest movie roles, plus Johnny Galecki (who also pops up in Prancer, by the way), but also sees a bunch of really obnoxious people get their come-uppance in a series of suitably festive ways. Plus an exploding storm drain and racoon-based Christmas chaos.
7 Santa Claus: The Movie (dir. Jeannot Szwarc, 1985)
Full disclosure: I saw this in the cinema aged seven, so I’m not sure I can ever be subjective in my absolute adoration for this movie. Yet another Father Christmas origin story, this time featuring Dudley Moore as his disgruntled elf, a villainous John Lithgow (he does it so well) and the festive rescue of two adorable orphaned moppets. The plot may not exactly set the world alight, but it has everything you could want in a Christmas film: namely, lashings of warm and fuzzy feelings and a sense that all’s right with the world.
8 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (dir. Shane Black, 2005)
It is too a Christmas movie: it takes place at Christmas. You can tell because Michelle Monaghan wears a red, fur-trimmed minidress. That, to be fair, is mostly it for the festive references, but you should still definitely see this movie if you haven’t already, and why not see it at Christmas? Though it underperformed at the box office — inexplicably, really, given the chemistry between its leads — Val Kilmer is in peak comedic form and Robert Downey Jr calls it “the best film I’ve ever done.”
9 While You Were Sleeping (dir. Jon Turteltaub, 1995)
What could be more heart-warming for holiday viewing than a man left comatose on Christmas morning after a mugging-gone-wrong deposits him onto the rails of the Chicago L? Bear with me, seriously: this film is great. It’s mushy, it’s saccharine, it’s sentimental — and it’s full of heart. Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a woman alone in the world at Christmas, who dreams of one day talking to the unrequited love of her life (Peter Gallagher) as he passes through the Chicago Transit Station where she works. When he’s critically injured on his morning commute, she finds herself caught up in a hilarious misunderstanding that leads his warm, loving, chaotic family to believe she’s his fiancée. Shenanigans ensue. In the best possible way.
10 The Snowy Day (dir. Jamie Badminton and Rufus Blacklock, 2016)
I mean, it’s definitely supposed to be for preschoolers, but I absolutely defy you not to get swept up in the magic of this gorgeous animated adaptation of Ezra Jack Keats’ award-winning children’s book. In what’s clearly a labour of love, Laurence Fishburne narrates the story of Peter, a little boy on Christmas Eve, trekking the snow-covered street of his New York block to his Nana’s apartment to help her carry her famous, festive mac-and-cheese back to his home for the annual family Christmas party. Boyz II Men turn up and sing a song at one point, but it’s kind of… lovely? Just go with it; it’s nice.
So, there you have it, and I’m not going to lie, it caused me pain to narrow this list down to 10. Trading Places fought with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which had guns, so the odds were stacked). Mickey’s Christmas Carol belongs in there somewhere too and I almost included Scrooged even though it’s a perennial Christmas favourite and everyone’s seen it (like the 40 million people who saw Klaus don’t even count…) because it’s just so fantastic and Christmas doesn’t start in my house until I’ve watched it. Plus, I’ve become old and set in my ways, and I know there are a load of undiscovered Christmas gems that I’ve yet to fall in love with because my heart is already full of the films above and there’s only so much time to watch movies in December. So please feel free to argue with me below about what insanity I have wrought. I’m always on the lookout for a festive film recommendation or two.
Published: 17 December 2021