Every December, movie lovers like to pull out their favorite Yuletide classics. Everybody has them. Some of our own personal favorites include It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Christmas Vacation, and Elf for example.
But before you crack open the DVD case for your favorite holiday adventure, please consider an alternative. Believe it or not there are many, many great films that are secretly about the holiday. Whether set directly during the most wonderful time of the year, or merely capturing the spirit of the season, we can count over a dozen that are full of holiday cheer… and bullets and explosions, and bad puns, and more!
So here are 17 movies that are secretly about Christmas:
Die Hard is the touching story of a man (Bruce Willis) and the desire to reunite with his family at all costs for Christmas Eve. But when an office holiday party goes awry, hijinks ensue.
Together with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and some Holy Night help from a special rooftop visitor with a beard and a bag full of goodies (Alan Rickman), they’ll discover the true meaning of Christmas. And a machine gun.
Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is known as Gotham’s Santa Claus for a reason. As the owner of the city’s largest chain of department stores, he’s all about spreading holiday cheer every December. So when he learns that there is a poor misunderstood man-child lost in the sewers named Oswald (Danny DeVito), Max seeks to grant his Christmas wish by introducing him to high society.
Meanwhile, a wacky series of misunderstandings between Max and Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), his quirky animal-loving secretary, complicate matters. Soon, Max is going to learn that love is the greatest gift of all—assuming of course he can find Selina underneath the mistletoe before Christmas Eve burns out. As an added holiday treat, Michael Keaton is just delightful as a billionaire with a tragic past looking to make Gotham City a better place for the holiday season.
It’s December and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) has no one to spend Christmas with. Okay, he’s been a bit naughty all year long, but he’d still like a family to call his own. Well thanks to the quick thinking of one rooftop-sneaking Amanda Hunsaker, Riggs’ very own secret Santa, he is brought into the orbit of jolly Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), a loving father and husband with an eye on retirement. Roger will graciously welcome Riggs into his home in time for the 25th. He’s even got a spot right under the tree for Gary Busey, one of the most underrated movie villains, too.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Continuing our ode to action movies’ very own Santa Claus, Mr. Shane Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the ultimate Christmastime noir. Like all the best holiday movies, it has characters dressed as (sexy) Santa, helping friends in need (as they get shot in the back), and all-around good cheer… along with many inside-baseball jokes at Hollywood’s expense. And bullets. Lots and lots of bullets.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is about a small time crook turned failed actor (Robert Downey Jr. back when he was sitll hungry) partnering with a gay private eye (a delightful Val Kilmer), and his childhood crush who is now his unintentional femme fatale (Michelle Monaghan) in a game of tough guys and soft, plentiful belly laughs. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is worth unwrapping every December, although you might have to see a doctor afterward.
The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s heartwarming story of overworked writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, in a career defining role) and his desire to get away with the family to a winter wonderland. While mommy and daddy get the Yule time blues, their vivacious scamp gets possessed by the holiday spirit. Ultimately, a frolic in the snow teaches Jack about the real meaning of dressing up for Christmas.
Eyes Wide Shut
Tom Cruise is on a mission to find his Secret Santa at a holiday costume party. With plenty of goodwill for men and women, this tightly wrapped cinematic present from seasonal master Stanley Kubrick has more than enough tree trimming to go around!
Batman & Robin
While not officially set during Christmas, Batman & Robin is the coolest time you could possibly have during any season. When Bruce’s butler won’t move his ass out of bed to make breakfast anymore, Master Wayne (George Clooney) grants him a holiday miracle by not throwing the bum to the curb—he even trains the old man’s niece in the family business of servitude.
Concurrently, the walking and talking Spirit of Christmas (Arnold Schwarzenegger dressed as a shiny lawn ornament) gives a reason to the season by blanketing Gotham in White Christmas. Together, George Clooney and Arnold have a real nice time skating through this chilly treat. Arnie even gets to go caroling!
Iron Man 3
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a cool exec with a heart of steel, but the former arms manufacturer has seen too much violence in his day. While trying to leave his old life behind he meets a young boy (Ty Simpkins) who helps him find the spirit of generosity within. The pair run afoul of a mischievous method actor (Ben Kingsley), and they soon find themselves on an urgent quest to show a high roller (Guy Pearce) the importance of generosity and selflessness.
Gwyneth Paltrow also stars as the resourceful and exasperated Vice President who has won Tony’s heart.
The Hunger Games
Every year President Snow picks two lucky children from impoverished parts of the country to come to the Capitol. The kids get a great meal, presents, and a chance to run around in the biggest playground in the country. Two special teenagers avoid the commercialism of Christmas and find love.
A Secret Santa passing out individual, personalized gifts for a whole sorority?! And he’s counting down the days until Noel with them through a homemade audio Advent Calendar too?! It can’t get more Christmas-y than that.
Fun fact: this is directed by Bob Clark, who also later helmed A Christmas Story.
Star Trek: Generations
A military crew on a long voyage encounters Dr. Tolien Soran (Malcolm McDowell), a not so jolly gent whose holidays were ruined long ago when the Borg killed his entire family. What Scrooges! Determined to make it back to them, Soran heads for the Nexus, a sort of intergalactic open bar holiday party.
But when Captains Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Kirk (William Shatner) decide to stop him, they discover that it’s a wonderful life in the 23rd century!
Everyone knows that Santa and his elves send the best presents to Chinatown, right? Well finally Spielberg Suburbia gets in on the action when a late night treat named Gizmo is unwrapped for a wholesome family with the world’s sweetest absentee-dad. When Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates introduce this adorable must-have merchandise item to their homes, they’ll learn that Santa isn’t the only one who enjoys sneaking a midnight cookie or two.
The Mogwai and his buddies spread goodwill to all in the town while Gizmo gives 1980s holiday shoppers the greatest gift idea of all (well besides a VHS copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and a remote control with a “Pause” button).
Ever wanted to know the real origin of Santa Claus? Find out in this delightful tale about a group of Finnish reindeer herders who discover that merry old St. Nick is actually a supernatural being buried underneath a local mountain. Wait ‘til you see what he has in store for the kiddies!
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
A British ne’er-do-well and his wild child girlfriend finally find the meaning of true love while celebrating Christmas in the Swiss Alps. Will a mean old perfume manufacturer come down from his mountaintop hideaway and spoil their holiday plans?
This heartwarming story of an elderly antiques dealer and his granddaughter takes a strange twist when an accidental Christmas present gives him a new lease on life. But mayhem ensues when a businessman and his nephew want the kind of holiday cheer that gets the blood pumping.
Tales from the Crypt: And all Through the House…
In the opening segment of this festive collection of stories, a housewife (Mary Ellen Trainor) treats herself to a very special Christmas Eve celebration – but a vagabond Santa (Larry Drake) comes knocking with a few ideas of his own!
When a team of festive reporters decide to spend the holidays with the Los Angeles Police Department, they pitch to Capt. Dudley Smith (the City of Angel’s erstwhile Santa Claus) that the story is “Silent Night with the LAPD.” How grand.
Little do they realize that they and the audience will soon be witness to a police department’s greatest act of charity this side of St. Louis County. When a couple of underprivileged citizens come in, they get crashed over the head with Yule Log festivities that will spread throughout the year. For the town of dreams, it really is whatever you desire from Pearce Morehouse Patchett and his bag of Christmas goodies!