There are plenty of holiday films that we adore, favorites that we screen every year to great applause (or groans) from family and friends. But don’t we all have a few films or TV shows that we associate with the holidays, despite them having nothing to do with the season?
Here are a few of our go-tos while we’re holed up with cocoa, gingerbread, and mulled wine.
(Now we really want mulled wine…)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
I could not tell you why this film is always on around December 25th in my house. Maybe it makes sense because it’s about locating the Holy Grail? That’s kind of related to the holiday, but not at all why it became one of my yearly indulgences. There’s just something about Last Crusade that is deeply comforting to me, like snuggly pajamas. From the soundtrack to the color palette—it’s oddly specific, I know, but the blue of the sky and the grey tones of the grail knight are soothing somehow. I can fully engage with it or fall asleep to it, and either way I’ve had a good evening. Sometimes it’s fun to have on in the background while I’m baking. Also, it’s something of a trade-off in my head; Thanksgiving is for James Bond marathons, so maybe I just graduate to Jones the next month for the sake of completion.
Other titles I screen that would qualify include The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which has Santa but isn’t really about Christmas), Lilo and Stitch, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always carried a sleepy Saturday morning vibe, the kind that I took for granted as a kid and which has now become a blessed and rare reward. That sleepy vibe returns around Christmas, prompting me, usually without realizing, to complete my memory of the experience by booting up an episode of MST3K. It usually has to be one of the brighter, daffier episodes, though, to go with the twinkliness of the holiday. Roll on, The Puma Man! (Or maybe “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank”.)
I’m not sure why, but for me, winter (and especially the holiday season) is a time for fairy tales. Maybe it’s the nostalgic comfort of spending time back home with family, or the liminal space of transition from one year to the next. Whatever the reason, every December I find myself back with old classics, especially in the form of ’80s and ’90s fantasy films—and there are a lot to choose from. Willow is a recurring favorite, as is The Neverending Story, and Ladyhawke (which I had somehow missed as an actual child). But the one I come back to EVERY YEAR? Labyrinth, obviously. It’s got an epic quest, a gauzy dream-sequence, a central character I related to extra hard (we even have the same extremely common first name!), muppets, and BOWIE. And no, I’m not sorry for getting “Magic Dance” stuck in your head.
I don’t know what possessed us one year to watch Martin McDonagh’s darkly funny caper about two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) killing time in the Belgian city of Bruges, but it made for a surprisingly fitting holiday movie. Though I’ve never visited Bruges, the cobblestoned streets and the architecture (especially the very important carillon tower) remind me of the parts of Bavaria in which we used to spend Christmas when I was little. Maybe it’s that Ray’s (Farrell) crankiness for their forced vacation is just grinchy enough to be hilarious. And something about Bruges-as-purgatory really forces you to reflect on key moments in your life and important people to spend them with… which is what most holiday movies are supposed to do, and so many fail at.
The Many Fast and/or Furious Films
I’ve had one perfect New Year’s Day in recent memory, and that’s because I spent it the best way possible: Watching all of the Fast & Furious movies with a bunch of friends. The important thing is to watch them in chronological order, not release order, because if you try to watch Tokyo Drift third, you’ll lose momentum. (You can also skip Tokyo Drift. I won’t tell.) The Furious franchise starts out as a car-tastic cousin of Point Break, and is full of absurd moments (like when a cop inexplicably orders his minion to make him a pair of iced cappuccinos), but as the series goes on, it figures out its obsessions (FAMILY) and strengths (increasingly absurd car stunts; Michelle Rodriguez fighting Ronda Rousey; the sexual tension between Vin Diesel and basically everyone).
And then it adds The Rock. Fast 5 is when you really want to start paying attention—but that means you can gradually wake up over the course of The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Fast & Furious. Invite your favorite people over, make some mimosas, get some Coronas (you want Dom to like you, right?), order some takeout, and settle in for the long haul. By the time you get to Fast & Furious 6’s second barbecue, you’ll be cozy and happy and ready to face the year with your own chosen family.
You might also want a ten-second car.
Trilogy Marathon: The Lord of the Rings
I’m a Christmas media fanatic. In December I try to schedule my time so I can watch some type of holiday special or film every day, I festoon my home with tinsel, and I drink as much cocoa as I can hold. Because of this, the post-Christmas doldrums are strong with me. Over the years I’ve tried to force myself through my sadness by watching holiday specials on the 26th, but each attempt curdled like bad eggnog in my mouth. A few years ago I cooked up a new scheme: make the 26th the Official Trilogy Day!
The obvious starting point was the Star Wars Trilogy. And lo! The 27th dawned, and I felt better than I had in any previous year. And thus a new tradition was born, and led to Back to the Future, the first three Thin Man movies (those are the good ones) and then the one that stuck: The Lord of the Rings. Obviously, LOTR was already something of a holiday tradition anyway since the movies came out in December, but in a purely shallow way, watching all three movies while stuffing yourself with leftovers is the perfect way to ease back into regular, non-Christmas time. On a more serious note, since Christmas, at its heart, is about celebrating light in the darkness, what better scene to watch than the lighting of the beacons?
An earlier version of this article was published in December 2016.