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Is It a Christmas Movie?

Die Hard. Gremlins. The Nightmare Before Christmas. Our TV experts weigh in on whether or not they’re Christmas movies.

The “Is it a Christmas movie?” debate is silly. Why gatekeep Christmas movies? Why bicker over something so inconsequential? That said, we’ll play your silly game—to a point—and examine the Christmas credentials of some controversial “Are they or aren’t they?” films like Die Hard, Gremlins, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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Is Gremlins a Christmas movie?

Joe Dante’s 1984 classic revolves around a Christmas gift that Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) buys for his son Billy (Zach Galligan) in the film’s opening scene. There’s also snow (and holiday decorations) everywhere, and even a Grinch-y character (Mrs. Deagle). And, while Gremlins’ anti-consumerism message isn’t the typical Christmas movie message, it’s relevant because greed is the enemy of peace on Earth.

Verdict: Gremlins is a Christmas movie. Why is there even a debate? (Conspiracy theory: We suspect retailers started it because the movie’s message would impact holiday profits.)

The Gremlins sing Christmas carols to Mrs. Deagle in a scene from Gremlins.

“Yaaaahhhh-yaaaahhhh-yaaahhh!” The Gremlins sing Christmas carols to Mrs. Deagle in a scene from Gremlins.

Where to stream Gremlins:

Pro tip: If you wanna go straight to the Christmas classics, check out Where to Watch Classic Christmas Movies.

Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Christmas movie?

Henry Selick’s film blends our darkest holiday, Halloween, into our lightest, Christmas. We can see how, at first, you’d be confused. But this is an easy one because, by Nightmare’s end, Jack Skellington and the rest of HalloweenTown learn the true meaning of Christmas.

Verdict: A character learning the true meaning of Christmas is an automatic pass. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie. Whether or not it’s a Halloween movie is a separate matter.

Where to stream The Nightmare Before Christmas:

Pro tip: Is Hulu your favorite TV streaming service? Check out its Christmas movie lineup in Your Guide to Christmas Movies on Hulu.

Is Lethal Weapon a Christmas movie?

Lethal Weapon is like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with scenes of ass-kicking. It’s Christmastime, and homicide cop Roger Murtaugh gets a new partner: Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), a loose cannon with PTSD and suicidal ideation.

Like John Candy does to Steve Martin in Planes, Riggs gets Murtaugh into pickle after pickle, and Murtaugh hates him for it. But each traumatic pickle brings the odd couple closer together, and ultimately, lonely Riggs joins the Murtaughs for Christmas dinner.

Verdict: Lethal Weapon is a Christmas movie—but Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving film with a message befitting the other holiday.

Where to stream Lethal Weapon:

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

Why is John McClane in Los Angeles? Oh, yeah: it’s Christmas, and he wants to make nice with his estranged wife, Holly. Would we care about this if it weren’t happening during the holidays? Maybe, once the bad guys start doing bad things to good people—but it’s so much more meaningful at Christmas. What if John dies trying to save Holly? What if the terrorists kill Holly before John can rescue her?

Verdict: Christmas is part of Die Hard’s plot. John McClane is trying to atone for his mistakes and save his marriage. All of the good guys live. So Die Hard has everything a cheesy Hallmark holiday movie has, only with blood, explosions, and cursing. In other words: Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) in a scene from Die Hard.

“Yippie ki-yay, [Santa]:” John McClane (Bruce Willis) in a scene from Die Hard.

Where to stream Die Hard:

Is The Hebrew Hammer a Christmas movie?

Is this a trick question? Only if it tricked you. In Jonathan Kesselman’s 2003 comedy, Jewish gumshoe Mordechai Jefferson Carver—a.k.a. The Hebrew Hammer—must save Hanukkah and Kwanzaa from Santa’s evil son, who wants Christmas to be the only end-of-year religious holiday.

Verdict: As our hero says, “Shabbat shalom, motherf**ker!” The Hebrew Hammer is a Hanukkah movie with Christmas elements.

Where to stream The Hebrew Hammer:

Is Eyes Wide Shut a Christmas movie?

Stanley Kubrick should’ve called his dark exercise in sad but steamy holiday erotica Blue Christmas. He chose to set the story at Christmas (in the source novella, it happens at Mardi Gras), put Christmas trees or lights in practically every shot, and even gave it a semi-happy ending—but it’s one bummer of a film.

Verdict: We doubt Kubrick set out to make a strictly Christmas movie with Eyes Wide Shut, but he made the holiday crucial to the story. And Christmas movies don’t need to be relentlessly positive (is that even realistic?).

Where to stream Eyes Wide Shut:

Pro tip: If you can’t get enough cheese during the holidays, read Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas Movies.

Is Better Off Dead a Christmas movie?

In Savage Steve Holland’s 1985 cult classic, teenager Lane Myer (John Cusack) is suicidal after breaking up with his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss). Better Off Dead has lots of snowy scenes, but only because skiing is a major part of the story. Christmas is incidental to the film, an expositional four-minute sequence that uses gift exchanges to move the story along.

Verdict: Better Off Dead is not a Christmas movie—but watching it during the holidays amplifies those four minutes of Christmas action, making BoD feel like a holiday movie.

Mrs. Smith (Laura Waterbury) explains Christmas to Monique (Diane Franklin) in a scene from Better Off Dead.mouth

“ChriiiistMUSS!”: Mrs. Smith (Laura Waterbury) explains Christmas to Monique Junot (Diane Franklin) in a scene from Better Off Dead.

Where to stream Better Off Dead:

Pro tip: Looking for more family-friendly Christmas movies? Check out the 10 Best Christmas Movies on Disney+.

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