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The Best Movies That Are Kind Of About Christmas

You find yourself at a party where everyone is talking about favorite Christmas movies. Sure, you could say “Elf,” which you know in the deep ventricles of your cold and bitter heart is an uplifting film that inspires you annually. But instead, you go for the classic: “Oh, my favorite Christmas movie is ‘Die Hard.’”

What a clever thing you just did! You have cemented your credibility not only as a person who understands the subtext of action movies, but also an unconventional viewer who has surveyed the holiday canon and concluded that, nah, Bruce Willis saving Christmas is more your deal. At this point in the party you will light a cigarette and ride away from the conversation on your motorcycle.

This can get a little tedious — “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a way better movie anyway — but it starts a really fun conversation about the wide world of movies that are only slightly about Christmas. Maybe the movie takes place during the holidays but they’re not mentioned, or maybe there’s just an important scene at a holiday dinner table, but many movies are a sprig of holly away from being technically a Christmas movie. There have been excellent roundups of the top films of this weird little niche, but I wanted to go a little deeper and see what the data says about the true Best Sort-Of Christmas Movie. (The AV Club once called them “Christmas-adjacent,” and dang, that is perfect.)

Luckily, the obsessives at Wikipedia have assembled a rather comprehensive list of movies that are related to Christmas. We can — and will — argue about exactly how much Christmas is too much or too little Christmas to justify inclusion in this set.1 But in the end the list captures the batch of films with a primary plot that, if you stripped away or swapped out the holiday, could conceivably stand on its own.

So, which movie best articulates this brand of somewhat-Christmas movie?

Here are the films from the set that had both a Metacritic and IMDb score:

hickey-xmas-tangential

Clearly, a film’s IMDb user rating tracks heavily with the critic’s score, with a few slight differences. Films like “The Godfather” — a revered film, much of which takes place around Christmas — and “Fanny and Alexander,” an Ingmar Bergman film that has scenes set at Christmas, come out ahead.

If you’re just looking for the best in the set, here’s what we’ve got when it comes to Metacritic scores:

RANK MOVIE METACRITIC SCORE
1 Fanny and Alexander 100%
1 The Godfather 100
3 Carol 95
4 The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 94
5 Toy Story 92
6 Goodfellas 89
7 Brazil 88
8 The English Patient 87
9 Das Boot 86
10 Ordinary People 85
10 Boogie Nights 85
12 Love Story 84
13 Babe 83
13 Moonstruck 83
15 Eastern Promises 82
16 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 79
16 Precious 79
18 Full Metal Jacket 78
18 2046 78
20 The Princess Bride 77
20 Kramer vs. Kramer 77

But this list just identifies which really, really good movies have a scene with a decorated tree or morbidly obese man in red. There’s room to go deeper here. After all, few people think “Christmas movie” when they think “The Godfather.”

To find the ultimate semi-Christmas-y movies, ones with more than just a whiff of nog, maybe it’s worth looking at movies that people want to watch in December more than usual. For films in the top 5,000, IMDb displays the popularity rank and how much that has changed over a week, derived from, among other things, their measurements of interest in a film’s page. Given what we know about the acceleration of Christmas music consumption, I’d estimate that any film in our Wikipedia set that saw its popularity increase in the past week — based on when I pulled the data for the week ending Dec. 7 — is likely one of the better Christmas-related movies out there.

Here are the films from the set that were in the top 5,000 in the first week of December, had a Metacritic score, and saw the biggest gains in popularity in the past week:

RANK MOVIE METACRITIC SCORE IMDB POPULARITY RANK RANK CHANGE IN PAST WEEK
1 Noel 29% #1867 +2311
2 Surviving Christmas 19 904 1984
3 Fred Claus 42 293 1972
4 The Long Kiss Goodnight 44 1682 1967
5 Reindeer Games 37 2181 1850
6 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale 71 1800 1683
7 Eight Crazy Nights 23 2393 1567
8 Scrooged 38 184 1334
9 Black Christmas (2006) 22 2408 1281
10 Mixed Nuts 14 2886 1185
11 Friday After Next 35 2573 1169
12 Are We There Yet? 27 2860 1156
13 Little Fockers 27 3100 1006
14 Star Trek: Generations 55 3667 1002
15 Ghostbusters II 56 1610 925
16 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 72 1084 879
17 The Family Man 42 1709 774
18 Happy Christmas 70 1789 569
19 Arthur Christmas 69 1073 551
20 Bridget Jones’s Diary 66 764 487
21 Ronin 67 2570 477
22 Love Story 84 2524 398
23 Bad Santa 70 289 385
24 The Mothman Prophecies 52 4601 372
25 While You Were Sleeping 67 1680 364
26 Die Hard 2 67 1919 358
27 You’ve Got Mail 57 1276 355
28 The Boat That Rocked 58 2433 352
29 First Blood 62 858 347
30 Eyes Wide Shut 68 372 284

“Noel,” a New York-based “Love Actually” wannabe with Susan Sarandon, comes in at No. 1 here, followed by Vince Vaughn’s “Fred Claus” and Ben Affleck’s “Surviving Christmas,” two holiday-themed family comedies about lonely men trying to buy happiness. I’d argue that these latter two shouldn’t be in this set at all, as the holiday is pretty essential to those plots, but we’re working from imperfect data, so ignore them if you want.

Then we get into the action flicks with slight ties to the holidays, and lo and behold, “Die Hard,” though ranked 414th on IMDb, isn’t to be found.2 The top action flicks here are “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” in which Geena Davis teams up with Samuel L. Jackson to kill stuff after overcoming her amnesia during holiday prep, and “Reindeer Games,” the movie where Ben Affleck carries out a heist on Christmas Eve.3 John McClane’s reappearance in “Die Hard 2” does make the list, though, so maybe you should be the innovator who claims that sequel as your favorite Christmas movie at the holiday party.

“Eight Crazy Nights,” Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah movie, makes the list, because what could be more “sort of related to Christmas” than Hanukkah? In fairness, given that the Festival of Lights started the day before I pulled the data, it may be higher now than we’d expect later in the year.

Both “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” also make the top 30, which leaves me personally satisfied with this ranking.

Those furiously scanning at home should know that “Love Actually” does not make this list because it is one of the most popular baseline films in the whole set. In the past week, though, it jumped 30 spots to be the 60th most popular film. That’s good to hear, because “Love Actually” is awesome.

Still, I’ve never heard of some of the top films. “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” seriously? What on earth is —

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 3.34.29 AM

Oh.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 3.34.34 AM

Wait, seriously —

Oh my god.

This is the greatest film I have ever heard of. Screw “Die Hard,” this should be your favorite Christmas movie. If you need me for the next hour and 24 minutes or so, I’ll be watching this Finnish movie about Santa murdering people.

Footnotes

  1. I like it when the Talk page becomes a rhetorical knife fight, but this page is lacking vehemence. Wikipedians, get in there — the article probably needs some crowdsourced refining.

  2. This is because it didn’t have a large enough jump. It’s slightly more popular than usual this week, but it’s always pretty popular. Slightly relatedly, same goes for “Trading Places.”

  3. Two Ben Affleck movies in the top five! Does Ben Affleck really like Christmas? I want to know more here. If you know Ben Affleck, know how to reach Ben Affleck, or are Ben Affleck, you know how to reach me. I want answers.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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