Luke Owen on the definition of a “Christmas movie”….
During the preparation for Flickering Myth’s on-going “My Favourite Christmas Movie”, the following discussion took place:
Tom Jolliffe: I’ll take Rocky IV. Forgot that it was set at Crimbo.
Me: Is Rocky IV a Christmas movie?
Tom Jolliffe: The main fight takes place on Christmas day.
A valid point perhaps, but does that make Sylvester Stallone’s Cold War analogy a Yuletide classic? Is Rocky IV a Christmas movie just because Rocky and Drago have a showdown on December 25th? What deems a Christmas movie to be a called a “Christmas movie”?
While Rocky IV is the catalyst for this discussion, the movie that often gets highlighted in the ‘is it a Christmas movie’ argument is the 1988 action classic Die Hard. There is no doubt that Die Hard is one of the finest action movies ever committed to cinema and it remains to this day the best performance of Bruce Willis’ career – but why is it thought of as a Christmas movie? Last year in fact, our own Martin Deer wrote a fantastic article arguing the fact that Die Hard is a Christmas movie and should be seen as one because of its morals and values. However the article is attaching Christmas values to a movie that is set at Christmas as opposed to Die Hard being a movie that is full of Christmas cheer. Had Die Hard been set at any other point of the calendar year, it would have been the same movie. Christmas is the setting, not the message.
Remarkably, the same theory has not been applied to the music industry and the UK Christmas Number 1. Let us not forget that songs such as Mr Blobby, Michael Jackson’s Earth Song, Bob the Builder and Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name of have all been Christmas Number 1s, but does that mean they should appear on Now That’s What I Call Christmas alongside Dean Martin’s Let it Snow? Not at all, because there are not seen as Christmas songs and just songs that were released at Christmas. The same logic should apply to movies.
There are hundreds of movies that are set at Christmas but are not “Christmas movies” simply because of the month in which they’re set. Is Ghostbusters II a Christmas movie because it features our heroes running down the street in Santa hats for one shot? Is Mean Girls a Christmas movie because of the sexy Santa talent show performance? Is Iron Man 3 a Christmas movie because there are giant Christmas presents in it? Or any other Shane Black movie for that matter? No, they just chose to set their movies in December as opposed to any of the other eleven months. Just because something is set at Christmas, or indeed released around the holiday period, does not instantly make it Christmas-y.
There’s a reason why people look to movies such as Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Muppet’s Christmas Carol et al around the holiday period, and that’s because they are more than just movies set at Christmas – they are Christmas movies. They are movies that embody everything that makes this the most wonderful time of the year which is what makes them Yuleide essentials. Many have argued that Home Alone isn’t Christmas enough to be a Christmas movie, but it’s a heck of a lot more Christmas-y than Rocky IV. Bad Santa is more Christmas-y than Rocky IV.
Hell, even Silent Night, Deadly Night is more Christmas-y than Rocky IV.
This article was not written to be a dig at Tom, himself a wonderful writer for this great site of ours. Perhaps in his mind, Rocky IV is a Christmas movie. Perhaps he got confused and thought we were writing about “My Favourite Boxing Day Movie” (ba-dum tish). Perhaps saying Rocky IV is your favourite Christmas movie is cooler than saying Love Actually is. Perhaps it’s a movie that means a lot to him around the holiday period and that’s fair enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. If you can change the month the movie is set in and it doesn’t change the film in any fashion, then it is not a Christmas movie.
This Christmas, don’t just settle for a movie that is set around December. Watch a movie that has genuine Christmas cheer.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.