For screwball comedy, zombies, assassins, epic parties, family hijinks, espionage, and mistaken identities and the occasional sing-along, dive into obscure Christmas movies and Christmas adjacent films this year. They’re a whole lot weirder than the Christmas classics and more fun too.
A black comedy, action movie or film noir can serve as the perfect palate cleanser after too much artificial sweetness. Lush fantasy films, quirky musicals and nuanced foreign films can transport us. And it’s refreshing to see a variety of perspectives on screen and watch film formulas get turned on their heads through satire, snark or skilled storytelling.
As I was researching obscure Christmas movies, I discovered Christmas adjacent films. These movies take place during the holiday season, but may not be married to holiday themes. They’re handy for a little injection of seasonal magic without going all in.
The range of obscure Christmas movies and Christmas adjacent films is pretty impressive. You’ll find plenty of overlooked family-friendly favorites and funny fare, as well as historical dramas, crime capers and horror movies.
How to watch and buy these obscure Christmas movies and Christmas adjacent films
If a film is widely available on multiple platforms, I’ve linked to Barnes and Noble in case you need to rush out and grab a last minute gift. (The stores offer curbside pickup, which is a godsend.)
Other titles are exclusive to a platform or more difficult to location. In these cases, I’ve linked to the most common place to view it. But I’d still encourage you to check Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, Microsoft Movies, iTunes, Prime Video and Google Play, as their selections can change over time.
What are your favorite obscure Christmas movies and Christmas adjacent films? This list will just keep growing, so be sure to share your comments in the comments below.
Anna and the Apocalypse
A Christmas zombie musical? Yes, please. This kind of delightful weirdness is exactly why I started making this list in the first place.
Forest Whitaker stars in this lush tale of a toymaker and his granddaughter. The filmmaker created a vivid world (described as “Afro-Victorian”) that’s gorgeous just to look at.
Babes in Toyland
There are several versions to choose from, but the 1986 film stars both Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
I watched this sweet, goofy musical non-stop as a kid and it totally holds up. There are a few humans (including Michael Caine as Scrooge), but the Muppets steal the show, obviously.
The Original Christmas Specials Collection
Come for the Burl Ives songs and classics like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, stay for forgotten favorites like The Little Drummer Boy, Cricket on the Heart and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
This 2009 animated film featuring Neil Patrick Harris and Jennifer Love Hewitt revisits the themes of the classic film in a new way.
A Christmas Story Live
Instead of watching the original on repeat, check out this live version with Maya Rudolph, Matthew Broderick.
The Year Without A Santa Claus
This stop animation film about a tired and burned out Santa Claus (we hear you, dude) is a classic, but it’s tricky to find.
So Bad, It’s Good
Star Wars Holiday Special
You either love this special or you hate it. Or maybe both.
Chris Kringle (a.k.a. Mel Gibson) goes mercenary and a 12-year-old hires a hitman. No, I am not making this up.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Does this even need a description? The title gives you all the camp you need.
You Better Watch Out
Santa suffers a psychotic break in this truly terribly rated slasher flick
An archeological dig in Finland uncovers what look to be the remains of Santa Claus. Then the kids start disappearing.
Three homeless people — alcoholic, a runaway and a former drag queen — form their own family on the during this Christmas Eve adventure.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The King of Halloween town finds a new purpose when he discovers Christmas town in Tim Burton’s dreamy, spooky, stop animation classic.
The Night Before
Seth Rogan, Anthony Mackie AND Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Sold. The fact that they’re planning an epic rager is secondary.
Billy Bob Thornton is a conman and the naughtiest, most outrageously fake Santa ever.
A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas
When you just need a little stoner comedy energy, this duo delivers with a journey through New York City to replace a flaming Christmas tree.
Office Christmas Party
Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston anchor an ensemble cast in this chaotic Christmas comedy about an out of control bash.
A Bad Mom’s Christmas
Naughty, raunchy, funny — but make it holiday. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles.
Sweet or silly
Prep and Landing
The exploits of Santa’s elite elf team are an animated series of shorts on Disney+.
Campy fun, pretty dresses and a sprinkling of romance prevail in this Disney+ original about a fairy godmother in training who reaches out to a little girl a few dozen years late. Isla Fischer stars.
The Christmas Chronicles
Cute elves, a very cool Santa’s village and real-life couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn as the Clauses and a brother/sister adventure make this family flick fun. The long-awaited sequel arrived on Netflix this November.
Eloise at Christmastime
Families and fans of the classic children’s book will love this adaptation about the impish little girl who lives at New York City’s Plaza Hotel.
It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
Can the gang stop an evil developer from turning the Muppet Theatre into a creepy nightclub? In related news, how many quirky actors (Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy, Joan Cusack, Matthew Lillard, David Arquette) can one Muppet movie include?
James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie voice this colorful animated film about the moment when Santa’s high tech operation runs into a bit of a snag.
Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn’s Christmas hating characters struggle to visit all four of their divorced parents. It’s cringe-worthy in the best possible way.
Santa’s bitter bro moves to the North Pole to score some quick cash. This is another Vince Vaughn vehicle and also stars Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks.
This romantic comedy boasts a strong ensemble, including Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, and Catherine O’Hara.
Christmas in Connecticut
This 1945 flick stars Barbara Stanwyck as a writer who’s managed to convince everyone she’s a sweet housewife when she’s anything but.
In case you forgot, this social satire starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy is set during Christmas. Aykroyd even wears a Santa suit.
Yep, it’s set during the holiday season. So while it might not be a Christmas movie per se, it’s definitely Christmas adjacent.
Love The Coopers
Everybody and their mother is in this movie about disintegrating relationships. The ensemble cast includes John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde and Amanda Seyfried.
Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader star in this Disney original about Kris Kringle’s daughter. My friend Erin says it’s a new fave. And she knows movies.
Anna Farris steals every single freaking scene in this guilty pleasure love letter to long-term crushes, boy bands, impossible families and Christmas sweaters. Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart also star.
It Happened on 5th Avenue
This classic screwball comedy is a breath of fresh air with lots of Christmas-y scenes.
The Family Stone
This whip-smart look into one unusual family is one of my favorite holiday movies of all time.
A trans sex worker buddy comedy shot on an iPhone for next to no budget? Sign me up. This film got some major indie buzz.
This Billy Wilder film stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClaine in a story about extramarital affairs set at Christmas time. (Yes, really.)
Danny Glover stars as a widower who invites his kids (which includes Gabrielle Union and Kimberly Elise) back home for Christmas.
The Night They Saved Christmas
Oil tycoons potentially destroying the North Pole (and an environmentally themed comedy in general) probably seemed wild in 1984, but now I can kinda see it.
Home For The Holidays
Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr. star in director Jodie Foster’s look at a dysfunctional family’s Christmas.
Bickering spouses, a disillusioned cat burglar and a kidnapping combine for a movie that’s much funnier than it sounds.
Party girl Anna Kendrick crashes with her brother’s family and disrupts his cozy life.
Un Conte De Noel
The always amazing Catherine Denueve stars as a matriarch whose Christmas celebration takes on a different tone when her complicated family discovered they might be called upon to be bone marrow donors.
This is just a little dark comedy about death, real estate and polyamory — you know, the usual holiday fare.
Nothing Like The Holidays
I sang the opening song and then literally yelled “I love everyone in this movie” — including John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodríguez, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina. It’s set in Chicago’s Humboldt Park.
Thrillers, noir and detective tales
This chilling satire about a charming serial killer based on the Bret Easton Ellis book includes a Christmas party scene and a mistletoe kiss that are anything but cheerful.
Three Days of the Condor
Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway tromp through snowy New York City, perhaps the most photogenic Christmas city of all time, in this cult classic spy thriller.
Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
This L.A. crime caper starring Robert Downey Jr. and Michelle Mongahan is definitely Christmas adjacent, with the action taking place during the holiday season and lots of Christmasy set pieces and costumes.
The classic 80s horror comedy is actually set at Christmas time, so this is the perfect time to revisit those not-so-cute-and-cuddly Mogwai.
This crime noir features cops, murders and plenty of darkness against a backdrop of twinkling holiday lights and and a soundtrack of Bing Crosby classics.
Long Kiss Goodnight
This spy thriller showcases Geena Davis as a mild mannered mom hiding a past as a CIA assassin. The action happens at Christmas time.
The Thin Man
Myrna Loy stars in a classic detective story that takes place in New York City during the holidays.
Emilia Clarke is a gleeful mess who works (barely) as an elf in a Christmas story, Henry Golding is the nicest guy ever and nothing is quite as it seems. The immigration subplot was refreshing and timely and the movie surprised me.
A sick woman decides not to play it safe any longer and jets off to Europe instead. Queen Latifah and LL Cool J star.
Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz play women who switch houses and find love in each other’s countries.
Two strangers decide to be each other’s date during the holidays and things get complicated. This a nice mix of earnest and sassy that rolls its eyes at romantic comedies while playing with the formula.
The Best Man Holiday
College friends reunite after 15 years during the holidays. The always excellent Taye Tiggs leads an all star cast including Regina Hall, Terrence Howard and Sanaa Lathan.
The Happiest Season
A woman spends Christmas with her girlfriend’s family — only to learn that they don’t know she’s gay. It’s unexpectedly sharp and funny and stars Kristen Stewart and Dan Levy, who’s an absolute delight.
John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet at Christmas in a story shaped by fate, luck and personal choices.
Let It Snow
Based on a Young Adult novel, a diverse cast of high school seniors takes a complex look at love.
Remember the Night
Barbara Stanwyck (queen of the quirky classic Christmas movies, it seems), stars as a petty thief who catches a ride with an attorney.
A holiday part ignites a love forbidden by 1950s society. The movie is based on a novel by the brilliant Patricia Highsmith, who created the Tom Ripley character.
This Bruce Willis flick is the Christmas adjacent film that coined the term. But considering that the action takes place during a Christmas party, I think it’s honestly a Christmas movie, full stop. (Debate me.)
This Mel Gibson and Danny Glover buddy cop/action movie franchise is centered around stories of darkness and redemption set during the holidays.
Rise of the Guardians
Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy team up to save Christmas with a young Jack Frost in this animated action film.
Iron Man 3
There’s a Christmas dance number and holiday gift giving, so this movie if firmly Christmas-adjacent.
Christmas lights sparkle against Gotham’s grit in a superhero film that’s both dark and surprisingly festive.
A spoiled postmaster in exile, a lonely woodsman, a town that loves holding grudges and a community of Sámi people all shape Santa’s origin story in this animated feature.
Troops in World War I call an unofficial Christmas truce in this historical drama starring Diane Kruger.
The filmmaker behind Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and 28 Days later brings little grit and realism to an animated story of a young boy who discovers discarded money and wants to use it to do good in the world.
The Lion in Winter
Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn star in a Christmas story set in 1183, centered around England’s Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The Man Who Invented Christmas
This biopic explores the life and inspiration of Charles Dickens.
Santa Claus the Movie
A devious businessman played by John Lithgow, a toymaking elf and an overwhelmed Santa Claus threaten to disrupt Christmas in the 1985 flick.
Little Women — both 1994 version starring Winona Ryder, Claire Danes and Susan Sarandon and the 2019 Greta Gerwig version with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet — are set during the holiday season in the days following the Civil War.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
A young orphan processes his Christmas trauma by dressing up as Santa and wrecking havoc in this classic slasher film that made critics furious when it first came out.
A Christmas Horror Story
Interwoven stories combine in this Canadian horror flick.
Better Watch Out
This psychological horror/home invasion story takes place during the holiday season.
The 2015 film gives a Austro-Bavarian myth the comedy/horror treatment.
What about you?
What are your favorite Christmas movies?
Which Christmas adjacent films do you love?
Which titles are you adding to your watch list?
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