Every year on Christmas, we watch the classics: Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, Home Alone, and more. The plethora of Christmas movies never falls short, but there are some movies that live in the liminal space between Christmas movie and not-Christmas movie, which can make them quite controversial.
Entire Reddit and Twitter threads have been dedicated to discerning whether or not specific movies are actually Christmas movies, only feeding the controversy. But regardless of whether or not these movies are Christmas movies, it’s still the most wonderful time of year to give them a watch. So here are 12 (one for each of the 12 days of Christmas) controversial Christmas movies to watch this year.
‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998)
You’ve Got Mail is available to stream on HBO Max.
‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (1944)
This classic 1944 film starring Judy Garland is often forgotten as a Christmas film. However, its apex event, the elegant ball, takes place on Christmas Eve, and leads to the final poignant rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Meet Me in St. Louis is available to stream on Watch TCM and Spectrum.
‘Mean Girls’ (2004)
Yes, Mean Girls is a Christmas movie! What’s the one song and dance we know back to front? It’s obviously when Lindsay Lohan leads her fellow Plastics in the most iconic version of “Jingle Bell Rock” we’ve ever seen.
Mean Girls is available to stream on Pluto TV and Paramount Plus.
‘Trading Places’ (1983)
Some might forget that this 1983 Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd comedic romp about class and race in America is actually a Christmas movie. The main events of the film take place during an office Christmas party, which drives both protagonists to work together towards the good of humanity. It’s also broadcast in Italy every Christmas Eve.
Trading Places is only available to rent.
‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990)
In all honesty, Tim Burton is basically Father Christmas. The height of Edward Scissorhands’ plot occurs during Christmas, when jealous boyfriend Jim frames Edward. Edward still creates an ice sculpture modeled after Kim, creating snowfall, but Jim forces Edward out of the town, which leads the Boggs family to search for Edward. It’s all in the spirit of Christmas love!
‘Batman Returns’ (1992)
Another Tim Burton, this macabre Batman flick takes place during the Christmas season when wealthy industrialist Max Schreck is abducted by the Red Triangle gang. There’s even a Christmas tree lighting, an Ice Princess, and a Christmas charity ball. So yes, Danny DeVito’s iconic Penguin is a beloved Christmas villain.
Batman Returns is available to stream on HBO Max.
In the spirit of comedy and horror, we can’t make this list without Gremlins. It all begins with a dad trying to find a Christmas gift for his son in Chinatown — and he buys the mogwai/gremlin. Naturally, all the film’s events take place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with a speech about hating Christmas, so there’s no better Christmas-horror-comedy flick to watch.
Gremlins is available to stream on HBO Max.
From one creature to another, Babe is easily a Christmas film. It includes a very eventful Christmas dinner, in which the characters almost eat our protagonist!
Babe is only available to rent.
‘Rent’ (2005, 2008)
Both the film version of Rent from 2005, which features most of the original 1996 Broadway cast, and the 2008 version of Rent filmed live on Broadway are Christmas classics. Yes, Rent follows the lives of Bohemian artists in New York City, but it starts and ends on Christmas! The first lyrics of the show begin, “December 24, 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time,” and there’s even a song called “Christmas Bells.”
Rent (2005) is available to stream on HBO Max and Spectrum, and the 2008 Broadway film is only available to rent (no pun intended).
It might be easy to forget, but Jumanji actually takes place during Christmastime. The film was first released in December 1995, so it was always intended to be a Christmas film. The final Christmas party at the end of Jumanji is the film’s happiest moment, and is the perfect way to celebrate Robin Williams’ legacy.
Jumanji is available to stream on Peacock.
‘Harry Potter’ Series (2001–2011)
Almost all eight of the Harry Potter films have some reference to Christmas. Each of them, save Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, include a scene during Christmas. The film has spawned popular Christmas traditions, such as playing wizard’s chess and saying “Happy Christmas Harry!” as we run excitedly through our corridors. Okay, maybe we don’t do that, but we can’t think of Christmas without these iconic scenes!
All eight Harry Potter films are available to stream on HBO Max, Peacock, and Spectrum.
‘Die Hard’ (1988)
Of course, we can’t have a controversial Christmas films list without Die Hard. The 1988 film spawned some of the most fiery discussions over whether or not it’s a Christmas film, but let’s be honest, it definitely is! It begins on Christmas Eve, and ends with Bruce Willis’s character wishing his driver a “Merry Christmas.” It’s perhaps the most iconic action Christmas movie of all time.
Die Hard is available to stream on Spectrum and Starz.