What makes a holiday movie? It’s a question that comes up every few years for major debate. Three years ago, “Love Actually” was in the hot seat, and this year the Internet is bitterly divided over the bona fides of the 1988 action film “Die Hard.”
Even Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has weighed in. (Yes, he said unequivocally, “Die Hard” is a Christmas film.) Meanwhile, the movie’s star, Bruce Willis, said it wasn’t the greatest Christmas movie — it was “close” to the greatest.
To pin down what constitutes a true holiday film, the NewsHour spoke with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes, who runs the pop-culture blog Monkey See.
Holmes said there are three main categories of holiday movies. There’s traditional holiday movies that both take place around Christmas and tonally fit what people think and talk about at Christmas time, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The second category includes movies that feature Christmas scenes, or an important Christmas element, but are not solely based around the holidays. For Holmes, this is where “Die Hard” and “Love Actually” do fit in, as well as movies like “While You Were Sleeping” or “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
“Maybe eight to 10 years ago, when people were asked about their favorite Christmas movies, they said “Die Hard” [was their favorite] as a joke, now I think it’s a very standard answer,” Holmes said.
The new “Star Wars” franchise films and “Harry Potter” series, as well as most feel-good movies released around the holidays, fit into the last category, Holmes said — movies that families can crowd together to watch during the holidays. These are movies good for any age, and for escaping to the theater when there’s extra downtime…or too much time with family.
For five of the best non-holiday holiday films, Holmes recommends, in her words:
1. “While You Were Sleeping” (1995)
It is one of my favorite films in the world. It has some great family ruckus. The Christmas dinner where the whole family is talking over each other is awesome. It reminds everyone of a family that they have been around.
2. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)
I think the last two Star Wars movies are excellent. You can find the new one in the theater or watch the first one at home. They tell a good story and have cross-generational appeal for kids to get excited about and also for adults to care about. Everyone who watched “Star Wars” growing up has things to look forward to in the films and there is a lot of notalgia which is very Christmassy.
3. “Gremlins” (1984)
It is very funny but you have to have people who are ready for the gory aspects. You just have to see the gruesome Christmas tale in the middle of “Gremlins,” because a gruesome Christmas story is a good and amusing thing.
4. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)
The Christmas scene in the film is actually incredibly sad and a a lot of people are finding out where the [“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”] song originates in this depressing moment. It’s good to include in your Christmas scenes a very sad, melancholy one.
5. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
There is a Christmas sequence where the characters have been friends forever, but are currently separated because they are estranged from each other. It has the feel of a single person in the city figuring out how to celebrate Christmas alone, when it’s hard to be away from your friends.