Let’s be honest, when it comes to December we all love watching our favourite festive films on repeat. It simply wouldn’t be Christmas without a mandatory viewing of Elf, for example, and letting the season pass without having a good cry to It’s A Wonderful Life is unthinkable – you can check out our guide to the best movies on TV this Christmas.
But there are also plenty of other wonderful Yuletide-based films outside the regular seasonal staples, and so RadioTimes.com has put together a list of some alternative viewing suggestions to watch alongside those yearly rewatches.
Some of these films are explicitly about Christmas and others just set during the festive period; some are under-seen gems from years gone by and others more recent takes on the festive flick; some of them are packed with festive cheer and others dispose of it entirely. But they all have one thing in common – they are all ideal films for chilly December evenings.
Read on for our full list.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
When it comes to Christmas films starring James Stewart, there’s no doubting the most famous: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which continues to top many best-of lists almost 75 years after its release. But six years before playing George Bailey, Stewart had a leading role in another Christmas movie, starring alongside Margaret Sullavan in Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner.
This film is far from unknown, of course – it was hugely successful upon its release in 1940, is listed in Time magazine‘s All-Time 100 Movies, and was ranked 58th in BBC’s 2015 poll of the best American films. And yet compared to It’s A Wonderful Life, it crops up far less regularly in Christmas watch lists today, despite its stellar reputation.
The plot centres on two pen pals in Budapest, who unwittingly fall in love with each other through their letters in the run-up to Christmas – not realising their true identity: they are bickering colleagues at the same store.
Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube from £3.49.
Comfort and Joy (1984)
Bill Forsyth is the man behind some of Scotland’s best-loved films, notably including Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl, and this 1984 comedy starring Bill Patterson is every bit as good. The film follows Alan Bird, a radio DJ who is suddenly dumped by his long-term partner in the run-up to Christmas.
The lovelorn Alan – who is known as ‘Dicky’ to his listeners – attempts to take his mind off things by going for a walk, but after witnessing a bizarre incident, he accidentally finds himself involved in Glasgow’s Ice Cream Wars (yes, that’s a real thing!), acting as an envoy between two rival Ice Cream Van companies, Mr Bunny’s and Mr McCool’s.
Taking place across Christmas, there’s no shortage of Yuletide decorations in sight, and the ultimate message of the film is also in keeping with the festive spirit, making this an excellent choice for a Christmas watch.
Where to watch: Available with Amazon Prime Video subscription.
8 Women (2002)
The murder mystery and the musical are two of cinema’s most enduring genres, but it’s not often you see a film that fits into both of those categories. François Ozon’s 2002 film 8 Women (or 8 Femmes in the original French), however, does exactly that – in addition to being a Christmas movie.
The film is set in the 1950s and revolves around a wealthy and somewhat eccentric family who have gathered in a large house for Christmas, only for them to wake up one morning to discover that the only man in their number has been murdered in his room. All eight women in the house – including relatives and staff – are suspects in the case, and they each attempt to identify the culprit, occasionally bursting into song in the process.
It probably won’t be for everyone, and the musical numbers can be occasionally jarring – but this wonderfully camp mash-up of genres is tremendous fun and well worth your time over the festive period, especially given that the cast reads like a who’s who of French actresses, with Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant among those to star.
Where to watch: Available to watch with Mubi subscription. Alternatively available to buy or rent on Apple TV and iTunes from £3.49.
You won’t find any snow or Santa Claus in this excellent film from The Florida Project director Sean Baker, but it’s Christmas Eve setting undoubtedly qualifies it as a Christmas movie – and a very good one at that.
Around the time of its release, much of the coverage focused on the fact that it had been shot entirely on iPhone, and while that is an impressive feat, it’s far from the only praise-worthy feature of the film. The story centres on transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who has been released from a short prison sentence just before Christmas and soon learns that her boyfriend has been cheating on her while she’s been in jail.
Sin-Dee then devotes her Christmas Eve to finding her boyfriend and teaching him a lesson, eventually leading to a memorable confrontation inside a donut shop. The film is both funny and stylish, with a brilliantly raw performance from Rodriguez at the centre.
Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube from £0.99.
One of the finest films released in the last decade, Carol probably isn’t a Christmas film in the traditional sense, but enough of the plot is set around the festive period for it to earn a spot on this list.
Immaculately directed by Todd Haynes and based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film follows the relationship between young shop clerk and aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) and glamorous soon-to-be-divorcee Carol (Cate Blancett) after the pair meet at a department store while the latter is Christmas shopping.
This is an elegant and achingly romantic film that wondrously captures the world of 1950s New York, and it won universal acclaim on its release, with the performances of Mara and Blanchett especially singled out for praise.
Where to watch: Available with Amazon Prime Video subscription.
Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
The second film from 1940 on our list, this film – also known as Beyond Christmas – isn’t celebrated anywhere near as much as many other Christmas films from the era.
It follows three oil company owners who, finding themselves without plans on Christmas Eve, spontaneously decide to invite two young guests, a man and a woman, to dinner. The dinner goes well, and the two guests seem to strike up a connection with each other, but the three men are tragically killed in a plane crash the next day.
But not letting death get in the way, the trio return as ghosts desperate to bring the couple together from beyond the grave. Despite occasionally being rather cheesy, this is an undoubtedly charming forgotten festive film and another one worth adding to your list.
Where to watch: Available with Amazon Prime Video subscription (as Beyond Christmas in Colour).
Black Christmas (1974)
The slasher genre might be one you’d be more likely to associate with Halloween than Christmas, but believe it or not, the Christmas slasher is more common than you might think – and this 1974 film from Bob Clark (which was remade last year) remains the standout of the genre.
The film wasn’t particularly well-received on its initial release but has since become a cult classic, praised for its atmosphere and its influence on the slasher genre in general – it’s worth noting that this came out four years before John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween.
In a classic slasher setup, the film follows a group of female college students who begin to receive anonymous, vulgar phone calls at the start of their winter break – before a number of young women go missing and are murdered. If you prefer your Christmas movies without the good cheer, this could well be the one for you!
Where to watch: Available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video from £2.49.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Another film that perhaps isn’t the first to spring to mind when you think of Christmas, Stanley Kubrick’s final movie does take place entirely over the festive season – and so earns a place on the list.
Indeed Kubrick’s decision to set the film at Christmas (the source novel was set at Mardi Gras) was very deliberate, with the legendary director explaining that the “rejuvenating symbolism of Christmas” was key to the themes of the movie.
Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (who were then a real-life couple) as a couple whose relationship begins to unravel when Cruise’s character becomes involved with a bizarre sex cult, the film is mysterious, unsettling, and undoubtedly provocative – though certainly not one for the whole family!
Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube from £1.99.
Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or take a look at our guide to the best Christmas TV.