Holiday Films

Movie Watching During the Holidays

Santa is watching​The Holiday season is here, and with it for many of us there will be lots of movie watching. Listed here are both traditional and non-traditional holiday films that can be found in the Ithaca College Library. They span almost 90 years of movie making, with pictures from every decade from the nineteen twenties to the twenty teens. Some are appropriately sappy. Others use the holiday season as a backdrop for satirical, biting, or sinister reasons. A few have nothing to do with the holidays except for a scene or two -- but oh, those scenes are what make those movies worth watching.

If you are not a member of the Ithaca College community, you will have to obtain these films elsewhere. You can purchase or download almost all of the films, but perhaps first you should check with your local library. If it doesn't have a film you want, request it.

Happy Holidays!

Non-Traditional Holiday Films

Only a few of these films are really holiday films, but they all are set during the holiday season, and would be quite different films without that backdrop.

Thrillers/Action Films
Die Hard is listed first because it is the one action film that really does get into the holiday spirit. The rest are listed in reverse chronological order.
  • Die Hard and Die Hard II
    DVD 8705 (1988) The original film is set in an office building taken over by terrorists and comes to an oddly sweet and sentimental ending. The first sequel is set on a snowy Christmas Eve at Washington Dulles International Airport. On the DVD are other sequels, but only the first two are set during the Christmas season.
  • Iron Man 3
    DVD 9774 (2013) A bleak world made even darker through a snowy holiday setting, but with bit of Christmas cheer by the end.
  • In Bruges
    DVD 5314 (2008) Hit men lying low in Bruges in Belgium during the holiday season have a love/hate relationship with the city. One loves it; one hates it. Warning: the first half is much more of a light-hearted holiday film than the darker second half.
  • Eastern Promises
    DVD 4968 (DVD 2007) A dark, brutal, and gritty tale of an Eastern European mobster and a midwife who cross paths at Christmastime.
  • 2046
    DVD 2484 (2004) A romantic thriller with a Christmas Eve motif. In Cantonese, with English subtitles. 2046 refers both to a room number and the year in which a science fiction novel is set.
  • Catch Me If You Can
    DVD 6013 (2002) Not only is the opening scene set on Christmas Eve, but Christmas returns at several other key points. I don't think there is supposed to be any particular connection between the holiday and deception.
  • American Psycho
    DVD 5016 (2000) Celebrate Christmas with a gala party, champagne, reindeer antlers, a kiss under the mistletoe, cocaine, and an axe-murder.
  • Enemy of the State
    DVD 311 (1998) The all-surrounding, all-intrusive nature of electronic surveillance by the government on its citizens (not thought possible when the film was released, but seemingly too realistic a decade and a half later) is unwittingly uncovered by an innocent Christmas shopper.
  • Strange Days
    DVD 3889 (1995) A cyberpunk thriller set in the urban inferno of Los Angeles in the days leading up to New Year's Eve.
  • Batman Returns
    DVD 5190 (1992) The real villain is a conniving mega-merchant in this story set in Gotham City all decorated for Christmas. In spite of the darkness, there is some holiday cheer. In a disc set of four Batman films.
  • Lethal Weapon
    DVD 1640 (1987) Cop psychodrama set in December and remembered as a holiday film if only for the scene that takes place in a parking lot full of Christmas trees.
  • Rocky and Rocky IV
    DVD 4031 (1985) In Rocky, the story takes place from Thanksgiving, when Rocky is "a bum" to New Year's Day, when the championship match occurs. In Rocky IV the big fight occurs on Christmas Day. Rocky and its first four sequels are included in a 5-disc set, but only these two have holiday connections.
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service
    DVD 7969 (1969) The only 007 film to star George Lazenby, and the only one that uses Yuletide in the Swiss alps as one of its backdrops. In a disc set with other Bond films.
Black Comedies
  • Long Way Down
    DVD 10222 (2014) A comedy-drama about suicide. The film begins on New Year's Eve, as characters hope to stick around until Valentines Day.
  • A Fost Sau n-a Fost? = 12:08 East of Bucharest
    DVD 4962 (2006) It is almost Christmas in Romania, and old friends, who can't seem to get into the proper spirit, debate the question, "Was there or wasn't there a revolution in good old Vaslui?" If this doesn't sound too Christmasy, it is supposed to be a droll comedy, and one character dresses up like Santa Claus.
  • 101 Reykjavík
    DVD 785 (2000) This black comedy involves a 30 year old man, his mother, and their shared lover, plus Christmas and New Year's celebrations to boot.
  • El Día de la Bestial = The Day of the Beast
    DVD 7704 (1996) In this blackest of comedies, a priest, convinced that the antichrist will be born in Madrid on Christmas Day, goes on a rampage of sin to sell his soul just so he can stop the monster.
  • Gremlins
    DVD 1334 (1984) What happens when you buy an unusual Christmas present and your family isn't careful?
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian
    DVD 2799 (1979) The only film on this whole list that actually includes a manger scene.
SF, mostly Dystopian 
12 Monkeys comes first, just because it has to. The rest are in reverse chronological order.
  • 12 Monkeys
    DVD 1484 (1996) Before the world as we know it comes to an end, we hear this cheery message: "The Freedom for Animals Association on Second Avenue is the secret headquarters of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. They're the ones who are gonna do it. I can't do anything more now. I have to go. Have a Merry Christmas."
  • Prometheus
    DVD 9916 (2012) The crew of a spaceship spend Christmas Day by seeking humanity's origins on a journey that takes them to the darkest corners of the universe.
  • Cité des Enfants Perdus = The City of Lost Children
    DVD 1733 (1995) This dystopian fantasy full of curious, comedic characters opens on Christmas Eve and slips in creepy Santa Claus imagery throughout the film.
  • Brazil
    DVD 1502 (1985) Terry Gilliam's black comedy is set in a dystopic retro-future disturbingly filled with Christmas greed and commercialism.
  • The Jacket
    DVD 7862 (2005) It's almost Christmas, and you're a Gulf War veteran in an institution for the criminally insane, when you learn during a trip into the future that you are about to die. Happy holidays.
Domestic Dramas, Most Featuring Disfunctional Families
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    ​DVD 9520 (2012) Only one real Christmas scene, but in timeline and sorta in spirit, the film revolves around the holiday.
  • Jagten = The Hunt
    DVD 1174 (2012) During the Christmas season in a small Danish village, a kindergarten teacher battles accusations that he is a pedophile.
  • Conte de Noèel = A Christmas Tale
    DVD 8408 (2008) If a bone marrow transplant, mental illness, self injury, alienation, and general family dysfunction don't sound like promising holiday themes, Catherine Deneuve gives us hope that you can still be stunning at age 65.
  • Frozen River
    DVD 6053 (2008) It's almost Christmas, and near a border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec, two single mothers bond through smuggling.
  • The Rules of Attraction  
    ​DVD 4318 (2003) How overprivileged college students spend their winter vacation told from the viewpoint of three central characters, a drug dealer, a virgin, and a bisexual.
  • Eyes Wide Shut
    DVD 5913 (1999) Have yourself a merry little orgy.
  • The Junkie's Christmas
    DVD 9079 (1993) A short (21 minute) animated film narrated by the author of the tale, William S. Burroughs. When a down-and-outer tries to score a fix on Christmas Day, he finds a special holiday spirit instead. With two other short films.
  • Metropolitan
    DVD 353 (1990) A look at rich urban college kids through the eyes of a college student who isn't, while they are all on Christmas break.
  • Hannah and Her Sisters
    DVD 1766 (1986) The story of a disfunctional family in this Woody Allen non-comedy centers around three lavish Thanksgiving feasts.
  • Diner
    DVD 3459 (1982) Post-high-school buddies reunite and bond between Christmas and New Year's Eve, when there is supposed to be a wedding. In one memorable scene a church's life-size Nativity display is demolished.
  • Fanny & Alexander
    DVD 3269 (1982) An Ingmar Bergman holiday movie? Not really, but in the first hour we are provided with a lavish holiday feast and an abundance of presents in a very ornate house opulently decorated for Christmas. But skip the last couple hours if you don't want to be miserable for the holiday.
  • A Lion in Winter
    DVD 6901 (1968) The ultimate dysfunctional family Christmas gathering dates back to 1183 at the court of Henry II.
  • Ma Nuit chez Maud = My Night with Maud
    DVD 686 (1968) The night in question, in this witty, Oscar-nominated film that explores love, desire, philosophy, and Catholicism, is Christmas Eve.
  • The Apartment
    DVD 344 (1960) The Best Picture of 1960 was a comedy-drama of corporate intrigue and womanizing set in winter and culminating at an office Christmas party with serious after-effects.
  • 8 Femmes = 8 women
    DVD 582 (2003) A French whodunnit: which of the eight women in the life of a wealthy industrialist murdered him during the family holiday gathering?
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
    DVD 6559 (1997) What secrets lie behind the murder at an elegant Christmas party in Savannah?
  • L.A. Confidential
    DVD 3060 (1997) Much of the plot is centered on the Bloody Christmas scandal. Christmas scenes include a holiday party and the yanking of a plastic Santa and his reindeer off a roof.
  • Stalag 17
    DVD 3700 (1953) Who is the German spy? All the action in this World World II prisoner of war camp story occurs from "about a week before Christmas in '44" to "after dark on Christmas Day." It has the right mix of taut drama, cynicism, hilarity, and poignancy to be a great holiday picture.
  • Lady in the Lake
    DVD 6352 (1947) Private eye Philip Marlow begins the case on Christmas Eve and interrupts a Christmas party to help solve the case. The film is included in box set with four other film noir pictures.
  • The Thin Man
    DVD 8941 (1934) This classic murder mystery/comedy was set during the holidays. Pity the poor Christmas tree in Nick and Nora's posh New York apartment.

Films with Key Holiday Scenes

None of these are true holiday films, but they all do include special, in some instances pivotal, scenes set at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year's Eve.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
    DVD 295 (2007) Hogwarts at Yuletide is magical. The film also provides a reminder to those spending the holidays with family, that not everyone, Harry especially, has a family and a home to go to for the holidays. Some of the sequels have Yuletide scenes as well, but they are less important to the storytelling.
  • Mean Girls
    DVD 2913 (2004) Here for only one reason: the Jingle Bell Rock dance routine.
  • English Patient
    DVD 457 (2004) Its Happy Christmas scene has been called one of the sexiest scenes ever in a PG rated movie.
  • Bridget Jones's Diary
    DVD 227 (2001) It begins and ends at Christmas/New Year's with scenes that are oddly charming and delightful.
  • Stepmom
    DVD 6923 (1998) What else could better resolve a divided family's strife than cancer and Christmas?
  • Babe
    DVD 4850 (1995) Our hero almost becomes Christmas dinner and proves his worth on Christmas day.
  • Toy Story
    DVD 27 (1995) A movie all about toys ends appropriately on Christmas morning.
  • Little Women (1994) DVD 9371 and Little Women (1933) DVD 5731
     Both open with a snowy Christmas scene, and the Christmas wish sentiment never seems to depart.
  • Edward Scissorhands
    DVD 4397 (1990) The Christmassy ice sculpture scene has been called the most magical moment found in any Tim Burton film.
  • Hope and Glory
    DVD 8942 (1989) On Christmas Day in the middle of World War II, the home front members of the family pull Christmas crackers, wear crowns, and listen to George VI (he of The King's Speech studder) address his subjects on the radio.
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
    DVD 3044 (1982) You'll know it is Christmas when the decorations change in the mall and "Winter Wonderland" is piped out on the PA.
  • Annie Hall
    DVD 991 (1977) Well, there is a scene where Annie Hall takes Alvy home to meet her parents at Christmas, but this Woody Allen favorite is included here to make up for the fact that there aren't any Hanukkah movies in the IC collection (or any good ones out there?)
  • French Connection
    DVD 3949 (1971) Is the opening scene with the undercover cop in a Santa suit chasing down a drug dealer even more memorable than the car chase scenes?
  • Diary of Anne Frank
    DVD 3656 (1959) The Hanukkah scene provides one of the few upbeat moments in the whole film.
  • Die Morder Sind Unter Uns = Murderers Are Among Us
    DVD 3742 (1946) One of the most haunting memories of a concentration camp survivor is of a German officer who celebrates Christmas Eve by having Polish partisans rounded up and killed.
  • The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
    DVD 8930 (1944) The miracle, involving a pregnant woman who can't remember the name of the soldier she thinks she married, is revealed at Christmas.
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
    DVD 1131 (1944) Fast forward to Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" if you need to cheer up your despondent friend or self.
  • Since You Went Away  
    ​DVD 4401 (1944) This World War II era film about family life on the home-front ends with a stirring Christmas Eve scene that is almost guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit.
  • Holiday Inn 
    ​DVD 6379 (1942) the film where the song "White Christmas" first appeared.
  • Gold Rush, The
    DVD 3923 (1925, re-released and slightly edited in 1942) This Charlie Chaplin classic is full of ice and snow and features two holidays, Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Alas for the Little Tramp, both are pitifully sad times.


What Would Jesus Buy?
DVD 3644 (2007) An off-beat documentary following the exploits of Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on their cross-country sojourn to decry against the commercialization of Christmas.
Roger & Me
DVD 1548 (1989) In a crucial point in the film, Michael Moore juxtaposes a scene of families of laid off auto workers being evicted from their homes on Christmas with GM Chairman Roger Smith pontificating about the true meaning of the holiday.

One More

Can a guide about holiday films be complete without mention of what is perhaps the most famous movie with a holiday for its title?
  • Groundhog Day (DVD 2009) 1993
    A romantic comedy about a Pittsburgh TV weather personality stuck in Punxsutawney when he is caught in a personal time warp. A romantic comedy about a Pittsburgh TV weather personality stuck in Punxsutawney when he is caught in a personal time warp. A romantic comedy about a Pittsburgh TV weather personality stuck in Punxsutawney when he is caught in a personal time warp. 

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John Henderson

Social Sciences Librarian
(607) 274-1961

For Traditionalists

What makes a film a traditional holiday movie? Yes, there are those films that coat themselves with the trappings of the season. Others are better at exploring the meaning, instead of exploiting the sentiment, of the holidays. The Ithaca College Library has quite a few of both.

This Century (from newest to oldest):
  • Black Nativity (2013) DVD 10233
    -- based on a Langston Hughes play -- with music
  • New Year's Eve (2011) DVD 9063
    -- a "Love Actually" wannabe set in NYC. More of a clone of Valentine's Day (2010) DVD 8429, if you are desperate to extend the holiday season.
  • The Holiday (2007) DVD 4245
    -- house swapping and romance during the holidays, and even one Hanukkah scene.
  • About a Boy (2006) DVD 964
    -- Hugh Grant's cynical character lives off the royalties of a Christmas song that his father wrote, but he has a Scrooge-like change of heart by the time the movie ends on Christmas Eve.
  • Joyeux Noël (2006) DVD 4564
    -- Christmas in the trenches of WWI, based on a true story that occurred 100 years ago.
  • The Family Stone (2005) DVD 9181
    -- it's fiancée versus future in-laws for this year's Christmas combat.
  • Just Friends (2005) DVD 4531
    -- will an unplanned hometown Christmas visit convert an old platonic love to something else?
  • Love Actually (2003) DVD 733
    -- now in its second decade, no longer non-traditional, but a classic.
  • Elf (2003) DVD 8321
    -- enjoyable in a grating sort of way.
  • The Santa Clause 1, 2 & 3  (2002,2003,2007) DVD 7794​
    -- you don't have to watch the sequels.
  • Serendipity (2001) DVD 3313
    -- this feel-good romantic comedy begins and ends with Christmas shopping in a New York City department store.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) DVD 7946
    --the non-animated movie, not the old TV special [and only grinches will quibble that 2000 wasn't in this century]. 
1990s (listed in chronological order):
  • Home Alone [1-4] (1990,1992,1997,2003) DVD 5081
    -- once was cute; twice was fine (if you've never grown up); more than that is getting a bit sadistic.
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993) DVD 3958
    -- centered around two holidays, Christmas at the beginning and Valentine's Day at the end.
  • Hudsucker Proxy (1994) DVD 4088
    --set in the month of December 1958, this screwball comedy mocking corporate intrigue oozes in holiday sentiment.
  • Mrs. Santa Claus (1996) DVD 2112
    -- a TV movie with Angela Lansbury in the title role.
  • Hav Plenty (1997) DVD 306
    -- what is supposed to be a quiet New Year's Eve gathering becomes a weekend filled with plenty.
  • You've Got Mail (1998) DVD 9193
    -- an update of Shop around the Corner [see above] with tree decorating and everything.
1980s  (in chronological order):
  • Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story (1983) DVD 497
    -- we've graduated from sappy to droll, but we haven't lost charming and heart-warming
  • Trading Places  (1983) DVD 5610
    ​-- a comic morality play set in wintry Philadelphia, with lots of holiday imagery and spirit.
  • Moonstruck (1987) DVD 5214
    -- set in December and filled with tacit holiday spirit with scenes sprinkled with Christmas decorations.
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989) DVD 3088
    -- wherein twelve years of non-courtship end happily at the last of several New Year Eve's parties. [Oops, have I included a spoiler?]

For Ardent Traditionalists (Pre-1960 films)

Some fanatics insist that the best holiday movies were produced before 1960. They are listed here in chronological order:
  • Remember the Night (1940) DVD 9169
    -- a shoplifter and a D.A. and Christmas good will
  • Shop Around the Corner; Christmas in Connecticut; and It Happened on 5th Avenue (1940,1945,1947) DVD 6811
    -- as sappy, sentimental, and charming as only 1940s movies can be.
  • Going My Way (1944) DVD 4284
    -- perhaps the sappiest, most sentimental and charming of them all. The final scene is set on Christmas Eve.
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946) DVD 3944
    -- too grim for its time; now the No. 1 favorite Christmas film
  • Bishop's Wife (1947) DVD
    -- another '40s Christmas film with an interfering angel, but this one is as suave and charming as Cary Grant.
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947) DVD 5744
    -- I do believe in Santa.
  • O. Henry's Full House (1952) DVD 9467
    -- three of the five stories are based on Christmas classics: "The Cop and the Anthem", "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi." The film is found on volume two of the Marilyn Monroe premiere collection.
  • White Christmas (1954) DVD 5734
    -- as sappy and sentimental as any of the films of the 40s, but in color.
  • Amahl and the Night Visitors (1955) DVD 4145
    -- the only made-for-TV opera I've ever heard of.
  • Desk Set (1957) DVD 744
    -- a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn romantic comedy set in pre-Christmas days and comes to a climax at an iconic Christmas office party. Be careful or Katherine Hepburn's character will make you want to grow up to become a librarian.

Animated Films

  • Frozen
    DVD 9838 (2014) Is Frozen a Christmas movie? No. But it is a celebration of winter, and it is about caring, family, love, and grrrl power. That's not bad for this season.
  • Polar Express
    DVD 3209 (2005) Creepy or delightful? You decide.
  • Nightmare Before Christmas
    DVD 1137 (1993) Tim Burton's stop-motion animated fantasy musical is not at all a horror, even as halloween creatures led by Jack Skellington try to take over Christmas.
  • Tōkyō Goddofāzāzu = Tokyo Godfathers
    DVD 9562 (2003) It is Christmas Eve in Tokyo in this animated film when three companions, including a transvestite and a teenage runaway, find an abandoned baby. In Japanese.

A Christmas Carol

There have been enough variations on A Christmas Carol that they get their own box.
  • A Christmas Carol (1938) DVD 6811
    -- with Reginald Owen as Scrooge, in what some say is the most authentic representation of Dickensian England
  • A Christmas Carol (1951) DVD 488
    -- with Alistair Sim as Scrooge, in what some say set the standard for film adaptations of this classic.
  • Scrooge (1970) DVD 5608
    -- with Albert Finney as Scrooge, in a musical version of the story
  • Black Adder's Christmas Carol (1988) -- this episode is buried on Disc 5 of a multiple disc Black Adder compilation.
  • Scrooged (1988) DVD 8590
    -- with Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a modernized Scrooge.
  • A Muppet Christmas Carol (2005) DVD 2384
    -- with Michael Caine playing it straight as Scrooge against the songs and antics of the Muppets. 

The Missing Years

The Sixties and Seventies were the decades that produced dozens of TV holiday specials, but they were pretty much devoid of feature-length holiday films.Not including films listed on the non-traditional side, the musical Scrooge is about it, at least for films in the IC Library's collection.

Musical Holiday Classics

A few Nutcrackers: For fans of Handel's Messiah, there are only excerpts: Musicals
  • Annie (1981) DVD 5381
    -- Musically, an orphan is invited to spend the Christmas holiday at a billionaire's mansion.
  • Scrooge (1970) DVD 5608
    -- with Albert Finney, see also under A Christmas Carol
La Boheme, since three of the four acts of Puccini's bittersweet opera of high-spirited bohemians and the doomed love take place on Christmas Eve.  Die Fledermaus, the Strauss operetta, for those who think New Year's can best be epitomized by a 19th Century Viennese masked ball -- with farce and humor, sexual escapades, and lots of dance music.