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:
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:
|1||Fanny and Alexander||100%|
|4||The Manchurian Candidate (1962)||94|
|8||The English Patient||87|
|16||One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest||79|
|18||Full Metal Jacket||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|
|4||The Long Kiss Goodnight||44||1682||1967|
|6||Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale||71||1800||1683|
|7||Eight Crazy Nights||23||2393||1567|
|9||Black Christmas (2006)||22||2408||1281|
|11||Friday After Next||35||2573||1169|
|12||Are We There Yet?||27||2860||1156|
|14||Star Trek: Generations||55||3667||1002|
|16||Kiss Kiss Bang Bang||72||1084||879|
|17||The Family Man||42||1709||774|
|20||Bridget Jones’s Diary||66||764||487|
|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|
|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 —
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.