Ditch the tinsel and forget the ham folks! We’re going on a deep dive into the holiday film vault, where Christmas classics have scissors for hands and presents pack more punch than expected. From forgotten flicks to offbeat cheer, we’re unwrapping the wild side of Yuletide cinema — with unexpected twists. Jump in, we’re dusting off the reels of the underrated and the unconventional to sleigh away the ordinary (we had to). Trailers included.
The Red Shoes (1948) directed by Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
A tale of unrequited love, lust and gift-giving; the kind you thought you wanted but didn’t really need. The gift in question? A bewitching pair of Christmas-red ballet shoes. The Red Shoes follows Vicky Page (played by Hollywood beauty, Moira Shearer) a rising star ballerina torn between an idealistic composer and a ruthless impresario intent on perfection. It’s blazingly beautiful — with Oscar-winning sets and notorious, hallucinatory dance sequences that have entranced the minds of critics for decades. Even Martin Scorcese has called the film a favourite: “It was shown almost every Christmas, on television. I loved it. It mattered, but it didn’t matter, because we got to see it again and again, and that’s when the real power of the picture took over for me.”
Gremlins (1984) directed by Joe Dante
It’s giving “Christmas Nightmare” with a side of 80’s humour, fur balls and a ton of fairy lights. Much like ‘The Red Shoes’, this one also revolves around the treacherous task of finding the perfect gift — in this case, it’s an inventor in search of a present for his son, Billy. Just when he’s about to give up, he stumbles into a store that shelves a misleadingly cute creature, the ‘Mogwai’. Upon purchasing the new pet-present, he’s warned, “Don’t get it wet. Keep it away from light. And whatever you do, never, ever feed it after midnight”. And, of course, like all children, Billy finds it hard to stick to the rules. As a result, the cute little Mogwai morphs into its evil, less fluffy alter-ego — a Gremlin. The anti-elf of Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) directed by Ron Howard
Another strange and furry-fellow! Less Gremlin, more Grinch. A Christmas classic from the topsy-turvy mind of Dr. Seuss, about a big green man with a tiny heart who lives in solitude just outside of Whoville. Basically, Whoville loves Christmas, the Grinch (Jim Carrey) loathes it. In a moment of hysterical rage *of the haha kind*, he plots to steal all their holiday cheer but is stymied by little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). Eventually, the Grinch learns to love Christmas too, and his heart grows larger. ESSENTIAL December viewing. Family friendly, too.
Edward Scissorhands (1990) directed by Tim Burton
Here lies a story of man-made boy meets real-girl — on the cusp of Christmas, of course. It follows Edward (Johnny Depp), a frankenstein-like character with scissor hands who’s life upended when he is taken in by a suburban family. He soon falls in love with the daughter of the house, Kim (Winona Ryder) causing confusion and outrage in his new home town. The set design is gorgeously kitsch and it’s laced with Xmas metaphors. A must watch cult classic for all those with a taste for the weird and wonderful.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) directed by Stanley Kubrick
Now, this is not your typical, cheery Christmas film, at all (and one for adults only). It’s a mesmerising, cinematic dream which follows a Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) on a psychosexual odyssey following his wife’s (Nicole Kidman) admittance to wanting to smooch another man at a Christmas party. Kubrick’s final film, released posthumously, sparks debates — is its Christmas-time setting a symbol of rejuvenation or a critique on materialism replacing the season’s spiritual roots? Some have even labelled it an ‘assault on Christmas.’ In this iconoclastic holiday classic, Christmas takes an unconventional turn…straight to the club.
Tangerine (2015) directed by Sean baker
This film flips the script on Christmas flicks, following a trans sex worker’s Hollywood hunt for a cheating pimp. Forget the sugar-coated American dream — this one’s gritty, capturing the season’s ethos whilst refusing to shy away from the pandemonium of everyday life. It’s vibrant, unconventional and promises to shed light on the real struggles that lie behind the facade of a white Christmas.
Bush Christmas (1983)
Enter, Nicole Kidman’s first film! The Bush Christmas is a much-loved Australian story of an outback family and a festive adventure through the bush. It all starts when a group of teenagers take off after two thieves steal their prize horse. A funny and very sweet family film to resonate with the not-so-snowy Australian Christmas experience. Features a killer Australian folk music soundtrack, too.
Wake in Fright (1971)
This one’s all about a simple man looking for a simple Christmas holiday on his way to start work as a teacher in outback Australia. At first you’ll think you’re on a quintessentially sweaty road trip across the land of Oz, and yet, before you know it, you’re ten beers deep and running for your life. Certainly not the kind of Christmas film you’d watch with the kids, nonetheless one for the cinema history books.