THE INDELIBLE POWER OF THE CHRISTMAS MOVIE
There are holiday movies, and there are Christmas movies.
By way of example, there is a type of romcom or romadrama that can be called “the Hallmark movie.” (Though now it’s more accurate to call them the “Hallmark-style movie,” as other companies have seen the value of these films and are replicating the style). The Hallmark-style movie plays by a very specific formula. Very often, they take place around Christmas; often enough that we can lump these under the broader umbrella of “Christmas movies.”
Consider how tough it has become to a) sell a spec script; b) get a movie made that isn’t based on established intellectual property. Now consider that just last year one-hundred-and-fifty Hallmark-style movies were made, most or all driven by spec scripts without IP. If the idea is to make a living by writing screenplays, this is one of the richest veins of opportunity that reside in the industry. (The other, ironically enough, is horror).
That’s just one style of Christmas movie. The Christmas movie can encompass a variety of disparate genres, from light family comedy (A Christmas Story) to edgy dark comedy (Bad Santa) to indie dramedy (Happy Christmas) to action (Violent Night, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) to horror (Christmas Bloody Christmas, Silent Night Deadly Night).
Why do we have this vast flexibility in a way we don’t see with other holidays? Because: No other holiday comes with the same deep, broad toolkit of culturally universal touchstones that we get from Christmas.
For example, Christmas often involves a family coming together to celebrate the holiday. This is a grounded, universally understandable situation that often involves the interaction of disparate personalities in a way that generates drama and conflict. Christmas shares this family element with other holidays that sometimes get the movie treatment (Home for the Holidays, Fourth of July), but not nearly as often.
Christmas is a religious holiday, which opens it up to that exploration in any number of TV/feature stories, sometimes as an influence (Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown) or using angels as characters/narrative devices (It’s a Wonderful Life).
Christmas comes with the additional mythology of Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, the Elves, Reindeer, North Pole, etc. Every movie that draws on these concepts and characters (Elf, The Santa Claus) is inherently a Christmas story. By way of juxtaposition, while it’s “traditional” to watch horror movies on Halloween, there isn’t a set cast of characters associated with the holiday. Even Halloween-themed characters like Jack Skellington and Michael Myers are specific to their franchises.
And Christmas takes place at a specific time of year. Simply by setting a story near the end of December can make a story a “Christmas movie” as it often involves common elements like snow, parties, travel congestion, and so on. For instance, there is no Santa Claus in Home Alone, but Home Alone is still a Christmas movie. Nor does Santa appear in A Christmas Carol, but we still get snow, spirits, magic, etc.