There are three types of Christmas movies: traditional ones, Uncle Frank’s (which “if Uncle Frank says no, then it must be really bad”), and The Magic Word’s. Although these five might be unconventional, they are customary viewing every Christmas season.
Tim Burton was dreaming of a goth Christmas. Warner Bros., however, wasn’t. It eventually canned the director because of his dark, sexualized sequel (which subsequently ended up sending the series down a much darker path). Heck, even McDonald’s complained that the movie was more horror than Happy Meal friendly. (I, of course, had the Happy Meal toys as a then-second grader; thanks, ma.) But amid its cold, black colors and bleak tones are the bright lights of Christmas and, from the first scene to the last, snow. It also has the best opening of any Batman movie, in which the first and only words uttered are “Merry Christmas.”
Is it or isn’t it a Christmas movie? To quote Sgt. Al Powell, “Bag it.” Both jingle bells play and “Merry Christmas” is said before the movie’s title even appears on screen. Watching “Die Hard” around the holidays is like making “fists with yuh toes” in the carpet after a long flight; it feels great. (Heck, even my old man and I neglected “enjoying the tree” Christmas night with family so that we could watch Hans count to three with Takagi.) And because it’s also one of the greatest action flicks of all time, like Griswold’s “Jelly of the Month Club” it’s the gift that keeps on givin’ the whole year.
Enemy of the State
Will Smith’s Robert Dean gets embroiled in an NSA-murder coverup, why? Because he decided to go Christmas shopping. Of course “Enemy of the State” is a Christmas movie. It even has a ghost—not of past, present, or future, but rather of the deep state we’re not to supposed to discuss; even cooler, he’s played by Gene Hackman, whose character, some suspect, is meant to be his lead from “The Conversation,” just with a different, undetectable-by-the-NSA name. This quasi-continuation but full-on modern Christmas classic even has 12 celebrity sightings—and a Jon Voight in a fury.
It’s in this “Beauty and the Beast” interpretation where Tim Burton first teased his dark Christmas. Although not as Christmassy as Burton’s Batman follow-up, this holiday movie does highlight that feeling of loss or loneliness that can sometimes accompany the season: Edward loses his maker, right after his early Christmas present; Edward loses his next love, right in front of the ice Christmas angel; and poor Peg loses her Christmas party. But fear not—there is some Christmas joy in “Edward Scissorhards”: hearing Alan Arkin sing “I Saw Three Ships (Coming Sailing In).”
Perhaps it’s because Spike TV—or was it AMC?—played the thing nonstop on Christmas for years. (Maybe it still does. I don’t have cable.) Regardless, one of the greatest movies of all time is also a perfect present for Christmas day. Its length makes for relaxed viewing when trying to digest that holiday meal that makes one feel like Clemenza looks. And like “Enemy of the State,” Christmas shopping backdrops a key development: Sollozo telling Tom Hagan that his boss—his father—is dead. Or is he? “They hit him with five shots, and he’s still alive!” It’s a Christmas miracle.