30 Alternative, Unconventional Christmas Movies You Should Watch Right Now

Deck the halls with lesser-known but hugely enjoyable holiday movies from this definitive roundup of alternative Christmas fare.

Dan Levy and Kristen Stewart in 'Happiest Season'<p><a href="https://www.hulu.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hulu" class="link ">Hulu</a></p>
Dan Levy and Kristen Stewart in 'Happiest Season'


One of our favorite ways to get in the holiday spirit is to binge-watch as many Christmas movies as possible. We love the best-known classics like It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street and Elf as much as anyone. We also have a soft spot for some unusual, underrated Christmas movies—great flicks that may not immediately come to mind when you think of Christmas films. We've rounded up 30 of our favorite alternative, unconventional Christmas movies. As much as we appreciate the comfort of Hallmark and Lifetime holiday movies this time of year—and we do—it's easy to appreciate Christmas movies where the plotting is more ambitious, and where female characters have more agency.

This list includes Christmas-themed thrillers, horror movies, erotic and sexy movies set during the holiday season, musicals, comedies, superhero movies, family-friendly kids' fare, action movies set at Christmas time, more complex romances and more.

All of these titles are readily available on all major streaming services for rental or purchase.

Related: The 14 Best Classic Christmas Movies

The 30 best alternative, unconventional Christmas movies

1. Happiest Season (2020)

Between this and Palm Springs, Hulu can boast arguably the two best romantic comedies of 2020. Kristen Stewart delivers her strongest comic turn to date in Clea DuVall's winning charmer opposite Mackenzie Davis, as a young woman who pretends to be her girlfriend's straight roommate at Christmas to appease a conservative family. The all-star cast includes Alison BrieAubrey PlazaVictor GarberDan Levy and Mary Steenburgen. Now streaming exclusively on Hulu.

2. Die Hard (1988)

Though John McTiernan's action masterclass has a slightly higher body count and several more explosions than It's a Wonderful Life, it's still a Christmas movie! Bruce Willis' Christmas Eve battle royale against Alan Rickman and a team of heavily armed terrorists atop Nakatomi Plaza stands tall as one of the finest action pictures ever made, along with the likes of James Cameron's Aliens and George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road. An unexpected box office smash, Die Hard was nominated for four Academy Awards and launched Willis' career into the stratosphere. He was only known as a comedic television actor up to this point, and the studio reluctantly gave him the role of everyman-turned-superman John McClane after Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to shoot the film as a sequel to 1985's Commando.

Related: Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?

3. Gremlins (1984) 

Quick: is Joe Dante‘s handcrafted masterpiece of mayhem a horror movie for Halloween, or is it a Christmas movie? Gremlins is so deliciously inventive, so funny, and yes–so frightening, who could blame you for watching it at least twice a year? The PG-rated Gremlins was aimed at a wide audience, and raked in a hefty $153 million against an $11 million budget. The unexpectedly high gore quotient (that microwave scene, anyone?) angered some parents, as did the bloodletting in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that same summer. By the release of Red Dawn in August, the MPAA instated the PG-13 rating we still have today.

Olivia Hussey in 'Black Christmas'<p>Warner Bros.</p>
Olivia Hussey in 'Black Christmas'

Warner Bros.

4. Black Christmas (1974)

Bob Clark‘s decidedly darker Christmas movie (he also made perennial family-friendly favorite A Christmas Story) is a gnarly little thriller about a group of sorority sisters who are stalked and preyed upon by a psycho-killer who remains anonymous and is never caught (not common in this subgenre). The film was a box-office success, thanks in part to its brilliant tagline: “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!” In order to get approved for its first-run release, British censors edited the picture a bit, though not for violence; the obscene phone calls the girls receive were deemed too vulgar for theaters. The ick factor is really high in this one, even by today’s standards.

Elvis Presley considered Black Christmas one of his all-time favorite films, as does Steve Martin. Just please be sure to check out the 1974 original and not the 2006 remake, a geeky splatterfest that retains none of the mystery, cleverness and menace of the original. Even worse is the 2019 remake, which halfheartedly and lazily attempts to turn Black Christmas into a tale of female empowerment.

Related: The 151 Best Horror Movies of All Time 

5. Carol (2015)

Based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the most assured film of Todd Haynes‘ illustrious career to date tells the story of forbidden love between a young photographer (Rooney Mara) and an older woman (Cate Blanchett) going through a rough divorce. This is an utterly riveting, even exhausting watch, as the lovers must overcome disheartening, dehumanizing adversity. The hopeful ending is hard-won and deeply gratifying.

Mara won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, but was submitted for Best Supporting Actress at the OscarsCarol was nominated for six Academy Awards total, surprisingly shut out of Best Picture and Best Director categories.

Related: The Best Romantic Movies So Far This Century 

'Bad Santa'
'Bad Santa'

6. Bad Santa (2003)

A foul-mouthed-yet-undeniably-hilarious treat for grown-ups only, from the director of Ghost World. This is one of Billy Bob Thornton's best roles, and the gloriously go-for-broke rude humor struck a chord with audiences, making Bad Santa a box office success. Not everyone was tickled though: a 2003 editorial in The Washington Times likened Bad Santa to an "evil twin" of A Miracle on 34th Street. While this may have been meant as a criticism, surely the filmmakers took it in stride and saw the humor in it. 2016's Bad Santa 2 had a terrific cast including Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks, and though it retained the vulgarity, it lacked the heart and genuine wit of its predecessor.

Related: The Most Popular Christmas Movie Dads of All Time

7. Batman Returns (1992) 

One of the best films in the Batman series and likely the most underrated, Batman Returns is a vivid and wondrous marvel of production design and world-building. Tim Burton and his technical team took everything that made 1989's Batman stand out to the next level, and this is the most ravishing, distinct vision of Gotham City ever. Batman Returns was a box office disappointment following its predecessor's astronomical haul, and much of this certainly has to do with the film being marketed at families and very young children, including a now-notorious McDonald's Happy Meal toy tie-in that sparked outrage.

Here's a tip: don't show Batman Returns to small children. Its graphic violence and relentless dark tone are enough to alarm most grown-ups. There's so much to love here though, including Michelle Pfeiffer's captivating Catwoman, Danny DeVito's pitiful and grotesque Penguin, and Michael Keaton's masterful manic-depressive take on Bruce Wayne. This is one of the most cohesive visions Burton has ever shown us, and some comic strip purists say this film is the one that most closely captures Bob Kane's original Batman strip.


8. Tangerine (2015)

Sean Baker is one of our most innovative filmmakers. He makes humane, uncomfortably intimate yet fully cinematic films about characters who rarely so much as get the big screen treatment. His breakthrough was Tangerine, an extraordinary and gut-bustingly funny comedy about a feisty, lovable, motormouth escort who storms the streets of Hollywood on Christmas Eve to track down the pimp who broke her heart. Filmed entirely on an iPhone 5S, Tangerine is laugh-til-you-cry funny throughout, and then an unexpectedly poignant ending hits you right in the gut, touching the heart in an honest and disarming way. It is a great film. Baker's follow-up The Florida Project is even better—it's downright exquisite. That one is now streaming on Netflix.

9. Trading Places (1983) 

This loose adaptation of Mark Twain‘s 19th century novel The Prince and the Pauper, where Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy play financially disparate men who switch lives, was rightfully compared to the classic comedies of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra upon its release. Aykroyd and Murphy are perfect foils, with great chemistry. This was also a breakthrough for Jamie Lee Curtis, who won a British Academy Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her hilarious performance as a tough-as-nails hooker with real depth and charm.

10. Lethal Weapon (1987) 

Writer Shane Black's iconic, Oscar-nominated action comedy stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as mismatched LAPD officers investigating a mysterious death. Lethal Weapon was No. 1 at the U.S. box office for three weeks, ultimately grossing $120 million against a $15 million budget—and launching a franchise.

11. Brazil (1985)

One of the defining works of Terry Gilliam, sci-fi satire classic Brazil centers on a daydreaming bureaucrat in futuristic dystopia. With stunning visuals and a prescient bite, waking nightmare Brazil is now considered one of the best British motion pictures ever.

12. White Reindeer (2013) 

Zach Clark's dark dramedy stars Anna Margaret Hollyman as a grieving widow preparing for the holidays. White Reindeer received critical acclaim following its 2013 premiere at the South by Southwest festival.

Related: The Real Reason People Still Love National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

13. L.A. Confidential (1997)  

One of the most acclaimed films of the 1990s (this picture has one lonely, frankly nonsensical negative review on Rotten Tomatoes), Curtis Hanson's stunningly crafted throwback noir—set in the 1950s—is a tale of scandal, murder and conspiracy. L.A. Confidential was nominated for nine Oscars (losing most to Titanic), with wins for its screenplay, and a Best Supporting Actress trophy for Kim Basinger.

14. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Shane Black apparently loves to set witty, violent crime comedies at Christmas time. This spiritual successor to Lethal Weapon (for another, see 2016's The Nice Guys) pairs Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. (a few years before Iron Man re-jettisoned his career) in a twisted Los Angeles murder mystery.

<a href="https://parade.com/1368765/hannah-southwick/nicole-kidman-net-worth/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Nicole Kidman" class="link ">Nicole Kidman</a> and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut
Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut

15. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

About as chilly as a Christmas movie can be, Stanley Kubrick's final film is an intense drama about the one-night sexually-charged odyssey of a New York doctor (Tom Cruise) whose wife (Nicole Kidman) has confessed to fantasizing about another man. Kubrick died six days after showing his final cut to Warner Bros., and in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, the film received extensive edits (the original cut is now widely available on DVD and streaming). Though Kubrick was long-known as the master of torturously long takes and shoots, he outdid himself with Eyes Wide Shut, and at 400 days of principal photography the film holds the Guinness World Record for longest film shoot ever.

Related: The Sexiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

16. In Bruges (2008)

Nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, Martin McDonagh's black comedy crime film is one of the best pictures of its ilk of the past couple decades. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as hitmen hiding out in Belgium in an irreverent, hilarious and gory thriller. Farrell won a Golden Globe for Best Actor—Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Related: What Are the Best Parts of Christmas Movies?

17. Krampus (2015) 

Thanks to a deft balance of humor and scares, an overqualified cast (including Adam ScottToni Collette and David Koechner), and some excellent creature and sound design, director Michael Dougherty‘s Krampus hits all the right notes. It’s set in modern suburbia, and tells of the titular ancient European folk beast’s takeover of a dysfunctional family’s holiday. PG-13-rated Krampus is a successful balancing act; it’s just scary enough to satisfy horror fans, but never graphic, fairly family-friendly. It’s spooky, and there’s tangible joy in the filmmaking. Dougherty helmed 2019’s underrated Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

18. Iron Man 3 (2013) 

The Marvel movies, largely, follow a formula. Shane Black (making his third appearance on this list)'s sequel to Iron Man 2 caught some flack from fans for going too far into left field. Critics mostly liked the wit, and a major plot twist. Terrific action set pieces also help to compensate for scenes set in "Tennessee" that are wildly inaccurate to the actual Tennessee.

<a href="https://parade.com/1291312/kelseypelzer/best-christian-gifts/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Christian" class="link ">Christian</a> Bale in 'American Psycho'
Christian Bale in 'American Psycho'

19. American Psycho (2000)

More incisive and freaky than spooky or chilling, this darkly satiric adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘ 1991 novel was in development hell for nearly a decade. Christian Bale had his heart set on the role of narcissistic Wall Street homicidal maniac Patrick Bateman, but Lionsgate wanted Leonardo DiCaprio.

David CronenbergOliver StoneMartin Scorsese and Danny Boyle were all in the running to direct at some point, but Mary Harron was the right choice. She milked the material for maximum black humor, and she insisted on Bale, who is perfect in the lead role. Now considered one of our most prominent method actors, Bale spoke in an American accent throughout filming. When he spoke in his native Welsh accent at the wrap party, everyone thought he was prepping for a different role.

Related: The 151 Best Horror Movies of All Time, Ranked 

20. Better Watch Out (2016)

One of the more psychologically complex titles on this list, Chris Peckover‘s edgy, bleakly comedic thriller centers on a home invasion, a resourceful babysitter (Olivia DeJonge), and the young boy (Levi Miller) who has the hots for her. Better Watch Out may be a little mean-spirited for general audiences unfamiliar with twisted slashers, but it’s made with considerable wit and craft. The plot twists are genuinely shocking and effective. It’s The Bad Seed meets Home Alone, and it’s satisfying if that sounds like your cup of eggnog.

21. The Ref (1994) 

In this darkly comedic modern retelling of 1910 short story The Ransom of Red Chief, a wealthy couple drive a would-be cat burglar (Denis Leary) absolutely crazy on Christmas Eve with their insufferable bickering. The Ref was a breakthrough for Leary, proving the standup comic had formidable and malleable acting chops. He later went on to star in FX's Rescue Me for seven seasons, as well as Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man.

22. Office Christmas Party (2016) 

An A-list comedy mega-cast including Jennifer AnistonJason BatemanOlivia Munn, T.J. Miller and Kate McKinnon star in Josh Gordon and Will Speck's unapologetic studio comedy about a female CEO, her brother and a holiday bash that flies off the rails. Office Christmas Party doesn't aim really high, but there are big laughs, and the whole thing finds an affable balance of edgy and comfortably familiar.

23. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

The budget of Gremlins 2 was nearly five times that of Joe Dante's acclaimed original, and if there's one major criticism of Gremlins that holds some water, it's that it might be too much of a good thing. It's clear the filmmakers were given carte blanche and let their imaginations run wild; this doesn't seem like a film set where anyone said "no" very much. But what glorious and delightful anarchy this is.

Though it doesn't have much of a plot to speak of, just more of a set-up in which countless gremlins multiply in a New York skyscraper, Gremlins 2 has a wicked and knowing sense of humor, and it shrewdly predicted corporate culture of the 1990s and beyond. One of the funniest moments of meta-humor is a scene where film critic Leonard Maltin (playing himself) is eviscerated by Gremlins after denouncing the original film, as he had in real life. There's also a scene where a distressed mother runs out of a cinema and criticizes the filmmakers for making a violent and gross movie for kids. Wink wink.

24. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) 

Under-appreciated as an offbeat Christmas diversion and as a fun action movie, Renny Harlin's twisty shoot-em-up (with a script by Shane Black) stars Geena Davis as an amnesiac teacher piecing together her past. Esteem for The Long Kiss has grown over the years; previous Harlin-Davis collaboration Cutthroat Island (one of the biggest flops ever) seemingly hampered the film's reception in its day. Co-star Samuel L. Jackson has said this is his favorite movie he's appeared in.

25. Godmothered (2020)

22 Jump Street scene-stealer and Groundlings alum Jillian Bell stars as a godmother-in-training who gives a Christmas makeover to a Bostonian mom (Isla Fisher). Gently campy, warmhearted and fun in the spirit of Enchanted, Godmothered blends rom-com and family film mostly successfully—thanks in no small part to the talented performers. Now streaming exclusively on Disney Plus.

26. Go (1999)

Doug Liman's critically acclaimed, hilarious and exciting caper comedy explores intersecting lives on the fringes right around Christmastime. William Fichtner, Sarah Polley, Taye DiggsJay Mohr and Katie Holmes headline the ensemble cast. Undeniably influenced by Tarantino, but also more than original and nuanced enough to stand on its own, Go is also notable as the film debut of Melissa McCarthy.

<p>United Artists</p>

United Artists

27. The Apartment (1960)

One of the most successful, defining works of old Hollywood creative giant Billy Wilder is this romantic dramedy starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Double Indemnity's Fred MacMurray. Witty and brilliant The Apartment, about an insurance worker torn between career advancement and the girl of his dreams, won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.



28. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

An unqualified win across the respective filmographies of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can is the stylish, funny and touching sort-of biopic based on the (largely refuted and disproven) autobiography of con man Frank Abagnale Jr., and the FBI agent who tracks him. It's a game of cat and mouse at first, then it gets better when it becomes more of a father-son story. Wisely timed for a holiday season 2002 release, Catch Me If You Can appealed to a wide, multigenerational audience like relatively few films can.

Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville in 'Phantom Thread' <p>Focus Features</p>
Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville in 'Phantom Thread'

Focus Features

29. Phantom Thread (2017)

Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Oscar winning period piece Phantom Thread is, unequivocally, the best, richest movie about workaholism of all time. This is a bizarre, brilliant film whose triumphs are layered. That’s one of them. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a grief-stricken, toxic fashion designer who meets his match in a beautiful waitress (Vicky Krieps).



30. Spencer (2021)

Pablo Larraín's masterful Spencer is one of the most assured, idiosyncratic and wholly satisfying biopics in memory. Kristen Stewart mesmerizes as Diana, Princess of Wales in a snapshot tone poem set at the British royal family‘s Sandringham estate over Christmas 1991, as tabloid rumors of infidelity and unrest swirled around them—a year before Diana and Prince Charles announced their separation to the world.

Looking for something scary? Try the best Christmas horror movies of all time