ByAngelo Delos Trinos, writer at
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Angelo Delos Trinos

It’s that most wonderful time of the year and movie lovers around the world often like to mark the occasion by watching their favorite holiday-based films.

Movies like It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and The Nightmare Before Christmas have become time-honored traditions for many, but for others the wide-spread popularity of such films has also made them clichés.

So with the holiday spirit in full swing, here are five films that take place during the Christmas rush that serve as an alternative to those popular holiday mainstays – both traditional and otherwise.

1. Batman Returns

Still darker than 'Batman V Superman'
Still darker than 'Batman V Superman'
  • Directed By: Tim Burton
  • Year Of Release: 1992
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
  • An Alternative To: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Because of its distinct aesthetic, its morbid yet quirky take on Christmas and more, The Nightmare Before Christmas became a holiday household name. For those who want their Christmas cheer to have a similar dark shade, look no further than Batman Returns.

Batman Returns was not only directed by The Nightmare Before Christmas' producer Tim Burton, but it also shares the holiday backdrop and Burton's signature art direction. Both movies showcase a uniquely Gothic take on Christmas - but Batman Returns features a high body count instead of musical numbers. In fact, this Batman sequel was so dark and disturbing that it convinced producers to lighten the mood for the next two Batman movies - a decision that would be proven disastrous by Batman And Robin.

Batman Returns is not only one of the most imaginative adaptations out there, but it also doubles as an action-packed look at the dark side of Christmas.

Check out the trailer for Batman Returns below.

2. Tokyo Godfathers

The Holy Trinity, according to anime
The Holy Trinity, according to anime
  • Directed By: Shôgo Furuya and Satoshi Kon
  • Year Of Release: 2003
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
  • An Alternative To: It's A Wonderful Life

The Christmas season is known for bringing out the best in people, and no other movie embodies this message of goodwill better than It's A Wonderful Life. Due to its age, It's A Wonderful Life is oftentimes dismissed as cliché full of melodramatic fluff by today's audiences. For those who want to see a similar heartfelt message with a modern spin, Tokyo Godfathers is the movie for you.

Tokyo Godfathers could be dismissed as an animated Japanese remake of Three Men And A Baby with a holiday twist, but it's more than that. Not only does film tell a fun comedic holiday story, but it shows human compassion at its finest in a touching way befitting of the spirit. When three, down-on-their-luck homeless people try to provide for a baby they found in a trash heap in every way they could, you know the spirit of giving is definitely in the air.

Anime auteur Satoshi Kon is known for directing well-animated movies with a lot of humanity and heart, and Tokyo Godfathers is no slouch in this department.

Check out the trailer for Tokyo Godfathers below.

3. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

When Iron Man and Batman join forces
When Iron Man and Batman join forces
  • Directed By: Shane Black
  • Year Of Release: 2005
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
  • An Alternative To: Die Hard and Lethal Weapon

Die Hard and Lethal Weapon proved that badass lead characters can bring the holiday cheer, but their critical and audience acclaim have turned them into rather predictable holiday movie choices. For another yuletide action movie that has the grit of Die Hard and the wit of Lethal Weapon, check out Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

It's no secret that Shane Black loves buddy cop movies and Christmas. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a good combination of all of the filmmaker's likes, interests and signature styles. What sets this particular dark comedic homage to pulpy Film Noir apart from his other works is that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is one of Black's most underappreciated movies to date, despite the fact that it's considered by many to be the best story he's ever committed to film.

With a smart mystery, memorable dialogue, and a fine performance from Robert Downey Jr., Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is the perfect movie for a kick-ass holiday viewing.

Check out the trailer for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang below.

4. Carol

Love at first sight
Love at first sight
  • Directed By: Todd Haynes
  • Year Of Release: 2015
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
  • An Alternative To: Love Actually

The anthology film Love Actually has become the staple romantic movie for the holidays thanks to its multiple short stories about different couples getting together during the winter break. But for those who want to see a more focused romance that blooms over the holiday season, then Carol is definitely the movie to watch.

Carol begins with love-at-first-sight meeting during the Christmas shopping season. From there, it develops into one of the best romantic stories ever put on screen. Unlike other films with a similar plot, Carol shows how pure love between two women can be without the need to prioritize the sex scenes to absurd degrees.

Carol is the rare romantic movie that shows the human toll of a relationship not accepted by society (the story takes place during the conservative '50s), and it's a shame that in was nearly ignored at the Academy Awards last year.

Do yourself a favor and check out what the Oscars overlooked.

Check out the below video that highlights the exeptional framing of the film.

5. Krampus

He's not here for milk and cookies
He's not here for milk and cookies
  • Directed By: Michael Dougherty
  • Year Of Release: 2015
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 65%
  • An Alternative To: Gremlins

Christmas may be too saccharine for some, leading them to seek out horror movies to drown out the grating holiday cheer. Gremlins used to be the go-to cathartic holiday movie that openly mocked the season by slaughtering carolers and mall Santas with glee, but the sleeper hit Krampus gave the mischievous Gremlins a run for their money.

Krampus sports a bleaker take on the holidays and a comedic attack on the most wonderful time of the year when those dreaded family reunions take center stage. What makes this doomed Christmas dinner different from the standard horror-comedy is the old-school practical effects and genuine scares that hearken back to the '80s brand of horror. Krampus an early Christmas present for cinephiles and horror nuts.

Decent Christmas-themed horror movies are a rare find, and Krampus is one of the the few good ones that gives a new meaning to the classic carol "Silent Night."

Check out the trailer for Krampus below.

The holiday season means different things to everybody, and the range of films produced on the subject are a good reflection of this diversity. Though the movies listed above may follow different genre trappings and impart different themes to the viewers, they all show different ways of how one could enjoy Christmas – or survive it.

Holiday movies don't always need a Santa Claus somewhere in the plot to work, and these alternative Christmas films are a good example of that.

To check out some of the most non-traditional and craziest incarnations of Santa Claus, check out the list here.

What other unconventional holiday movies would you recommend? Sound off in the comments section below!


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