What Qualifies a Movie as a Christmas Movie? The Answer Might Surprise You

Movie watchers all over the world have long debated whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. After all, the film takes place on Christmas day. The action-packed nature of the film, however, forces critics to argue that it merely isn’t a Christmas-themed movie, regardless of the yuletide backdrop. The ongoing debate forces everyone to ask one question- what makes a movie a Christmas movie?  

Does a Christmas movie have to be set around Christmas?

The simple answer is yes. The season that a film is set in matters immensely, at least when you are talking about such an easily recognizable period of the calendar year. The Hollywood Reporter argues that flicks that are consistently considered Christmas films don’t have to be entirely set during the holiday season, though.

As the Hollywood Reporter notes, some of the most beloved movies within the genre are not wholly encompassed by the holiday season. For example, Meet Me In St. Louis has holiday themes, but the majority of the flick has nothing to do with Christmas. Still, the musical, produced in 1944, is considered a holiday classic. The same is true for other holiday classics, so the amount of time devoted to Christmas doesn’t seem to matter, but it’s safe to say that the film has to have some holiday cheer even to be considered for entrance into the seasonal genre.

Does the genre matter?

If the season of the year that the film is set in is only marginally relevant to defining a movie as a Christmas movie, then does the genre of the movie important? This seems to be more important than other factors, but still, movies in several genres are considered Christmas movies.

The comedy category appears to have the most quintessential Christmas movies. Few people would debate whether or not Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, and A Christmas Story are Christmas movies. The drama genre and musical genre also have their fair share of Christmas classics. It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened on Fifth Avenue and the 2008 drama, A Christmas Tale are all very much dramatic Christmas Movies.

That doesn’t mean the action genre doesn’t have notable entries. The flicks simply aren’t seen as Christmas tales because they center more on the action than on the time of year they are set in. Die Hard likely would have worked, storyline-wise, just as well if it was set in the spring. Time notes that Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang could all be considered Christmas flicks, but generally aren’t because of their action-packed storylines.

What movies are considered classic Christmas flicks?

It would seem that both setting and genre are essential elements of a Christmas movie, but only marginally so. Now, it’s time to take a look at the unequivocal Christmas movies and figure out why they are worthy of a holiday binge-watch. A Christmas Story and A Miracle on 34th Street are two films that fall into the genre without question. Both take place during the Christmas season and are marketed as Christmas films. The same is true for Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Four Christmases.

The films share more than marketing and backdrops in common. All the movies that are unequivocal Christmas classics rely on familial dynamics to drive their storylines forward. Whether it is about the joy of the season or the dissatisfaction with the people the characters spend the holidays with, all Christmas films seem to share the same common bond of family. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about anyway? The family bonds we have, and sometimes wish we didn’t.