The Weekly Geekout: Christmas Movies

By Emma Louise Backe

For our readers that celebrate Christmas, I wish you the merriest of yuletide gatherings. Whether or not you ascribe to the religious rituals that have been associated with Christmas, the holiday can also be full of culturally specific traditions, rooted in the folklore that surrounds the season. In Germany, for example, St. Nicholas is accompanied by a dark companion on the night of Christmas Eve—Knecht Ruprecht, a devilish figure, is said to punish the wicked children on the naughty list and fill stockings with ash. For the families that anxiously await the arrival of Santa, there is also a fascinating anthropological component to the magic typically associated with Christmas. If parents want their children to believe in Santa Claus, elves, and flying reindeer, they must willfully act out and fabricate an epistemological and ontological reality for their kids. For the holiday season, parents around the world create an alternative, lived space in which magic is not only possible, but necessary and expected.

The holiday is also a great excuse to binge eat candy canes, watch old cartoon Christmas specials, and dress up like an elf. Some of the older Christmas movies, like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) even celebrate the underdogs, the outcasts and the cultural renegades, such as the Island of Misfit Toys. There’s a thrill of enchantment blended into the personal personal family customs we all develop and accrue over time. As you decide which classic to stream next on Netflix, bursting with holiday cheer, here are my top five geeky Christmas movies.

1. Batman Returns (1992)

One of those forgotten classics in the comic book movie canon, Tim Burton’s Batman sequel makes Christmas dark and twisty, like drawing the poison out of mistletoe. Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, is (dare I say it?) to die for and Michelle Pfieffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman is absolute purrfection. Chock full of raunchy puns and creepy clowns, Batman Returns will definitely not fill you with good will towards men.

2. Gremlins (1984)

Why sing Christmas carols when you can watch malicious creatures stalk down your friends and family, full of bloodthirsty vengeance because someone forgot that you shouldn’t feed Mogwai after midnight.



3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Michael Cain as Ebenezer Scrooge. Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens. What more could you want? Great adaptation of A Christmas Carol (1843) or the greatest?

4. Rise of the Guardians (2012)

A movie for all you mythology geeks, Dreamworks brings together the old gods, giving them a wry spin and a sly sense of humor you might not notice on your first viewing. With an American Gods-esque flair, Guardians makes us consider the ultimate power of belief.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

I can never decide whether to watch this movie around Halloween or Christmas. But, hey, it’s pretty fantastic at any time of the year. Who wants to kidnap Sandy Claws with me?

Honorable mentions include It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town (1970), The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985), Scrooged (1988), Home Alone (1990),  The Santa Clause (1994), Jingle All the Way (1996), Jack Frost (1997), Catch Me If You Can  (2002). Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Elf (2003). What are some of your favorites?

Merry Christmas you filthy animals.

Works Cited

Bass, Jules (1970). Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. Rankin/Bass Productions.

Bass, Jules (1985). The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Rankin/Bass Productions.

Burton, Tim (1992). Batman Returns. Warner Bros.

Burton, Tim (1993). The Nightmare Before Christmas. Touchstone Pictures.

Capra, Frank (1946). It’s a Wonderful Life. Liberty Films.

Columbus, Chris (1990). Home Alone. Hughes Entertainment. 20th Century Fox.

Dante, Joe (1984). Gremlins. Warner Bros. Amblin Entertainment.

Dickens, Charles (1843). A Christmas Carol.

Donner, Richard (1988). Scrooged. Paramount Pictures.

Favreau, Jon (2003). Elf. New Line Cinema.

Henson, Brian (1992). The Muppet Christmas Carol. Walt Disney Pictures. Jim Henson Productions.

Jones, Chuck (1966). How the Grinch Stole Christmas. MGM Television.

Joyce, William (2001). Santa Calls. Harper Collins.

Kon, Satoshi (2003). Tokyo Godfathers. Madhouse. Sony Pictures.

Levant, Brian (1996). Jingle All the Way. 20th Century Fox Film.

Miller, Troy (1997). Jack Frost. Warner Bros.

Pasquin, John (1994). The Santa Clause. Walt Disney Pictures.

Ramsey, Peter (2012). Rise of the Guardians. Dreamworks Animation. Paramount Pictures.

Roemer, Larry (1964). Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rankin/Bass Productions.

Schulz, Charles M. (1965). A Charlie Brown Christmas. Bill Melendez Productions.

Spielberg, Steven (2002). Catch Me If You Can. Amblin Entertainment.

Williems, Patrick (2010). “25 Days of Christmas Episodes Day 21: Justice League–‘Comfort and Joy.'”

About Emma Louise Backe

PhD student in Medical Anthropology at the George Washington University and independent consultant, focusing on the intersections of international development, global health, reproductive health justice, gender-based violence, and the politics of care. Social justice sailor scout working on behalf of survivors of sexual violence, gender equity, and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health among vulnerable populations.

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