5 totally underrated Christmas movies

Billy Bob Thornton as Santa in the film Bad Santa
Looking for alternatives to the usual Christmas flicks? Here’s our list of 5 totally underrated Christmas movies. Pic: David Zellaby/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s pretty easy to create a top 5 Christmas movie list. Not only would everyone’s list look pretty similar, but most of the films that would be listed probably receive extensive runs on cable TV during the holidays.

So why not check out some Christmas movies that aren’t classics? The following are 5 underrated Christmas movies that you should check out this holiday season:

1 Trapped in Paradise

This movie got a bad rap when it was released. A young Nicolas Cage hints at the crazed performances that are now his forte, while John Lovitz battles then SNL stalwart, Dana Carvey, for the comic relief role.

The plot is simple: Cage is an ex-thief gone straight while his two brothers, Lovitz and Carvey, have just been released on parole in time for the holiday season due to overcrowding in the prison.

His brothers fabricate a story about a fellow prison inmate wanting them to deliver a letter to his daughter in Paradise, Pennsylvania. They then convince Cage to go to Paradise by convincing him he can’t return home because he’s wanted by the police.

They go to Paradise where they find a practically unguarded bank. You can probably guess what happens from here, as the story isn’t exactly Oscar gold material.

The three thieving brothers are infected by the small town Christmas spirit and try to change their ways before it’s too late. What makes this movie so entertaining is the performances of everyone involved.

This movie is actually very funny, and ends up being quite heartfelt, which is perfect for a Christmas movie.

2 The Ref

This one is definitely an adult-only affair, but an absolutely hilarious Christmas movie, which happens to be an incredible satire as well. Why was this gem overlooked? It was released on St. Patrick’s Day, that’s why.

Dennis Leary plays a burglar who breaks into a suburban home on Christmas Eve and takes a feuding couple, played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, hostage.

Leary plays the title role of the movie as he gets caught in between the massive breaking down of a marriage.

Leary is, of course, the cynical thief who learns a lesson or two from the feuding family, and is therefore able to impart an important lesson on the family at the end.

As cynical as the fighting between the family is, the humor never degenerates into a mean-spirited affair. As dislikable as everyone seems to be (with the exception of Leary’s character, ironically enough), you can’t help but enjoy everyone’s characters, which may be down to the fantastic performances.

3 Jingle All The Way

This movie got absolutely blasted by critics when it came out. It’s a pretty silly movie, but it’s anchored by a clever premise: Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the best father but he means well.

He happens to put off his Christmas shopping until the last minute. He then spends the entirety of the film chasing down the one sold-out toy that his son wants, fighting a mailman (played by Sinbad) who is also searching for that toy, for the last toy available in the city.

This movie is full of slapstick, something Schwarzenegger is quite good at. Phil Hartman also appears as the annoying “perfect father” neighbor. Any movie with Phil Hartman in it really can’t be that bad.

Pop this one in with the kids, as they’ll surely have a ball with it.

4 Bad Santa

This is the Christmas movie you watch with your friends, not your family. Absolutely foul and incredibly mean-spirited, it’s difficult to understand how you could enjoy such a movie. But you can and you will.

It’s absolutely hilarious, and you’ll be crying tears at the end. Not because it wraps up with a somewhat cheerful, Christmas-spirited ending, but because you’ll be cracking up the whole way through.

The jokes in this film are in extremely bad taste and as far from politically correct as possible. Which is maybe why this film is such a breath of fresh air.

From the drunken, philandering Santa, played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton, to the murderous dwarf, there’s barely a character here that doesn’t offend. Not to mention the huge amount of jokes played out at the expense of the film’s overweight child protagonist.

Watch this one if you’re starting to get tired of all the commercial holiday cheer surrounding you.

5 A Christmas Tale

Yes, it is a foreign film. They have Christmas in France too, you know! An entire dysfunctional family reunites after years of separation due to the matriarch of the family being afflicted by cancer.

As it turns out, only the alcoholic son and his nephew are able to save her via a transplant. The film resembles a French Royal Tenenbaums without the indie quirks of Wes Anderson, and much darker at that.

Due to the thematic content, and the fact that it is in French, this may be a better movie to enjoy with your significant other rather than the entire family.

It’s a great film that is at the same time funny, sad, dark and uplifting. And you’ll find yourself thinking about it and talking about it, which is what should happen after you watch any good French film.

If you’re tired of repeatedly watching A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life on a loop, then check out some of these underrated gems.

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