Is It Really a Holiday Movie? ‘Die Hard,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ & More Controversial Picks (POLL)

'Die Hard,' 'It's a Wonderful Life,' and 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'
20th Century Fox Film Corp.; Courtesy Everett Collection; ©Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

It’s that time of the year: when the holidays seem to take over our lives (and screens). If the annual made-for-TV movies from Hallmark, Lifetime, Netflix, and more are your cup of tea, you have plenty of options from now until the end of the year. And of course, there are those staple holiday classics like Elf and A Christmas Story. But there are also films that start debates at the dinner table every yuletide season over whether or not they’re actually Christmas movies.

For some, simply having a film be set around or on December 25 is enough to make it festive enough that yes, it’s a holiday movie. But what about what actually happens in the film (outside of the time of year)? Should movies have to end on a happy, feel-good note?

Here, we take a look at 10 films that could go either way (yes, including Die Hard) and ask you to vote on what you think.

Die Hard

The 1988 action-adventure film follows Bruce Willis’ NYPD officer as he tries to save his wife and her coworkers being held hostage by terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. And so the setting should qualify is as a holiday movie, right? The writer, Steven E. de Souza, has even detailed why it should be considered one, noting the Christmas songs and comparing the overall film to White Christmas. But should all the violence that takes place to get to the feel-good ending (which is inherent to a holiday film) keep it from being labeled as such?

Batman Returns

The 1992 film starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader sees him facing off with Penguin (Danny DeVito). Superheroes may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to the holidays, but this one includes a Christmas tree lighting and a charity ball, two events that are prominent in such films and can be used as an argument in favor of it being a holiday movie.

Catch Me If You Can

The 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks was released on Christmas, but is the story of the con man and the FBI agent who pursued him really a holiday movie? It is if you think that setting scenes on Christmas is enough to make it one, and you could argue that the semi-feel-good ending could as well.

Eyes Wide Shut

The action of the 1999 film does kick off at a Christmas party, but that seems to be the only part of the flick that would qualify it as a holiday movie. After all, this is a movie about a series of sexual encounters and death after a doctor finds out his wife considered having an affair. Not exactly the most feel-good watch for the family during the holiday season…


The 1984 film does take place on December 25 and the action kicks off with a Christmas gift: a mogwai, which brings with it the ensuing plot of the film. There’s even a character who doesn’t like the holiday (and if this was a traditional Christmas movie, she’d be a major fan by the end). But is watching creatures cause chaos really the best way to celebrate? It does have a feel-good ending…

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The 2001 film, the first movie in the franchise about a young wizard (Daniel Radcliffe), would qualify if you’re going simply on it featuring the Christmas holiday. But that would be true for other Harry Potter movies as well, and the majority of the action (including the climax) takes place at other times during the year.

The Holiday

How could the 2006 film, about two women (Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz) who swap houses for the holiday season not be considered a festive movie? Sure, it could take place at any time in the year, but having Christmas, then New Year’s as the settings and the rom-com of it all make a strong case in its favor.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s wild to even consider that the 1946 film starring James Stewart is anything but a holiday movie — it’s set at Christmas! an angel helps George Bailey! — but an argument can be made that it’s not. It doesn’t entirely take place on the holiday, and it could take place at another time (and they could say any time a bell rings, not just on a Christmas tree, an angel gets wings).

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

It seems strange to consider the 2005 film starring Robert Downey Jr a holiday movie. After all, it’s about a crook who winds up in Hollywood and involved in a murder conspiracy. It takes place at Christmas, but it’s dark, there isn’t a happy ending, and it’s not something you’d necessarily watch with the whole family.

Lethal Weapon

The 1987 buddy cop film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover does end on a happy note, with a Christmas dinner, but can you really consider it a holiday movie given everything that happens before, between the case and Riggs’ mental state after losing his wife?

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Is this 1993 animated classic a Halloween or Christmas movie? An argument can easily be made for both. The film about the Halloweentown’s pumpkin king’s trip to Christmastown is even part of Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween and 25 Days of Christmas slates. Time is spent in both places, there are countless visuals for both holidays,ghoulish characters (the pumpkin king is a skeleton!), and a Santa Claus.


The 2005 film based on the 1996 Broadway musical follows several bohemians (with members from the original cast!) and their struggles with sexuality, drugs, paying their rent, and AIDS in the East Village from 1989 to 1990. Sure, we see Christmas Eve (twice, bookending the story), Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve and Day, but the holidays feel secondary to the characters and their stories. (And the only holiday-specific song is “Halloween,” which was cut from the film.)

Trading Places

Sure, the 1983 film starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as an upper-class commodities broker and a poor street hustler whose lives are swapped as part of a bet takes place during the holidays and there’s a Santa suit, but did it need to be set then to still have the same outcome? And is including Christmas (and New Year’s) enough to make it a holiday movie?