Silver screen by the tree: Deciding if eight films are truly 'Christmas movies'

We all love to watch these films around the holidays, but Echo writer Brock Doemel says not all of them are truly made to be Christmas movies

It's that time of the year: the time when we engage in heated conversations with friends and family over whether or not their favorite Christmas movies even deserve to be designated as such.

Here are eight films broken down and analyzed in order to determine if they're Christmas movies or if they're simply Christmas-adjacent.

'Gremlins'

In this Steven Spielberg classic, a young man named Billy (Zach Galligan) receives a strange, furry creature called a mogwai as an early Christmas present from his father. The adorable pet, named Gizmo (Howie Mandel), comes with three rules: no exposure to sunlight, no exposure to water and, most importantly, absolutely no feeding it after midnight.

While "Gremlins" is at its core a comedy horror film, the storyline revolves around the Christmas holiday. Billy receives Gizmo as a Christmas present and there's a scene where Billy's girlfriend (Phoebe Cates) goes into detail about why she hates the holiday.

Of course, there's also the unforgettable part where some gremlins masquerade as Christmas carolers in order to taunt the elderly local cheapskate, Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday).

Verdict: Christmas movie

'Die Hard'

No Christmas movie debate is complete without discussing "Die Hard," the John McTiernan action film that takes place on a snowy Christmas Eve in Los Angeles.

The plot follows NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) at her office Christmas party, only to have the office tower seized by terrorists.

While the events do take place on Christmas Eve, that's where the association between "Die Hard" and the holiday season ends. There's not a lot of joy or Christmas spirit to be found here, so it's difficult to envision "Die Hard" as anything other than an action movie that just happens to take place on Christmas Eve.

Verdict: Not a Christmas movie

'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'

The bulk of the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's fantasy epic takes place in the eternally snowy forests of Narnia, but that's not why some fans consider the film to be a Christmas movie.

There is a scene where the protagonists are approached by Father Christmas himself, who presents them with personalized gifts in his sleigh pulled by reindeer. This is a major turning point in the storyline, marking the beginning of the end of the White Witch's (Tilda Swinton) reign over Narnia.

Verdict: Christmas movie

The 'Harry Potter' series

Films adapted from J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series usually air on television around Christmastime, and it's not hard to see why. Hogwarts is usually decked out for the holidays and there are significant Christmas-related plot events in several of the films.

However, there are also scenes involving Halloween, so it appears that the inclusion of Christmas simply accomplishes the goal of showcasing life at Hogwarts throughout the entire year. Still, you can't help but feel a sense of Christmas joy when you snuggle up and binge this film series during the holiday season.

Verdict: Not a Christmas movie

'Mean Girls'

Much like "Harry Potter," the cinematic masterpiece that is "Mean Girls" encompasses the length of an entire school year, and the holiday season is just a small part of that.

The infamous Jingle Bell Rock dance scene causes some fans to think of "Mean Girls" as a Christmas movie, but it's hard to see how the two minutes of Christmas material defines the entire film. 

Verdict: Not a Christmas movie

'The Nightmare Before Christmas'

The status of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" has been hotly debated since its 1993 release: is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? Director Henry Selick has even weighed in, saying it's a Halloween movie. I'd normally be inclined to agree with the director, but fans advocating for a Christmas designation have the evidence on their side.

This film is fundamentally about Halloween Town's Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon Jr. and Danny Elfman) discovering the magic and wonder of Christmas, and not even the director can dispute this.

Verdict: Christmas movie

'Frozen'

The Disney animated film follows the journey of two sisters left behind to lead a kingdom and, long story short, one of them accidentally causes an eternal winter. Winter and Christmas are not interchangeable, however, and a film cannot be considered a Christmas movie just because it's set in the wintertime. If that were the case, "The Shining" would ridiculously qualify as a Christmas film.

While there are snowmen and reindeer in the kingdom of Arendelle, there's not a single mention of Christmas throughout the original film.

Verdict: Not a Christmas movie

'The Sound of Music'

"My Favorite Things," which Julie Andrews' Maria sings in the film, has worked its way into Christmas music playlists, with lyrics about snowflakes, sleigh bells and warm woolen mittens.

The film as a whole, like the musical it's based on, is about a family escaping from the Nazis. It's not even close to being a Christmas film, even if its soundtrack is included in your holiday playlist.

Verdict: Not a Christmas movie

Even if your favorite holiday film on this list isn't actually a Christmas movie, you should still feel free to watch it as we approach the heart of the holiday season. Go for whatever brings you joy at the end of this tumultuous year.


Reach the reporter at bdoemel@asu.edu or follow @brockdoemel on Twitter.

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