A Tireless Thesis-less Tirade on the Tiresome Trials and Troubling Tribulations of Too Many Terrible Christmas Movies

If you haven’t seen “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you should have, and if you have seen “Elf,” you shouldn’t have.


Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

When I first took the pitch for this article—to write about my takeaways from a classic holiday movie—I was determined to write a passionate defense of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

By Zachary Leiter, Associate Arts Editor

When I first took the pitch for this article—to write about my takeaways from a classic holiday movie—I was determined to write a passionate defense of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Then two things happened. First, I talked to almost everyone I know at this school, and an alarmingly small number of those people had any interest in watching—or, god forbid, reading about—a movie from the post-war era. Second, I realized I was writing this article during finals week.

I present below, then, not a passionate polemic but a tireless tirade. To follow are some of the most famous holiday movies, according to myself, my friends, and the interweb. I will try to present takeaways from each one. I have seen most some of these movies.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Featuring Jimmy Stewart, absurdly long camera shots, and a scene involving a swimming pool hidden beneath a dance floor! Black and white! Naked girls talking from behind bushes! “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” and every time I watch this movie, I reminisce about an era I never experienced and am probably glad I never did. Seriously, you should watch this movie if you haven’t watched it yet and if you don’t mind a little bit of New Deal propaganda.

Home Alone

Kevin, a future axe-murderer, attacks two kindly older gentlemen who happen by his house one day. Kevin’s mother cares about what happens to Kevin exactly as much as your academic advisor cares about what happens to you. She’ll come back when Christmas is over, don’t worry. This movie takes place in Chicago, apparently. Maybe Kevin became the Woodlawn arsonist.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

A legitimately lovely movie. Funny, wholesome, and there are talking rats. Michael Caine has a remarkable performance, especially when you consider he’s starring alongside a pig-adjacent frog. Definitely the best Christmas Carol adaptation; this is not up for debate. Takes place in London, which is not Chicago.

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

This is a 1991 TV movie about an 1897 New York Sun editorial. Very relevant today, given that the people in the movie are now dead and so is the New York Sun. Haha, journalism joke. Also, true story: When I was eight, I confronted my mom about Santa Claus being fake, and then she actually admitted he was fake, and then I got very sad because I’d been trying to call her bluff and I wanted to still believe in Santa, even as a Jew. That’s the kind of eight-year-old I was. No, Zach, There Is Not a Santa Claus.

Trading Places

This movie has Eddie Murphy and is apparently about Christmas. Moral: Don’t be greedy, and do be Eddie Murphy. New York City is also not Chicago. Also, plot-holey fuck this movie is bizarre.

Let it Snow

Netflix. Up to you. :/

The Year Without a Santa Claus

This movie is from an era when everyone turned on their TV for the evening news after finishing their microwave mac and cheese and Jell-O Salad, and all the TVs across the country were playing the same thing, in this case, the answer to Christmas movies not being Christmas-y enough: The Year Without a Santa Claus. It probably ran between ads to become a flight attendant for Pan Am. This movie is sweet, but honestly, just look up Snow Miser and Heat Miser on YouTube, and then skip the rest of the movie.

The Santa Clause

The main character, Scott Calvin, is reproached for eating five desserts. But, like, the blue ice cream at fourth meal is so good. Moral: If you murder Christmas, you become Christmas.

A Christmas Story

I really should’ve chosen more movies I’ve seen, but apparently, this movie has no plot, so how far off can I be? Here’s what happens: nothing. And also, Christmas. Starring: probably Bill Murray.


At its best, this movie is endearing. At its worst, it’s infuriating. Elf is never at its best, despite the postulations of the Extreme Value Theorem. In case you haven’t seen this movie, a warning: This movie is what happens when you take Christmas and you beat it over the head with a dead reindeer. This movie is what happens when you put a candy cane, a snowman, Santa, and Will Ferrell into a blender. Featuring: the creepy shower scene where Zooey Deschanel sings “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” If you like this movie, you should join the elves at the North Pole whence Ferrell came at movie’s opening and whither he returns at movie’s end. Or, alternatively, you could move to Chicago. Baby, it’s cold outside.

The Polar Express

Tom Hanks is almost all of the characters. This movie is about a kid who’s kind of depressed and boards a train that has an old man in the ceiling. This movie includes a song, which, to my memory, goes something like… Boy: “Santa never gives us poor kids gifts” … Girl: “Christmas is fun when you do get gifts.”

Miracle on 34th Street

It’s like The Bee Movie, but about Christmas.

Edward Scissorhands

No matter how you remember this movie, it’s both weirder and sadder than you remember. Roughly half of this movie is ice sculpting montages. I guess that makes it a Christmas movie? If you like Tim Burton, I suppose you should watch this movie. Otherwise, if you’re just looking for a chilly tale of lost love between a secretly sad popular girl and an artistic loner boy, try Titanic. Titanic is about as much of a Christmas movie as Edward Scissorhands is, and only one of these movies stars Leonardo DiCaprio.



Die Hard

“It is a fucking Christmas movie,” says my friend, before describing a movie that is as much a Christmas movie as political science is a science. Starring Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis. Did you know that Bruce Willis is on Spotify, singing “Under the Boardwalk?”

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The title of this movie literally admits that the movie does not occur on Christmas. I watched this movie on Halloween, as a palate cleanser between The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. I will not be watching it again. Currently wishing I could conjure up the energy to study for my finals.

Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman

This is, apparently, a movie. If you have seen it, please let me know, because I have so many questions.


I have not seen this movie, but I’m told it has “everything and lots of death.” All of the holiday movie staples: gremlins, “the classic glowy pool scene,” and people getting run over by snowplows. The three rules of Gremlin care are, apparently: First, do not expose them to sunlight. See: Cullen, Edward. Second, do not let them get wet. See: men, UChicago. Third, don’t feed them after midnight. Or, if you’re Arley D. Cathey, after 8:25 p.m.

Love Actually

This movie is not actually about love. Don’t cheat on your wife. Don’t try to seduce a married woman with creepy poster board signs while you stand outside her door pretending to be a Christmas caroler. Hugh Grant! Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightly, Colin Firth, and also Rowan Atkinson! This movie is the kind of movie that you really enjoy, really regret that you really enjoyed, really regret that you regret enjoying because some of the movie really is romantic in a kind of cutesy way, and then feel very proud of yourself for not enjoying because look at you, you’re a college student, and you know what healthy relationships look like.

Catch Me if You Can

This is the perfect amount of Christmas in a movie (at least to me, as a Jew). The movie is festive, cheery, and only mentions what time of year it is a couple of times. Note to directors: The holidays are overrated. There, I said it. Snow is very cold. Candy canes taste like REDACTED. I don’t want a tree in my house. And if I hear a single other person play fucking “The Little Drummer Boy” any time before December 23, I swear I’m going to try to hibernate. I’d rather listen to Bruce Willis than Christmas music before Christmas. Alternatively, I could listen to “Dominick the Donkey,” the only Christmas song that’s acceptable year-round. And unfortunately, despite Adam Sandler’s various efforts, Hanukkah music remains a non-entity.