The Unintentional Christmas Movie(s)


Personally, I’ve never viewed Iron Man 3 as a Christmas movie. Seeing it in theaters in the spring (emphasis on spring…) of 2013 I probably didn’t think much of it’s Christmastime setting beyond ‘it’s set during Christmas? Okay, that’s weird…’ I’ve questioned it’s decision of being set during the holidays. The story and the plot would have primarily been the same. Regardless, many fans see it as a Christmas movie and watch it during the holidays.

Let me make this clear; if you’re someone who does watch Iron Man 3 or any movie with split opinions around the holidays, perfectly fine. If it gives you joy, if it’s part of a holiday tradition, fantastic (Who am I to tell you otherwise?). However, can we agree there’s quite a few movies that are deemed Christmas movies, when maybe they weren’t intended to be? Yet, over the years, they’ve become unintentional hits that people watch over and over every holiday season.


Let’s start with the ever popular Gremlins. Written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg, Gremlins is a fun and wild ride of a story that conveys similar levels of quirkiness and humor found in the Goonies (which was released the following year in 1985). But when did it come out? June 1984. June 1984. Summer. So because of its initial release, I struggle to believe with one hundred percent certainty that Gremlins was intended to be a holiday movie. However, everything else in the movie screams Christmas. The most obvious being it’s set during Christmas. The entire conflict started because Billy’s dad bought him a pet mogwai for Christmas and the entire attack of the gremlins takes place on Christmas Eve and lasts until the sun rises on Christmas Day. Billy’s mother has an awesome fight scene where she battles the gremlins and it ends in the living room with one leaping out of the Christmas tree and tackling her. Even later when they’re attacking the town residents, Mrs. Deagle opens her door and finds the gremlins dressed in earmuffs and scarves, and singing carols.

Gremlins is a story that could have been told at any time of the year. But Christmas enhances the scariness of the concept. A small town of people who are spending Christmas Eve with their loved ones, have to battle it out with these little demon monsters. Columbus, Spielberg and director Joe Dante make use of Christmas i.e. the gremlins hiding in the tree, Billy’s mother making Christmas cookies, Corey Feldman’s character delivering the Peltzer’s tree, and even Phoebe Cates’s character has a monologue on why her family doesn’t celebrate Christmas anymore. Christmas is very much in the foreground which is why I agree that despite its original release date, Gremlins makes sense as a Christmas movie.

Die Hard

Die Hard is another unexpected Christmas favorite, but this one comes with a much more intense debate. Like Gremlins, Die Hard had a summer release, July 1988. Over the years, it’s become a cult Christmas- specific favorite, as the entire story takes place on Christmas Eve (and early Christmas morning). However, a cop stopping terrorists who take over a building, is a universal enough idea that the film could easily be set at anytime. Like Iron Man 3, I don’t think a whole lot would change, action wise, if it wasn’t Christmas. But what would change? The feel of the film.

Die Hard is absolutely an action movie, there’s no doubt about that. Yet, just like Gremlins, Christmas adds an unexpected charm to the tale. Anything involving action of any sort is not what’s expected in holiday pictures. While it’s not over drowning in Christmas, instances such as “Now I have a machine gun, Ho- Ho- Ho,” are funny (and one of the most memorable lines of dialogue). What would John McClane have written if it was set in the summer? (I’m sure they would have thought of something… but you get what I’m saying).

I should point out that both Die Hard and Gremlins are based on books. While I can’t find confirmation on the original Gremlins novel, Die Hard (original book titled Nothing Lasts Forever) was set during Christmas. I admit I’m not a comic book expert. I’m sure there’s Marvel comics set during Christmas but aside from that, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3 director), does have a habit of setting his films during the season. He makes the point that it gives a sense of community as it’s something everyone is experiencing, regardless of the story (which is a valid and unique way to look at it) and as Black says “it represents a flavor…”, which I definitely agree with.

Iron Man 3

So, is Iron Man 3 a Christmas movie? Probably not. Were any of these movies meant to specifically be Christmas movies? Unlikely, but debatable. Are they Christmas movies? If you want to be easy and acknowledge that they’re all set during Christmas, then the answer is yes… but if you want to be complicated like me and also acknowledge all the things I pointed out and more (for example, I can see that if Gremlins and Die Hard were marketed as holiday movies and came out in November/December instead of as summer releases maybe they wouldn’t have been as successful at the box office (or maybe even more successful), but that’s a whole other thing). Does it really matter? No. It’s Christmas, watch whatever you need to to laugh, have fun and have the merriest holiday possible whether that be a cop fighting terrorist, weird monsters running amok, or a superhero suffering with PTSD avenging a hospitalized friend.