Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas movie? An EW debate

Feeling an emptiness in our bones, we asked EW critic Darren Franich and senior writer Devan Coggan to debate Tim Burton and Henry Selick's 1993 classic The Nightmare Before Christmas without making a terrible mess of your holidays. What have we done?

Team Halloween

"This Is Halloween." Need I say more? Nightmare opens with that rousing hymn to screaming pumpkins and snake-fingers. The sing-along introduction to Nightmare's netherworld lets director Selick maximize the bizarro incongruities that define producer Burton's cinema: gothic melodrama and playful-ooze grotesquerie filtered through cartoon looniness and graveyard Broadway choreography. While there are countless Christmas melodies, this is the October anthem, and the only kid-friendly ditty to ever feature the phrase "clown with a tearaway face." Run-time pedants will note that Halloween ends quickly and the movie depends on the stark contrast of scare artiste Jack Skellington with familiar Santa iconography. It's breaking myths — but it's making new ones. Halloween Town is a mad dream of an infinite Oct. 31, a freaky-sweet ghoul society where Frankenladies and skullguys can fall in wonderful wuv. Jack shakes up Christmas, but Nightmare perfects Halloween. Everyone hail the Pumpkin King. —Darren Franich


Buena Vista Pictures Jack Skellington delivers in 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'

Team Christmas

All good Yuletide movies follow a formula: There's a scrooge or nonbeliever who misunderstands the holiday, only to discover the true meaning of Christmas sometime before the end credits start to roll. Sure, this stellar stop-motion staple looks less like a tree lot and more like the inside of a Spirit Halloween store, but a spooky aesthetic can't cancel out holiday cheer. Goths love Christmas too! Besides, this is a movie that ends with our skeletal hero Jack trying to "save Christmas" — which is the plot of every Hallmark movie ever. (Although, to be fair, those feature more sexy small-town carpenters and fewer reanimated corpses.) Danny Elfman even gives us classic new carols: Each song is a banger, but I particularly love "What's This?" — a giddy celebration of snowmen, candy canes, and mistletoe. Plus, if Die Hard is now considered a festive favorite, then surely The Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie that literally has the holiday in its title, deserves a place in Christmas Town. —Devan Coggan

Make sure to also check out EW's Holiday Movie Preview cover story on Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

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