There are a few things that help to make a perfect alternative Christmas movie. These are movies that are not about Christmas (though the Christmas season might be involved in the film in some minor capacity), but they still have a quintessential and hard-to-define Christmas-ness about them.
How is that possible? Often, it comes down to the atmosphere: cosiness, warmth, and a certain colour palette often help, as do textures, setting, and snow. For this reason, many alternative Christmas movies are often period pieces, or fantasy movies, because these are more likely to feature wood-burning fires, thick woollen blankets, and sheets of crisp snow.
Still, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and this list of alternative Christmas movies includes science fiction movies and crime thriller movies alongside mediaeval epics and magic. There is even a horror movie on the list because Christmas viewing options needn’t be restricted by genre. So, if you’re not a lover of the typical Christmas movie fare, these unconventional festive films will be certain to have something for you.
The best alternative Christmas movies
- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Thing
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
- Little Women
- The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf
- The Last Duel
- Spirited Away
If you aren’t interested in movies about giving gifts and family fun, then a movie about fraud and murder might be more up your street. Despite all the blood (and there is a lot of blood), Fargo is one of the best movies to watch when it’s cold. And, when you want to get under a blanket with a hot drink, there’s no better option.
What gives Fargo that indescribable quasi-Christmasyness is the snow. Set in Minnesota during the deep winter, the sound of snow underfoot and the sight of thick coats is more than enough to evoke a festive feeling among anyone who’s willing to go with it. And, while there is a lot of blood, that does mean that there is also an unusual amount of the colour red in the movie, and red is Christmasy, right
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back is the Star Wars movie that gave us Princess Leia’s snowsuit, as well as Han and Luke seeking warmth in the corpse of a tauntaun. If that doesn’t scream Christmas, then we’re on totally different pages.
In all seriousness, if The Empire Strikes Back didn’t start with the Galactic Empire’s assault on the Rebellion’s snow planet stronghold Hoth, then it wouldn’t make sense as a Christmas movie. But that initial snowy surrounding carries an alternative Christmas spirit through the rest of the movie. And, like any good Christmas day, The Empire Strikes Back also involves complicated family relationships and two family members having a big fall out. We’ll say it again: what’s more Christmassy than that?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
As well as being the best Harry Potter movie ever made, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban also works perfectly as an alternative Christmas movie. This is when the Harry Potter movies really stepped up, becoming more than just one-off items of curiosity and whimsy.
Hogsmeade, the village on the outskirts of Hogwarts, has an undeniable Christmas charm, so the fact that the movie spends a decent amount of time there will help you to get into something resembling the Christmas spirit without beating you over the head with baubles and elves. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban can, and should, be enjoyed throughout the year. But there’s something about it that makes it perfect for Christmas too.
The Thing (1982)
We’ll be honest, The Thing is on here almost exclusively for the snow and ice (Editor: and because it’s bloody brilliant). The Thing is a cosmic body horror movie not for the faint of heart and is certainly not an alternative Christmas movie that’s suitable for all ages. But, if you find that you have some alone time on Christmas day and want a dose of nihilism and despair, The Thing could be the perfect movie for you.
A hot drink and a heavy blanket are essential while watching The Thing because, unlike the snow in the other movies, the cold blue ice won’t make you feel cosy. It’s also recommended that if you have any dogs, you watch this one while they’re busy too.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
A story about love and sacrifice, set in the deep winter of a quaint French village, all framed in that gorgeous late ‘80s/early ‘90s Disney art style is perfectly suited for Christmas. But, what makes this an alternative Christmas movie rather than a conventional one is the fact that the seasonal event isn’t even mentioned once. Bliss!
What’s so perfect about Beauty and the Beast in contrast to the usual fare is that if you slipped it on during Christmas eve, no one would bat an eyelid. But you would all be spared bad songs, and aggressively Christmas-centric dialogue. With the Disney movie, the audience gets a small break from Christmas while not even noticing it, and that lets you appreciate it all the more.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit movies weren’t great, and there are more flawed decisions involved with the fantasy movie series than hobbits have breakfasts. Still, there are plenty of redeeming features, and the first in the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, is the best of the lot. That’s because it has the most Bilbo.
The truth is, Bilbo has very strong Christmas–energy. In fact, almost every evening in Bag End is spent like his own personal Christmas. We watch as he enjoys multi-course meals with wines and ales, all beside a warming fireplace.
Bag End itself is also very Christmassy, when dimly lit, and if you can watch the Dwarves singing their song in the candlelight and not feel warmed in your soul, then we’re clearly watching different movies. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey can be watched by all the family, and remains the cosiest Middle-earth has ever been.
Little Women (2019)
Out of all the movies on this list, Little Women comes closest to being a conventional Christmas movie. A core moment in the movie is set over the Christmas period, and it emphasises the idea that Christmas is a chance to give, rather than receive.
The drama movie also centres around family, and loss, and expertly pulls on your heartstrings while never being gratuitous about it. Laura Dern as the selfless Marmee March is automatically an inspiration, and with her the romance movie effectively provides strong moral messages while never taking you out of the moment. This one is an alternative Christmas movie which is bound to be a crowd pleaser.
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (2021)
Following up Little Women with The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is the ultimate one-two punch. Telling the origin of Geralt’s mentor, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is a dark animated movie steeped in the Christmas feeling. Yes, it’s about slaying devilish monsters and lost love, but it is also oh-so toasty, covered in a coating of snow. The impressive animation draws your attention to this and other aesthetic choices which make The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf an engrossing and surprisingly Christmassy ride.
Those visuals are supplemented by great action sequences, and some strong voice work too. For anyone who wants a bit more grit alongside their turkey, this is one of the best alternative Christmas movies out there.
The Last Duel (2021)
The Last Duel is, without competition, the best Ridley Scott movie of recent years. With a mesmerising performance from Jodie Comer at the lead, this mediaeval epic explores the mistreatment of women, and the grossly unbalanced power dynamics of centuries gone by. It has blood, mud, and immorality at its heart.
So, it seems like The Last Duel would be the last movie that anyone would choose to watch on Christmas day. Wrong! It might be grim, but if you can brace yourself for that, you’ll also find a movie rich with a luxurious atmosphere and stunning production design. Helped by the fact that the movie is largely set in the winter months, this ensures that the movie radiates a warmth which lends itself perfectly for alternative Christmas viewing.
Spirited Away (2001)
Unlike most of the other movies on this list, the Studio Ghibli anime movie Spirited Away is not set in the winter, and it doesn’t feature snow. So, the Christmas-ness of this movie is admittedly harder to find.
However, if you can appreciate the rich colours of the animated movie, and the stunning designs of the various monsters, you can find that Spirited Away evokes a sense of a magical fantasy like many Christmas stories. Thematically rich with gorgeous visuals, Spirited Away is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed perfectly well as a Christmas movie too.