Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy like-minded works of the past. This entry recommends alternatives and pairings to watch after or with all your favorite Christmas movies.
Twas the day before Christmas and all through the land, people are trying to watch all the holiday staples they can. Because after December 25th comes and passes, Christmas movies are once again ignored by the masses. In June if you want to watch something with Santa, film nazi elves appear and say, “No, you can’ta!” So here are alternatives to all of your faves, to help you with your untimely craves.
After Home Alone (1990)
Watch Panic Room (2002)
If you want more kids defending their turf from baddies, there’s The Goonies, Toy Soldiers, and Attack the Block, which exchanges criminals and terrorists for alien invaders. If you want something that’s a lot like Home Alone for grown-ups, then David Fincher’s Panic Room ought to be your go-to. It’s like if Kevin’s mom returned at the end and then both of them had to continue to stave off the Wet Bandits. Although home invasion thrillers that aren’t for kids are a dime a dozen, this one under Fincher’s direction is most like Home Alone in its methodic thrills, making it like a game, plus it’s got a great performance by Jodie Foster and early proof that Kristen Stewart is a talent.
After Die Hard (1988)
Watch Key Largo (1948)
The one movie on this list where you’re most likely to ignore the rule and watch January through November, Die Hard is also kind of a big blockbuster alternative to Home Alone, as well. Because of its numerous copycats, there are plenty of movies not set during the holidays to consider, including Under Siege, Air Force One, White House Down, Speed, and the precursor Bullet Train. The best, though, is the earliest known take on the “Die Hard on a…” premise, released 40 years beforehand. John Huston’s Key Largo stars real-life spouses Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall plus Edward G. Robinson leading a crew who hijack a resort hotel. By the end of the movie, Bogie sort of goes full-on John McClane in order to kill the bad guys and save the day.
After Love Actually (2003)
Watch Magnolia (1999)
Richard Curtis’s ensemble rom-com inspired a few holiday-themed movies from Garry Marshall, including Valentine’s Day and this year’s Mother’s Day, but they’re not nearly as good as Love Actually. And there are so many better films that do the multi-character, loosely connected-subplots thing, like Dazed and Confused, which is younger, cooler, and set on the kids’ holiday known as the last day of school. And Robert Altman films such as Nashville and Short Cuts. Then there’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, a movie clearly inspired by Short Cuts and Altman in general, which is the masterpiece you need. It’s more of a downer— even its musical interlude is sad – but a lot of Love Actually is rather depressing itself.
After It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Watch Wings of Desire (1987)
Frank Capra’s most beloved classic has inspired or is aligned with a number of similar efforts, and unfortunately for the task at hand, many (The Bishop’s Wife, The Family Man) are also Christmas movies. Then there’s a dark, inverse take in Donnie Darko, but that’s a Halloween movie, if we’re boxing in holiday entertainment. Fortunately, there is an amazing alternative that bears enough resemblance to choose: Wings of Desire. Later remade in America as City of Angels, this German film by Wim Wenders looks at the human/guardian angel relationship from the latter’s perspective as he wants to be human. Follow it with the sequel Faraway, So Close!, which might be more relevant given how it ends with its main character wanting to go back to what he was before.
After Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
The original Miracle on 34th Street has surely been mistaken for a Capra film, and that’s easily forgiven because of its being a contemporary of It’s a Wonderful Life and, more so, because of how much its courtroom scenes are reminiscent of those in his Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, only with Santa Claus in the place of a man thought crazy for being kind and generous. If it’s the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street, though, don’t follow that up with the 2002 remake of Mr. Deeds starring Adam Sandler.
After Elf (2003)
Watch Big (1988)
Speaking of Sandler, he’s one of the kings of man-child shtick, particularly in Billy Madison, which makes for a decent counterpart to Elf. Or the original Mr. Deeds is a good alternative here, as well. Of course, we can’t ignore Will Ferrell’s other immature goofball roles, such as in Step Brothers. A lot of these kinds of movies are about idiots, though, and Elf isn’t so much about a guy with a low I.Q. as it’s about a childlike person who is a fish out of water in New York City. That leaves the most fitting recommendation to be Big, in which Tom Hanks wishes to be grown-up in size. Like Buddy the elf, Hanks’s character’s youthful perspective leads to success in the business of producing something for kids.
After White Christmas (1954)
Watch Blue Skies (1946)
Firstly, it’s necessary to go back to the origin of the song “White Christmas,” which was written for Holiday Inn. That film isn’t specifically a Christmas movie, as it takes place on various holidays over the course of a year, but enough of it is set during Christmas that it is considered another staple for the season. The song’s next film appearance, eight years before the classic that took its name, was in Blue Skies, another pairing for Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and the songs of Irving Berlin. It’s a great place to hear “White Christmas” in a movie about war buddies that isn’t so holiday-oriented.
After Gremlins (1984)
Watch Small Soldiers (1998)
This is an easy one, as Joe Dante basically redid his own Gremlins 14 years later with Small Soldiers. Both involve small creatures, good and bad. The former is about living creatures ignorantly treated as playthings and the perfect Christmas present, and the latter is about playthings, literal toys, that turn out to be sentient creatures.
After Bad Santa (2003)
Watch The Bad News Bears (1976)
Billy Bob Thornton has become the go-to guy for “Bad” movies where he’s an awful man, especially to children. They include the remake of the underdog little league baseball film The Bad News Bears, and while that’s a satisfactory alternative, the original is a much better choice. Its star, Walter Matthau, was the Billy Bob Thornton of his time with regard to these cranky asshole comedies, and you can even come full circle next holiday season with Matthau and Jack Lemmon’s Christmas-set Grumpy Old Men.
After Scrooged (1988)
Watch Groundhog Day (1993)
There should be more non-Christmas-set movies inspired by the original Charles Dickens story, but if you want an example that’s not such a stretch if you think about it, watch the Back to the Future trilogy. If you love Scrooged primarily for curmudgeon Bill Murray, there are a few worthy alternatives from around the same point in his career. Quick Change is another where he’s very grumpy at first then relaxes by the end. As is Groundhog Day, which is kind of another very loose take on the Christmas Carol idea but set on Groundhog Day and not involving ghosts. His character gets to see different ways his life could turn out by giving all options a try.
After A Christmas Story (1983)
Watch Radio Days (1987)
Can’t get enough of Ralphie and his family? Well, there’s always Bob Clark’s own sequel, My Summer Story (aka It Runs in the Family), which is again based on Jean Shepherd tales and follows the boy, his brother Randy, their mom, and the Old Man at another time of year. There are also plenty of similar retrospectively narrated coming-of-age stories like The Sandlot and Stand by Me. But Woody Allen’s Radio Days is the one that best captures the same period with a particular focus on the home entertainment of the era, complete with a kid’s need to have a secret decoder ring.
After National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Watch Fargo (1996)
You were probably expecting the easy route here, one of the other Vacation installments, preferably the first one. Or maybe even a comedy of similar tone and plot and buffoonery, say Meet the Parents. But Fargo, which has a wintry setting but doesn’t take place at Christmastime, is the greater alternative because it’s also about a bumbling dad who just wants to provide for his family and can’t because his job isn’t going so well, and it doesn’t help that his father-in-law doesn’t think much of him. Of course, a kidnapping plot only makes everything worse.
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