The 20 Best Non-Holiday Films Set During The Holidays

1. The Godfather (1972)



The Godfather is similar to A Streetcar Named Desire in that there probably isn’t anyone in the English speaking world who hasn’t seen at least one reference to it. Also, Marlon Brando is in both. It’s visually stunning, it’s dark and brooding, and it has one of the most notable versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” out there. Considered the second best American film in history – the first being Citizen Kane – this cultural phenomenon has two sequels, the third consisting of some hilarious director’s commentary where Francis Ford Coppola defends casting his daughter in the most cringe-worthy role. Sorry, Francis. It was bad.

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2. Psycho (1960)



Things get really hectic around the holidays. You decide to steal $40,000 from your employer, you awkwardly trade your car in, and you head to your lover’s place only to stop at an eerie motel where you get repeatedly stabbed by a schizophrenic psychopath. It may be subtle, but Hitchcock’s most recognized film is set on December 11th and features Christmas decorations in the town Marion drives through. The only thing merry, however, is Anthony Perkins making Janet Leigh a midnight snack. Swoon.

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3. Home Alone (1990)



John Hughes and Chris Columbus give suburban kids a few too many ideas in this Christmas favorite. Home Alone is a bundle of fun, but you might agree with Roger Ebert when he says that the film focuses a bit too much on the burglars and not enough on how an eight-year old kid would act when alone for the holidays. Nonetheless, torturing dumb adults with booby traps is always fulfilling, as is accepting that a plot point in the movie is that Kevin’s family can’t come home because all flights from Paris to Chicago are booked solid. Really? Everyone in Europe is itching to leave Paris for Chicago on Christmas Day? Ha.

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4. The Shining (1980)



While it’s void of any decorations, this Kubrick masterpiece is definitely set in the holiday season, as Jack is hired to look after the creepy hotel during its snowy months. Stephen King wasn’t a fan of Kubrick’s adaptation, but nonetheless, the film is beautifully shot, seamlessly edited, and terrifically acted. Viewers are left just as exhausted as Shelly Duvall’s character at the end of this movie, grateful that the credits are rolling and that large waves of blood aren’t an everyday occurrence.

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5. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)



It’s won over 25 major film awards and it manages to have three female leads, all of whom are fleshed-out, three dimensional women trying to find satisfaction in life and love. Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters begins and ends at Thanksgiving dinners set two years apart. It features stunning performances from Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Woody himself, and a young(er) Michael Caine – who may seem a little creepy here, what with the wooing of his wife’s sister via sexy E.E. Cummings poem, but is truly a delight to see outside of Nolan’s blockbusters.

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6. You’ve Got Mail (1998)



Any movie that features competitive book stores and a starry-eyed Meg Ryan is a winner. In this rom-com classic, the holidays bring less cheer and more “the small bookshop founded by my late mother is being put out of business by my online crush’s corporate superstore.” Even when smug, Tom Hanks is still as charming as ever and Dave Chappelle steals the show as his best friend. The warm holiday scenes featuring tipsy adults crowded around pianos are nice, but it’s the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” ending that makes us all want to burst into tears.

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7. The Blob (1988)



A remake of the cult-classic from 30 years prior, The Blob is a movie every screenwriter needs to watch. Get past the fact that Kevin Dillon’s hair looks insane and focus in on this exciting, bizarre sci-fi adventure set in a rural Pennsylvania skiing town that has been unfortunately without snow this holiday season. The script has some of the best Chekhov’s guns out there and the whole movie squeaks in at a mere hour and a half runtime, making it an easy watch. Like eggnog though, this is definitely an acquired taste.

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8. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)



It’s hard not to fall in love with the fantastic hot mess that is Bridget Jones. Setting up tent-poles around New Year’s Eve, Bridget is determined to stick to her resolutions this year: lose weight, drink less, stop smoking, and ultimately find happiness. The sequels are fun, but nothing compares to the original adaptation, with Bridget wearing a Playboy bunny costume and spitting out perfect philosophies like, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” She’s the realistic role model we’ve all been waiting for.

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9. Snowpiercer (2013)



Does a dystopian future holiday count? Snowpiercer takes place on the New Year’s Eve of a broken future where the planet has frozen over after a climate-change project went terribly wrong, and all life is contained to a train that circumnavigates the globe. It has dazzling fight scenes, frightening social commentary, a delightful Allison Pill cameo, and a really dark monologue by leading man Chris Evans. Even if you’re not into sci-fi action, watch it for Tilda Swinton. Everyone’s into Tilda Swinton.

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10. The Apartment (1960)



Billy Wilder is always a gem of a writer and director, but there’s something particularly outstanding about The Apartment. Is it Jack Lemmon stealing our hearts as the infectious C.C. Baxter? Is it Shirley MacLaine tearfully grabbing for the bottle of sleeping pills? Is it that soft black-and-white that New York City wears best? Alright, it’s all of it. The film takes off at a company Christmas party and ends on New Year’s Eve, with the events in-between touching on the heavy subjects of infidelity, status, and morality. It’s a perfect holiday film, as there’s no better answer to “I love you” than “shut up and deal.”

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11. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)



In the witty, sarcastic, and truly jolly world of Shane Black, the best way to get a girl to sleep with you is to finally admit you’re a lowly thief. Robert Downey Jr, Michelle Monaghan, and Val Kilmer knock it out of the park in this Christmas-themed comedy noir. It has twists, turns, and a dead girl in a shower, but it’s the lightning fast dialogue that makes this movie endlessly quotable and fun. Plus, it accurately depicts Los Angeles as a place where a stunning flight attendant named Flicka will talk to you at a party for less than three seconds before walking away.

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12. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)



Gene Hackman and Leslie Nielsen are somehow in this disaster film set on New Year’s Day. It’s better than its cheesy 2006 remake, and while it’s still unintentionally comical at times, it does the job and does it well. A huge tidal wave turns a ship upside down, and now a reverend and ten passengers have to somehow escape before the whole thing submerges or explodes. Abandon your resolutions and decide that living through this watery nightmare is good enough.

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13. When Harry Met Sally (1989)



Cue Meg Ryan again. Cue her a million times. There’s so much chemistry between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in a movie that spans years and multiple New Year’s Eve parties. From the famous deli orgasm scene to Harry listing all the reasons he loves Sally, Rob Reiner kills us with this award winning, classic romantic comedy. This film also confirms that it’s completely okay to feel cold when it’s 71 degrees out. You’ll still find love somewhere.

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14. Radio Days (1987)



Woody Allen has a way with nostalgia and magic. Set during World War II, the movie cuts between rundown Brooklyn, where Seth Green (yeah, Seth Green) lives as a young, bored Jewish boy and sparkling Manhattan, where the old world of radio still rules in glamor and glitz. In all of its New Year’s Eve glory, Radio Days is funny, heart breaking, and plain lovable. It also comes with Allen’s usual list of quotable lines, such as the perfect, “Who is Pearl Harbor?”

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15. Addams Family Values (1993)



In post-election 2016, it’s kind of comforting to look at a young Wednesday Addams standing up for Native American culture by physically burning down the terribly written Thanksgiving play she’s forced to be in. It’s actually very reassuring to know that Wednesday gets it. Addams Family Values is creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky. From the costumes to the overly dramatic acting, this movie understands its genre but never becomes too cartoonish.

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16. Mermaids (1990)



Give us more Christina Ricci, please. Mermaids begins in October of 1963, and features all major holidays, with its titular scene taking place during a New Year’s Eve costume party. The all-female cast is a dream, with powerhouse Cher being the mother of conservative, God-fearing Winona Ryder and adorable swimmer Christina Ricci. While its coming-of-age elements are rather niche, it still operates on a deeper level and has something to say about mother-daughter relationships. Plus, Jake from Sixteen Candles is in it and his hair still looks fantastic.

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17. Gremlins (1984)



It’s weird, it’s fun, and it’s a little culturally insensitive. Gremlins gets away with a lot in the fantasy and horror genre, but you kind of want it to. After a struggling inventor buys a Christmas gift for his son at a Chinatown antique store (see? It gets away with a lot), all hell breaks loose in the small town of Kingston Falls. At one point, all the gremlins are watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in a movie theater and you just need to nod and accept that this is happening. Still, Gremlins works somehow and is at times pretty terrifying. Writer Chris Columbus admits that he never thought this screenplay would become a movie… which explains a lot.

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18. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)



Wes Anderson’s third film gained him international fame, which was every bit deserved for this uniquely patterned, touching dark comedy. Adorned with buttons, zippers, layers, and Christmas tunes, The Royal Tenenbaums shows that Anderson operates in a world all his own, where somber 1960s music echoes – even outside. Matching track suits, sweat bands, cowboy outfits, a wooden finger, and everything in-between, this is a movie that lets you laugh after bursting into tears. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow looking at a waiter and flatly saying, “I’ll have a butterscotch sundae, I guess” is everything.

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19. In Bruges (2008)



The pitch-black comedy In Bruges is a lovely study in tension. Set during Christmas in Belgium, this film patiently photographs an ancient, albeit boring, city before splashing it with blood and guts. Everything is so intricately said and everyone is so perfectly conflicted, constantly keeping an audience entertained as the characters dance around each other. It’s not quite a noir, not quite a comedy, and not quite an action film – instead, it’s this perfect juggernaut of all three, showing cobblestone streets juxtaposed with guns and nightmares.

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20. Tangerine (2015)



Capturing Christmas in Los Angeles at its absolute finest, Tangerine is smart, sexy, and fully moving. The film was shot entirely on iPhones and follows a transgender sex worker trying to track down the girl her pimp boyfriend has been cheating on her with. It’s hilarious at times and really touching at other times – particularly when fellow transgender Alexandra sings Doris Day’s “Toyland” in a bright red dress at a bar. LA natives will also have fun recognizing the various staples of rundown Hollywood as they watch Sin-Dee drag a girl by her hair through the city. Yes, you read that correctly. This movie is exceptional.

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