Society has been debating what is and isn't a certain type of movie from the moment Al Gore stuck his pecker into a floppy disc drive and created the internet. The most famous of those debates, of course, is whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. But because I'm so sick of the internet discussing that question (and because my other article today is devoted to discussing whether or not Die Hard is a rom-com), I'd like to ask what should be a simpler question: What Even Is A Christmas Movie?
Is it the setting? Is it any movie released in December? Does there need to be a decorated tree somewhere in-frame or a not-so-subtle theme that Jesus Christ would kick any other deity's ass in an arm-wrestling match? I'd say it's none of those things. (Let's be real, Jesus wouldn't stand a chance locking hands with Marici.) To me, there are three essential elements that a Christmas movie needs in order to actually be considered a Christmas movie. They are ...
1) Christmas Has To Carry The Primary Holiday Real-Estate
Almost every Harry Potter movie has a scene that takes place during Christmas, but you'd be crazier than one of JK. Rowling's tweets to suggest that Harry Potter is a Christmas movie.
Fun Fact: She's always been bad at Twitter
That's because the Harry Potter movies usually take place during an entire school year. Christmas happens there, sure, but so does Halloween and Valentine's Day and probably some weird, wizard holidays we don't even know about. (Arbor day, maybe?) If every movie that ever had some throwaway Christmas scene were considered a Christmas movie, then we'd pretty much have to include any movie that takes place over the course of a year and shows the passage of time, and that would be a shit ton of movies. Case in point, Mean Girls:
One of the most memorable moments in the movie is a Holiday talent show, but it also hits up Halloween because it's not contained to a one-month time frame.
2) Christmas Or "Christmasness" Needs To Factor Into The Plot
Why is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Here is why, in two scenes:
Christmas isn't just a random backdrop in Die Hard. It's an essential element. No, it's not so essential to the plot that John McClane turns into Santa Clause or learns the meaning of Christmas, but it does provide a framework to make a movie about a hostage crisis feel whimsical and lighthearted. Without Christmas, this movie becomes an episode of 24 with Jack Bauer peeling the fingernails from the German terrorists as everyone looks on in horror. Christmas also makes John's marital conflicts feel all the more strained. Christmas is a time to be family, but this Christmas, John's family is falling apart.
Meanwhile, Harry Potter doesn't solve his problems with the magic of Christmas. He solves them with the magic of magic. I will admit that the Christmas scenes do make Hogwarts more relatable to the audience, but in my opinion, not in a meaningful enough way that it changes how the story would be told.
3) You Want To Watch It During Christmas
This entry is the most personalized but might also be the most important. Christmas movies should be something you actually turn to during Christmas time. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, for example, could very well be defined as a Christmas movie by the top two criteria. It's full of Christmassy moments like Robert Downey Jr. robbing a store to get gifts for his kids. But to me, it's just not a Christmas movie. I mean, it's a Christmas movie, but it's not a movie I'm going to watch for Christmas.
Maybe it is for you, and I think that's great. If it makes you want to sit down in front of the TV with your friends and family and get sloshed on eggnog, then, by all means, add it to your list. Any movie that fits the first criteria can do this, but I think it helps if it makes you reminisce on Christmases past and think about Christmasses future. There needs to be a nostalgia factor. Something that makes you remember the first time you ran down the stairs and saw presents under the tree and thought, "It better be a goddamn Nintendo 64 this year."
At least, that's what a Christmas movie is for me. But then again, what do I know? I was raised Jewish.
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Top Image: Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures