The holiday season brings joy, cheer, and wonderful, feel-good movies — traditional Christmas classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. But there are plenty of alternative Christmas movies that deserve to get some recognition this season.
From neo-noir mysteries to irreverent black comedies, these offbeat holiday movies will add a unique and unexpected twist to your festivities. Read on for our top picks of the best alternative Christmas movies that you should watch this year.
Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 is a 2004 drama film that provides an unconventional take on the traditional holiday movie. The visually breathtaking “loose sequel” to In the Mood for Love follows sci-fi author Chow Mo-wan’s journey through time as he reflects on his relationships with various women over the course of several Christmases.
Save for the Christmas Eve setting, 2046 isn’t necessarily a holiday movie, but if you’re looking for a unique and melancholic look at love, memories, and nostalgia, 2046 will certainly offer you something different from the standard Christmas fare.
Black Christmas (1974)
Who doesn’t love a good slasher during the most joyous time of year? Black Christmas, which is regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made, follows a group of sorority sisters who are stalked and terrorized by an unknown assailant on Christmas Eve.
So, if you’d rather have more slay than bells this holiday season, check out director Bob Clark’s dark and twisted narrative that weaves terror, thrills, and a dose of social commentary.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Okay, Shane Black’s neo-noir black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is certainly an unconventional holiday film in that it’s not really about the holidays at all, though it does take place in Los Angeles during Christmastime — so yeah, Tinseltown is dressed in tinsel and all of that.
The story follows Harry (Robert Downey Jr.), a thief who accidentally nails an acting gig and is subsequently sent to L.A. to train under a private investigator (Val Kilmer) for his role. What unfolds is a murderous conspiracy that hilariously satirizes film noir tropes.
The Ref (1994)
Ted Demme’s The Ref is what would’ve happened if Kevin’s parents slept through the alarm in Home Alone. This alternative Christmas move follows a cat burglar Gus (Denis Leary) as he takes an affluent married couple, LLoyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline (Judy Davis) hostage after a botched robbery.
The non-stop bickering between the couple and Gus’ desperation to escape (not just police capture but the familial discord, too) makes for a fun dark comedy with the perfect Christmas backdrop.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Gothic motifs and unfinished man-made men with scissors for hands don’t seem to mesh well with the holidays — unless it comes from Tim Burton’s brain.
Edward Scissorhands is the perfect alternative Christmas movie because it not only captures the beauty and innocence of the season but it’s also sure to fill your heart with a warm nostalgia that is kind of unnerving and uncomfortable. Why? Well, in a story about a leatherbound artificial man with scissor hands and a seemingly perfect suburban neighborhood, you don’t expect to be horrified by the antics of the bored housewives and popular Chad.
Bad Santa (2003)
Bad Santa is pretty clearly an unconventional holiday film. Even the title — Santa is supposed to be good, but this one — this one’s bad. Conman Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) poses as a mall Santa to steal from stores during the Christmas season.
It’s meant to be obnoxious, offensive, and downright naughty, but the all-important Christmas lessons found in films in the holiday movie canon are all present: the spirit of Christmas always prevails in the end, bringing redemption through the power of love and friendship — things, I’m sure, would make Bad Santa want to barf.
Ah, Gremlins — the 1984 horror-comedy film that takes on the classic holiday movie formula and turns it on its head. It follows teenager Billy Peltzer as he accidentally unleashes a horde of mischievous monsters called Gremlins upon his small town during Christmas time. The creatures quickly spread chaos throughout the town, causing all sorts of mayhem and havoc.
The film is a truly unique combination of horror, comedy, fantasy, and even sci-fi elements that make for a bizarre yet nostalgic viewing experience. It’s the ultimate alternative Christmas movie for those who want something between the saccharine holiday movies of the 30s and 40s and a little less bloody and disturbing than Christmas-themed slashers of the 80s and 90s.
Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton returns to the list with Batman Returns, a 1992 superhero film that tells the dark and twisted tale of Batman (Michael Keaton) as he faces off against villains like Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Penguin (Danny DeVito), and Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) during the Christmas season in Gotham City.
Again, the Santa-friendly setting makes this film feel like a Christmas movie, but the action, horror, and dark comedy twist the tropes of the holiday subgenre just enough to make it appealing to those who want something a little darker under the tree.
Directed by Todd Haynes and written by Phyllis Nagy, Carol is a 2015 film that follows the story of two women, Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) who fall in love during the Christmas season in the 1950s despite facing stiff opposition from their families and society.
The A.V. Club’s Kelly McClure put it perfectly in an article entitled “Why Carol is the best Christmas movie:”
Carol is like having a bit of a cold while laying in a room that’s a bit too warm and looking at a vintage snow globe, all while being a little bit gay. In other words, it feels like Christmas.
Carol stands out from other holiday movies for its moving themes of love and acceptance as well as its honest portrayal of the struggles faced by queer individuals in a judgmental world. It offers viewers an unconventional yet heartfelt look at the holidays while also tackling difficult topics such as homophobia, gender roles, and social stigma.
Read More: Top 10 Films About Queer Love
Adding another horror comedy to the list, Krampus is a 2015 dark comedy horror film that follows a family whose Christmas turns into chaos when they are terrorized by an ancient, demonic creature known as Krampus.
See, this movie doesn’t simply use the season as a backdrop — it utilizes actual folklore from Central and Eastern Europe to bring thrills and scares to viewers. Though Krampus is the anti-Santa, it is a part of “Christmas-time” all the same.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
Zombies and Christmas go together like the apocalypse and musicals. Anna and the Apocalypse mixes the undead, musical theater, armageddon, and Yuletide into one ambitious genre-blender.
It follows a group of high school students who must fight for survival when their town is taken over by zombies during the Christmas season. The film features catchy musical numbers and thrilling action sequences that will keep viewers engaged throughout its runtime
Rare Exports (2010)
Rare Exports is a 2010 Finnish dark fantasy horror film that most definitely qualifies as an alternative Christmas movie.
It follows a young boy, Pietari (Onni Tommila), and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) as they witness the uncovering of the tomb of Santa Claus. But this isn’t the “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick” you’re probably thinking of — it’s an evil Santa — the one that “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” was most definitely written about.
Read More: Why Are Christmas Movies So Popular?