’Tis the season for hot cocoa, ugly sweaters, and Christmas movies! The library of holiday classics runs deep, but some of the most festive films aren’t technically Christmas movies at all. Many popular movies incorporate the essence of the holiday spirit without the overt Christmas narratives. Whether it’s achieved through wardrobe, setting, music, or minor plot points, this ambiguous category of “non-Christmas” movies spans decades and genres, with plenty of yuletide cheer woven throughout.
I’m here for every type of holiday movie, even if they aren’t produced with the primary aim of jingling viewers’ bells. Have yourself a merry little watchlist with these non-Christmas movies, ranked from the lowest to highest festive factor.
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'Misery' (1990) — Grinchmas
Aside from “Misery” taking place during winter, there’s not a lot of festive feels in Rob Reiner’s classic psychological horror. I’m a big fan of this dark tale centering on author Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) captivity by deranged fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Dare I say it’s one of the most disturbing films of all time. Ironic given it’s set amidst a gorgeous backdrop of snow-covered mountains. “Misery” gives a slight Christmas vibe with the winter visuals, but not enough to rank higher.
If your Christmas spirit runs low and dark, stream “Misery” on Max.
'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' (2005) — Slightly Frosty
Everything is enchanting about “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” adapted from The Chronicles of Narnia book series by C.S. Lewis. The Pevensie siblings (Georgie Henley as Lucy, William Moseley as Peter, Anna Popplewell as Susan, and Skandar Keynes as Edmond) discover a mysterious portal behind their wardrobe and use it to descend into the magical world of Narnia.
This fantasy movie is set during Christmastime, and winter imagery abounds. There’s an evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), and the youngest sibling, Lucy, meets a strange Faun friend named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy). He explains to her why Narnia is in a perpetual winter but never Christmas. We’re also introduced to Father Christmas (James Cosmo), the most conspicuous holiday reference.
I watched it when I was in my mid-20s shortly after it came out, and I still remember feeling a tinge of childhood charm. It was an early December release, so even if it isn’t a Christmas movie, they sure banked on the holiday promotional period. Not full festiveness, but enough to make the list.
Step into the Narniaverse and stream “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” on Disney Plus.
'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone' (2001) — Sleigh Bells Ringing
Given that seven out of the eight Harry Potter movies feature Christmas at Hogwarts in some capacity, the franchise deserves a spot. While I didn’t finish all of the franchise’s films, I’m quite familiar with the first in the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which fans laud as the most prominent of the Christmas scenes. Ho ho ho, Hogwarts makes the list!
Catch all of the “Harry Potter” installments on Peacock.
'Edward Scissorhands' (1990) — Chestnuts Roasting
One of two Tim Burton films here, “Edward Scissorhands” brings me right back to my 10-year-old self. I’m a longtime fan of this eerily awkward gothic fantasy starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, and Dianne Wiest. Vincent Price plays a scientist who constructs an artificial human, but before he can complete Edward (Depp), he dies and leaves him with scissor blades for hands. Suburban housewife Pet (Wiest) welcomes him into her family home. Eventually, he and Peg’s teenage daughter, Kim (Ryder), form an unlikely romantic bond.
While the movie does take place partially during the holiday season, the festive factor comes into play with one quintessentially Christmas scene. We see Edward painstakingly carving an ice sculpture in Peg’s backyard, with Kim dancing around in a flurry of ice that appears to be a magical snow flurry. This iconic moment still remains magical and memorable.
“Edward Scissorhands” is available on Max.
'You’ve Got Mail' (1998) — Reaching Rudolph
A classic ’90s movie with Christmas overtones? Count me in! Nora Ephron’s iconic romcom “You’ve Got Mail” stars Tom Hanks as Joe Fox and Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly. Fox and Kelly start a new relationship via, you guessed it, email. They don’t know each other’s identity at first, but once they discover they’re competing bookstore owners, watching the romance unfold gets interesting.
The movie takes place between October and springtime, giving a fair amount of festivity during Christmastime. Talk about a movie that screams comfort. This feel-good story weaves in a decent amount of holiday ambiance. The big Christmas moment that got me was Kelly decorating the tree in her bookstore all alone. Her inner monologue recounting holidays with her mother while playing Joni Mitchell hits just right.
Get your Tom and Meg fix free on Tubi.
'Trading Places' (1983) — Turtle Dove Time
Coming down the chimney next is “Trading Places.” The satirical dark comedy stars Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy broker who’s the subject of a bet between his millionaire bosses. He’s made to trade places with Eddie Murphy’s character, a con artist who lives on the streets. They aim to see how each will prosper (or not) in the other’s shoes. As expected, things get a little out of control.
So, where does the festive factor land? Pretty high. The movie takes place during Christmastime and features a company Christmas party and a disgruntled Santa Claus. Also notable is the presence of Christmas music on the soundtrack.
Rent “Trading Places” on various streaming services, including Prime Video and Apple TV.
'Catch Me If You Can' (2002) — Bells a Jingling
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” but Leonardo DiCaprio’s Christmas sweater still sticks in my mind. This classic cat-and-mouse chase movie stars Tom Hanks as FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who’s attempting to catch skilled criminal and master of deception Frank Abagnale Jr. (DiCaprio). We’re getting toastier with the festive factor too.
“The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” performed by Nat King Cole is a strong indication of yuletide cheer, along with notable plot points culminating on Christmas Eve. Multiple nods to the most wonderful time of the year and the winter setting contribute to the joyous vibe.
Get in on the chase and stream “Catch Me If You Can” on Paramount Plus.
'Batman Returns' (1992) — It’s a White Christmas
Christmas comes within two minutes in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns.” From city workers dressed like elves to more than one tree lighting sequence, there’s a high festive factor — not to mention the larger-than-life-sized gift and the Batman (Michael Keaton) and Cat Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) mistletoe moment. Christmas is visually “in your face” throughout, even if the story doesn’t scream joy and cheer.
Stream “Batman Returns” on Max.
'Die Hard' (1988) — Drummer Boy Territory
Society continues to talk about “Die Hard” and its ambiguity when it comes to whether or not it’s a Christmas movie. It’s definitely not, but it does land high on the festive scale. The story centers on John McClane (Bruce Willis), an NYPD cop who ends up at a holiday party with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and his two daughters. Chaos ensues when terrorists overtake the building, and McClane springs into action to save the day.
When it comes to festiveness, the movie is set at a Christmas party, after all. All together, there are over 20 references to Christmas, plus holiday vibes on the soundtrack. The holiday isn’t essential to the storyline, but it is prominently interlaced throughout the film. I will say “Die Hard” and the next pick on the list have a lot in common, and determining the top spot wasn’t easy.
“Die Hard” is available to stream on Hulu.
'Lethal Weapon' (1987) — North Pole Proper
Ho ho ho! Eighties action movies dominate the festive scale, with “Lethal Weapon” taking the Christmas crown (Santa hat). Mel Gibson plays a cop off the rails after the passing of his wife. He and his new partner, played by Danny Glover, work together (not always happily) to apprehend criminals in a drug trafficking ring. While they didn’t hit it off at first, the story shows them learning to get along and work together amidst dangerous situations.
“Lethal Weapon” hits the holiday trifecta. It’s set during Christmas, there are high-key holiday visuals throughout, and you hear Christmas tunes for days. In fact, the film opens with “Jingle Bell Rock.” Throw in the gunfight at the Christmas tree lot and a story riddled with sacrifice and redemption, and we’ve got ourselves the top non-Christmas movie of all time.
Rent “Lethal Weapon” on YouTube and Prime Video.