Four Debatable Christmas Movies to Cause Strain at Christmas Dinner

Anna Gorman, Copy Editor

We’ve all heard of the staple Christmas movies – “Elf”, “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story” – and we adore them, but what about the ones that raise eyebrows? The ones that make you wonder if they even are Christmas movies? What about them? 

 First, however, we must ask the golden question: What makes a movie a Christmas movie? According to the University of Bristol’s student newspaper, one of the features of a Christmas movie is it combines family fun, comedy and yuletide joy to evoke the Christmas spirit. 

 Are the movies that only partially evoke the Christmas spirit considered Christmas movies, too, then? 

 Look at “Frozen” (2013), for example. Is the presence of ice enough to call it a Christmas movie? Does the lack of caroling demote it to a “winter” movie?  

 The gray area on the Christmas movie spectrum seems to be so great it’s dictating what these movies are – and springing up debates with the power to end friendships. 

 The debates over these movies will be settled once and for all – right here, right now. 

 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) 

Jack sees a snowflake for the first time. (Backyard Cinema)

 As one of the most debatable holiday movies of all time, Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” represents the gray area between Christmas and Halloween. 

 When Halloween Town’s Pumpkin King Jack Skellington grows burned out from years of the same “trick-or-treat” routine, he discovers a magical door that leads to Christmas Town. Soon, he falls in love with the idea of Christmas, but ultimately this infatuation morphs into an unhinged obsession. Skeleton reindeer and a coffin sleigh are only the tip of this gothic yuletide iceberg. 

 In terms of a Halloween movie, it checks all the boxes: a spindly skeleton for a protagonist, a gloomy atmosphere and, best of all, the twitchy stop motion animation found in other common Halloween-related family movies, such as “Corpse Bride” (2005) and “Coraline” (2009). 

 However, it also checks many boxes in the Christmas department: The plot is very similar to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” but even wilder, with Jack going as far as kidnapping Santa Claus so he can have total control over the holiday. His antics go too far, and it takes the military to shoot him down. 

 What’s more, the movie’s own title plays on the poem “The Night Before Christmas”, which Burton said inspired the movie, according to Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  

 Sophomores Carissa Jenkins and Demi Papathanasiou both agree “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is both a Christmas and Halloween movie. However, Papathanasiou leans more towards Christmas. 

 “It’s literally in the name,” she said. “The entire movie is about him trying to steal Christmas.” 

 Ultimately, Jenkins agreed with Papathanasiou’s points. 

 The verdict: Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a Christmas movie – one strong enough to put you in the Christmas (and Halloween) mood. 

 Edward Scissorhands (1990) 

Edward carves ice sculptures in the mansion attic. (Penn State)

 Burton also directed this film and because of his bold stylistic choices – the gothic atmosphere being one of them – many people associate the story of an artificial man with scissors for hands with Halloween. 

 What’s Christmassy about it is a simple piece of dialogue said at the beginning of the film: “Why does it snow on Christmas, Grandma?” 

 To which the grandmother (who is later revealed to be the past love interest of Edward) replies with the story of Edward Scissorhands. 

 By the end of the movie, the question is answered: Snow flurries billow out of the giant mansion’s attic (where Edward lives and carves his praised ice sculptures) on the hill and dust the small town below. 

 Other than that overarching idea, however, nothing else “Christmassy” happens in the film. Sure, there’s ice featured and one of the main themes of the movie is romance, but any movie can have ice and romance.  

 “Titanic”, anyone? 

 Also, due to the movie being filmed near Tampa Bay, Florida, it is almost impossible to tell whether the movie takes place during winter or summer. 

 Based on the clothes the other characters wear during the middle of the movie and how they all hosted a neighborhood barbecue, however, I’m going to assume summer. (I’ve lived in Florida, and in winter it gets a little chilly – enough for a sweater.) 

 The decision is final: “Edward Scissorhands” is not a Christmas movie – most of it takes place in an entirely different season. 

 Gremlins (1984) 

A band of menacing gremlins go caroling. (Youtube)

 What’s more Christmassy than a bunch of hairy gremlins exploding due to a gas leak? 

 Jokes aside, “Gremlins” opens with a father looking for a Christmas gift for his son, Billy. He settles on a box containing a cute, fuzzy Mogwai named Gizmo and three warnings to go with him: He must never get wet, be near bright light or be fed after midnight.  

 These three rules are quickly broken and what is left is a sinister gremlin named Stripe looking to destroy the town.  

 Junior Molly Hassinger believes “Gremlins” is a Christmas movie while senior Anna Kate Black believes it is not. 

 “The whole premise of the movie is [Billy] gets Gizmo for Christmas,” Hassinger said. 

 Black is still sold on her opinion, however. 

 “It’s a Thanksgiving movie,” she said. “At least, a fall movie.” 

 Let’s break it down: As Hassinger said, Billy does get Gizmo for Christmas – the box was even wrapped in Christmas paper – and there’s even a scene of Stripe and his band of evil gremlins caroling. Billy’s house is decked out in Christmas decorations, Billy’s next-door-neighbor, Kate, hates Christmas and, best of all, the climax of the movie happens on Christmas Eve. 

 Save for a few scary moments that would make “Gremlins” a horror movie if it was released nowadays, almost everything about this movie screams “Christmas.” 

 That, to my knowledge, is a Christmas movie. 

 The ultimatum: “Gremlins” is a great Christmas movie – and now I’m adding a Gizmo to my Christmas list. 

 Die Hard (1988)  

John avoids Gruber’s forces by climbing through Nakatomi Plaza’s vents. (Entertainment Weekly)

 “‘I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” 

 This is only one of the many iconic quotes from the film “Die Hard”, where NYPD Officer John McClane travels to Los Angeles to see his family but is roped into a terrorist attack in Nakatomi Plaza staged by criminal mastermind Hans Gruber. 

 The movie is no stranger to debate and errors (wasn’t his shirt white?), as it is at the very heart of the Christmas movie debate. 

 And, in all honesty, “Die Hard” makes a pretty good Christmas movie. 

 For starters, much like “Gremlins”, the story takes place on Christmas Eve. On top of that, the film opens with “Christmas In Hollis” by Run-DMC and closes with “Let It Snow” by Vaughn Monroe. 

 In fact, little Christmas-like bell jingles can be heard in every gun fight in the background as a part of the soundtrack. Just listen closely. 

 And, to top it all off, in order to defeat Hans Gruber, John tapes a gun to his back… with Christmas tape. 

 There is no doubt about it: “Die Hard” argues to be a movie the whole family can enjoy around the fire. 

 Still not convinced? CNN anchor Jake Tapper wrote an entire poem defending “Die Hard” as a Christmas film in the style of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore on Twitter. 

 However, despite this evidence, Hassinger disagrees. 

 “It’s not a Christmas movie,” she said, “just an action movie that takes place during Christmas.” 

I beg to differ. Thanks to “Die Hard”, I was unable to get “Let It Snow” out of my head for the rest of the day after watching it. 

 And, once I finished it and the credits rolled, I never felt more like enjoying Christmas than I did at that moment.

 The upshot is nonnegotiable: “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie – one of the best. 

Despite it being unclear what it means and what it takes to be a Christmas movie, one thing is completely clear: Christmas movies can stem from anywhere and be about anything. 

 But they will never top the ones that stir up the most uncertainty.