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Top 6 unconventional Christmas movies

Why settle on the same old cookie-cutter Christmas flicks this holiday season when you can catch one of these films that tell a festive story in a more unexpected way?




Less than 1 minute Minutes




Less than 1 minute Minutes

UPDATED: 30 Dec 2023, 4:44 pm

For many people, Christmas means turkey, presents and binge-watching holiday movies with loved ones. The latter, experts have noted, can be a form of stress relief during the busy festive season – but they don’t have to be predictable, run-of-the-mill flicks with feel-good endings and subpar acting. How about gun-toting heroes, forbidden romance and evil gremlins instead? 

If you are looking to add some zest to your Christmas movie catalogue this year – and can’t stomach another viewing of Love Actually – then look no further than this list of six unconventional Christmas movies. Be warned though, some of them are definitely NSFW and they mostly have adult themes. Do your due diligence before gathering the grandparents and little ones around the TV!

Black Christmas (1974)

Director: Bob Clark

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder

Runtime: 98 minutes

This criminally underrated Christmas-themed slasher film, Black Christmas, was primarily inspired by the urban legend of “The babysitter and the man upstairs.” Much like that particular tale, the movie follows a young woman named Jess Bradford who finds herself being harassed by disturbing phone calls during Christmas. As the caller becomes increasingly unhinged, Jess and her sorority sisters must find a way to stop him before they become his next victim. 

Directed by Bob Clark, who oddly enough made the lighthearted Christmas comedy, A Christmas Story (1983), almost a decade later, Black Christmas is often overshadowed by other later classics of the genre, including Halloween (1978). However, this Canadian film can be considered the progenitor, helping to establish typical slasher film tropes such as the faceless killer and terrifying phone calls. 

In recent years, Black Christmas has undergone a revival of sorts, spawning a 2006 and 2019 remake that were not critically well-received. However, a crowd-funded unofficial sequel called It’s Me, Billy, was released in 2021, earning an enthusiastic response from fans. A sequel to that project is currently in development. 

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The Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton

Runtime: 106 minutes

The 1980s saw a slew of horror-comedy films such as Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988). Another noteworthy family-friendly classic of this era is The Gremlins (1984) which tells the story of Billy, a young boy who receives a furby-like creature known as a mogwai (魔鬼 ‘devil’ in Cantonese) from his father as a Christmas present. An accident, however, causes Billy’s mogwai to produce other more malicious monsters called gremlins whose destructive tendencies threaten Christmas and the very survival of Billy’s town.

Upon its release, The Gremlins was well-received, and it continues to resonate even decades later. Writing in a 2019 Guardian review, Peter Bradshaw hailed it as “a wacky, satirical spectacle of chaos” that “makes fun of…Christmastime commercialism.” 

Although the film is targeted towards kids, it was somewhat controversial when it was first screened, as parents expressed concerns over its violence and dark themes. As a result of the uproar caused by this film and the first Indiana Jones movie, the American film industry ended up introducing an entirely new PG-13 rating. 

The resemblance between mogwai and the furby line of toys – released four years after the film – has been contentious. The similarities were not lost on the movie studio, Warner Brothers, which sued toy maker Hasbro for several million dollars. 

Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer 

Runtime: 126 minutes

Admittedly, Batman is not exactly the first name that springs to mind when one thinks of Christmas. Tim Burton’s follow-up to his original Batman (1989), continues the story of the caped crusader who must attempt to save Gotham City from a rich megalomaniac businessman and a crime boss, while dealing with the appearance of Catwoman. 

However, with its festive backdrops Batman Returns makes the Christmas cut – perhaps as an “anti-Christmas” film, with its depiction of lonely souls who are trying to find meaning in a city of rampant crime. 

When it was first released, critics were divided over the film’s quality. One area that most were able to agree on was Michelle Pfiffer’s stellar performance as Catwoman, which won her a legion of fans. For the role, Pfeiffer had to wear a skin-tight latex outfit, which she noted in a 2017 interview to be “the most uncomfortable costume I’ve ever been in.” 

As well, she had to learn to use a whip, with her hard work receiving public recognition decades later thanks to a behind-the-scenes video that went viral in 2021.

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Bad Santa (2003) 

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham

Runtime: 92 minutes

On the surface, Bad Santa appears to be a crass comedy about an alcoholic crook named Willie T. Soke, who poses as a shopping mall Santa in order to loot the stores during Christmas Eve. The movie, however, actually addresses the very real issue of how Christmas can bring out the worst in people who are experiencing trauma and addictions. 

It’s definitely not family-friendly fare. One scene features an intoxicated Willie in a Santa costume smashing props of Christmas donkeys in front of a group of petrified children. Unsurprisingly, the film very nearly didn’t happen, with one Universal executive describing the script as “the most foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children thing we could imagine.”

The film, whose story was conceived by the Coen brothers – the directors of such classics as Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007) – has a number of big names attached, including lead actor Billy Bob Thornton. Neither is it a complete downer: along the way, Willie meets various people, including a bullied boy, who all manage to recalibrate his nihilistic view of the world. 

A sequel was released almost two decades later, with the main leads returning, although it failed to achieve the same level of success as the original. 

Carol (2015)

Director: Todd Haynes

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson

Runtime: 119 minutes

Based on the lesbian romance novel, The Price of Salt, Carol follows the love affair between a married woman and a young female clerk in New York during the festive season of 1953. 

Although the two women’s transgressive relationship and the challenges that it poses remain the film’s cornerstone, the Christmas setting can be considered a character in itself, appearing in the form of a snowy cityscape, shopping for gifts, Christmas trees, and characters rugged up against the cold. 

For many years, the film was stuck in development hell, as its sensitive subject matter and the presence of two female leads scared away investors. The final product is more than worth the wait, however.

With layered performances from the two leading actresses and careful direction on the part of Todd Haynes, Carol was very well-received upon release. One critic hailed it as “a masterpiece of the highest order” suitable “for anybody who has ever fallen in and out of love (and) dealing with hopeless infatuation…”  

For director Todd Haynes, making the film was a personal experience, as he notes it “really was a tribute to the lesbian people in my life, my dear friends who are seminal in my life.” Unsurprisingly, the film is now considered the quintessential Christmas movie for the LGBT community. 

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Violent Night (2022)

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell

Runtime: 107 minutes

In this quirky festive outing, Father Christmas finds himself having to defend a wealthy family from a group of mercenaries sent by Scrooge to steal $300 million from the family’s vault. As a plot, it’s cheesy, ludicrous and sacrilegious to boot. However, director Tommy Wirkola and his crew somehow manage to make the whole package work. 

The film is reminiscent of Die Hard (1988), another violent Christmas classic, with the daughter of the rich family setting up deadly booby traps for the mercenaries that lead to some grotesque and downright stomach-churning results.

Despite the gore, Violent Night has clearly struck a chord with audience members, as a sequel is currently in the works, with Mrs. Claus, elves and the North Pole set to make an appearance. 

“Story-wise I think we have a really, really cool idea [for the sequel],” said Wirkola in an interview earlier this year. It “expands on the world and scope, but still keeping that tone that we love from the first one.” 

UPDATED: 30 Dec 2023, 4:44 pm

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