Noovie 9: Movies That Are Not Holiday Movies...But Really Are

Instead of reaching for the obvious holiday movie choices this year, choose from these off radar, but still perfect picks.

By Matt Lissauer

A scene from "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

© Buena Vista Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. 'Tis the holiday season and there's no better time than now to find the perfect movie for each holiday. Instead of reaching for the obvious holiday movie choices, here are some picks that are a little off the radar, but still perfect as you get that fireplace cackling.

  • 1The Nightmare Before Christmas

    ©Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Tim Burton's spooky, family-friendly, stop-motion-animated classic can fit in with two holidays. The film is most often associated with Christmas, since the hook of the story revolves around "Pumpkin King" Jack Skellington bringing Christmas to Halloween Town (not to mention the holiday being called out in the title). But, most of the story takes place in Halloween Town and features the wonderfully creepy townsfolk, thereby making this not only a perfect film for you and your young'uns on Halloween, but also one that successfully bridges two holidays – themes, and all – into one.

    The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Animated / 1993 / PG

    The film follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, Halloweentown's beloved pumpkin king, who has become bored with the same annual routine of frightening people in the "real world." When Jack accidentally stumbles on Christmastown, all bright colors and warm spirits, he gets a new lease on life -- he plots to bring Christmas under his control by kidnapping Santa Claus and taking over the role. But Jack soon discovers even the best-laid plans of mice and skeleton men can go seriously awry.

  • 2The Crow

    © Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Say what you will about superhero movies in the 90s, but between this and "Blade," it would be wrong to think studios at the time didn't take risks on bringing comic book heroes from the page to the screen. Sure none were more bankable than Batman, but critics and fans were taken aback with Alex Proyas' dark superhero movie, controversy aside (the tragic real-life death of star Brandon Lee – son of Bruce – after an accidental shooting on set). If the "Hot Topic" aesthetic didn't seal it for you as a perfect Halloween movie, the film itself opens on October 30th, often referred to as Devil's Night, an unofficial holiday in which kids can play pranks, tricks and partake in other forms of mischief. It's on this night that Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancee are murdered by a street gang; the next day, on Halloween, the two were to wed. One year later a mystical crow helps Eric rise from the grave, so he can exact revenge on those that slayed him and his lover.

    The Crow

    Action / 1994 / R

    The night before his wedding, musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée are brutally murdered by members of a violent inner-city gang. On the anniversary of their death, Eric rises from the grave and assumes the gothic mantle of the Crow, a supernatural avenger. Tracking down the thugs responsible for the crimes and mercilessly murdering them, Eric eventually confronts head gangster Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) to complete his macabre mission.

  • 3E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

    © Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

    If there's one common thread between the two movies in our list so far, it's that all the characters make for perfect Halloween costumes. In 1982, the same could be said about Steven Spielberg's out-of-this-world kid adventure. Not only that, but the entire film culminates on Halloween, with the act of dressing up in costume allowing the kids to successfully sneak their new-found alien friend out of harm's way. E.T. even meets, and seemingly recognizes, a kid dressed up as Yoda from "Empire Strikes Back." It's a playful nod from Spielberg to his director-friend George Lucas – one that Lucas pays back in 1999's "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" – so that does mean "E.T." and "Star Wars" are set in the same universe?

    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

    Children / 1982 / PG

    After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Bringing the extraterrestrial into his suburban California house, Elliott introduces E.T., as the alien is dubbed, to his brother and his little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and the children decide to keep its existence a secret. Soon, however, E.T. falls ill, resulting in government intervention and a dire situation for both Elliott and the alien.

  • 4Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

    © Warner Bros./Courtesy: Everett Collection

    Wizards, witches, goblins, and a whole lot of magic. If that doesn't make for a good Halloween story then I don't know what does. While any of the eight "Potter" films (and the two "Fantastic Beasts" prequels) can fit this mold, none captures the awe of it all as the first one, where Harry gets introduced to the wonderful, wizarding world, meets his friends, and starts to learn all the secrets at Hogwarts, his new school.

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

    Children / 2001 / PG

    Adaptation of the first of J.K. Rowling's popular children's novels about Harry Potter, a boy who learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents' mysterious deaths.

  • 5Planes, Trains and Automobiles

    © Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

    From Halloween we move on to Thanksgiving. The John Hughes comedy finds high-strung and burnt out executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) just yearning to get back to his family in time for turkey dinner. It should have been a simple two hour flight from New York to Chicago. But, when the flight is rerouted to Wichita due to a Chicago-area blizzard, Neal finds himself stuck on a two-day odyssey home with pestering salesman Del Griffith (John Candy). This road trip from hell plays out to perfect comedic effect as the two take to various modes of transport to get back by any means necessary. There might not be a central Thanksgiving dinner, but the film's theme of longing to be with the ones you love on the holiday makes this a perfect holiday film.

    Planes, Trains and Automobiles

    Comedy / 1987 / R

    Easily excitable Neal Page (Steve Martin) is somewhat of a control freak. Trying to get home to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his wife (Laila Robins) and kids, his flight is rerouted to a distant city in Kansas because of a freak snowstorm, and his sanity begins to fray. Worse yet, he is forced to bunk up with talkative Del Griffith (John Candy), whom he finds extremely annoying. Together they must overcome the insanity of holiday travel to reach their intended destination.

  • 6Batman Returns

    ©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

    Tim Burton makes our list once again. With the Gothic Batman you would think we'd be throwing this superhero-costume-classic in the Halloween category, but "Batman Returns" actually is a Christmas movie! As the film opens, we see grotesque child Oswald Cobblepot getting tossed out of his house on Christmas Eve. A snow covered Gotham, adorned in holiday tidings, is then ever-present as the film moves 30-years later and the plot of grown-up Penguin and Catwoman unfolds; and let's not forget those penguins with candy-cane themed rockets attached to their backs.

    Batman Returns

    Action / 1992 / PG-13

    The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to topple the Batman (Michael Keaton) once and for all. But when Shreck's timid assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), finds out, and Shreck tries to kill her, she is transformed into the sexy Catwoman. She teams up with the Penguin and Shreck to destroy Batman, but sparks fly unexpectedly when she confronts the caped crusader.

  • 7You've Got Mail

    © Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

    The 90s were all about seeing Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love, and their trilogy of rom-coms ended with this light-hearted love story set in a growing online world. Here, through a series of online chats, an indie bookstore owner (Ryan) ends up falling in love with a family member (Hanks) of the very family whose large chain bookstores threaten her very existence. In true romantic terms, however, their love story blossoms, just as the seasons do behind them. They first engage in chat as Fall turns to Winter, and then they finally realize their true love by Spring. And, in perfect Hollywood form, the "big reveal" of the entire movie occurs, when else, but at Christmas time.

    You've Got Mail

    Romantic Comedy / 1998 / PG

    Struggling boutique bookseller Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) hates Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the owner of a corporate Foxbooks chain store that just moved in across the street. When they meet online, however, they begin an intense and anonymous Internet romance, oblivious of each other's true identity. Eventually Joe learns that the enchanting woman he's involved with is actually his business rival. He must now struggle to reconcile his real-life dislike for her with the cyber love he's come to feel.

  • 8Iron Man 3

    © Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    If there's one thing that director Shane Black loves, it's Christmas. The cheerful holiday makes its way into the background of most of his movies (see: "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang"). And when the indie director was given the reigns to MCU's flagship superhero, for the first follow-up to 2012's "Avengers," Christmas is right there in the background as Tony Stark learns to deal with his post-traumatic stress following the Battle of New York. The debate as to whether this superhero drama, set during the "most wonderful time of the year" was in fact a Christmas movie, was finally settled once-and-for-all with Marvel admitting as much in a tweet. Grudgeful Stark, after all, comes out the other side finding peace and happiness after seeing the error of his ways -- it's the Scrooge arc, and the true spirit of Christmas.

    Iron Man 3

    Action / 2013 / PG-13

    Plagued with worry and insomnia since saving New York from destruction, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), now, is more dependent on the suits that give him his Iron Man persona -- so much so that every aspect of his life is affected, including his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). After a malevolent enemy known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) reduces his personal world to rubble, Tony must rely solely on instinct and ingenuity to avenge his losses and protect the people he loves.

  • 9Die Hard

    © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy Everett Collection.

    Speaking of long-standing debates as to whether or not a movie is indeed a "holiday movie," "Die Hard" probably stands as the one film that embodies this all (see also: "Gremlins," "Lethal Weapon," and "Rocky IV"). Look at it this way: "Die Hard" is set during an office Christmas party, the main character finds his redemption, evil spirits are vanquished, and good is finally in place at the end of the tale (and multiple holidays tunes play on the soundtrack). Is "Die Hard" a Christmas movie? We think so, but you be the judge.

    Die Hard

    Action / 1988 / R

    New York City policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and two daughters on Christmas Eve. He joins her at a holiday party in the headquarters of the Japanese-owned business she works for. But the festivities are interrupted by a group of terrorists who take over the exclusive high-rise, and everyone in it. Very soon McClane realizes that there's no one to save the hostages -- but him.

About the Author

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

More from Matt Lissauer