Posted by: kshayes513 | December 16, 2010

The Twelve Science Fiction & Fantasy Movies of Christmas

After 100 years of winter, it’s finally Christmas in Narnia. Image: Disney/Walden

My holiday gift to you, my friends and readers, is my list of the best genre movies and TV episodes to watch during the winter holiday season.  I made up the original list a couple of years ago for an entertainment site that didn’t end up using it. Since then, it’s been snoozing in a digital drawer until fellow writer and medievalist K. A. Laity reminded me of its existence, with her iconoclastic holiday movie list on BitchBuzz.

Forthwith, the Twelve Genre Movies* of Christmas:

(*yes, some of them are TV episodes.  Saying so doesn’t scan with the song title. So snowball me!)

Winter Solstice, Dec 22. Pre-Christian Europe celebrated Yule to call back the sun. Sunshine recreates that ancient fear of the dark and the cold, as astronauts try to rekindle the dying sun. It offers smart science fiction, the prospect of unending winter (which is about how winter feels on December 21), and the blaze of the sun at close proximity.

Christmas Eve. On this busiest of days, take a half hour to recharge your Christmas spirit with the Grinch. Not the overblown, overtrimmed Jim Carrey feature, but Tex Avery’s faithful animated version of Dr. Seuss’s classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In no time at all, Avery’s genius comic timing and Boris Karloff’s delicious drawl will have you snapping your fingers at Christmas deadlines, to the tune of “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch!”

Correction, 12-31-12: Richard Campbell correctly points out an error and a misleading statement. The director is Chuck Jones, not Tex Avery. The wrong name popped up from my mental database of cartoon geniuses, and I apologize for not fact checking myself. I did not mean to suggest that Boris Karloff narrates and sings, but my phrasing is ambiguous. He does not sing.

Christmas Day. A medieval fable tells that all the animals can talk at midnight on Christmas morning. The talking animals never looked better or more heroic than in Andrew Adamson’s gorgeous feature remake of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Narnia also offers the loveliest White Christmas ever, and a visit with the real Father Christmas.

Boxing Day. The British and Canadians celebrate December 26 by giving gifts to their hairdressers, garbage men, and other service people. For your Boxing Day gift, take your pick of two Blue Boxes: David Tennant’s debut as the 10th Doctor in Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (killer robot Santas, killer spinning Christmas trees and a honking big alien ship – what’s not Christmasy here?); or the newest, shiniest Tardis adventure, Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor in Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, which airs Christmas Day on both sides of the Big Pond.

Addendum, December 18, 2014: Of course, there’s a new Doctor Who Christmas Special every year. Pick any one you like, they’re all enjoyable. I’m especially looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas this year.

Christmas Week. Rest up from Christmas exhaustion with these stocking stuffers:

The Golden Compass. Steampunk cities as bright as Christmas baubles, rosy children and little furry animals, and the snowy vistas of the Arctic give this adaptation of the Philip Pullman novel its holiday gleam. And what holiday season is complete without an armored warrior polar bear?

Hogfather. This British TV miniseries captures to perfection the silliness, satire and profound mythology of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld tale, in which Death plays Santa to save Christmas – er, Hogswatch. This one has my favorite Pratchett scene ever: the bogus Hogfather filling in for a department store Santa!

Children of Men. When you’re hungry for a substantial meal again, sit down to this heartrending story of a miraculous birth in a world without hope. Don’t watch for the brilliant, in-your-face camera work nor for the awards-worthy cast, but because Children hits closer to the real meaning of Christmas than anything else on this list.

New Year’s Eve. Count down to midnight with a young Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, as she races the clock to rescue a baby stolen by goblins. David Bowie, the sexiest Goblin King ever, presides over a baby-tossing party, an endearing cast of Jim Henson critters, and a creepily glorious masked ball.

New Year’s Day. If you’re still hung over, take in a Tim Burton double feature: The Nightmare Before Christmas and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nightmare’s fantastical gothic animation and Charlie’s demented, candy-colored wonderland may convince you you’re still drunk and feeling no pain!

January 3. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s back to work we go. Not with Seven Dwarfs, but with Gremlins. What better way to vent your feelings about returning to the cold workaday world, than to watch a perfect storm of little monsters rip a town to shreds on the holidays?

Epiphany/Three Kings Day, Jan 6. The three kings and the Holy Family fled the bloodthirsty King Herod and the massacre of all the babies in Bethlehem. In Willow, a murderous monarch pursues another royal babe. Too bad Warwick Davis’s Willow and Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan weren’t around to deal with Herod’s soldiers!

A really relaxing holiday season would be one in which I actually had time to watch all of these!

What’s your favorite non-traditional holiday viewing?

Update, December 10, 2011: Nice to see so many visitors to this list in the past few days.   If you’ve seen any film or TV since last year that deserves to be added to the list, please recommend it!

Update, December 16, 2014: I want to add another marvelous, magical title to this list: Martin Scorsese’s lovely period piece Hugo, about a Parisian orphan who lives in a train station, and the mystery of the mechanical man left to him by his father. Scorsese wanted to make a film his young children could watch. Being Scorsese, he makes a film for all of us, hitting both the heartachy and the heartwarming notes perfectly, without the tiniest hint of treacle. The 1930s setting is gorgeous, the cast includes Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron-Cohen, Emily Mortimer, and Christopher Lee.


  1. Cool list — you went to a lot more trouble figuring out appropriate films for appropriate days. But no Lord of the Rings? Winter break is about the only time I can find to watch all three movies. Hogfather! Have to dig that out again.


    Kate (yes, too much trouble to log out and back in again).

  2. Great choices. Hogfather is my favorite. Although it’s not Christmasy, for its message of peace and good will, I’d add Enemy Mine.

  3. Sunshine? Really? That was an AWEFUL film. Huge plot holes and poor dialogue.

  4. Cynthia -thanks for reminding me of Enemy Mine; I haven’t seen that more than once, and not in decades!

    Thomas – Sunshine isn’t perfect, (especially if compared to the extraordinary Children of Men), but I enjoyed the the space travel parts, because realistic space travel is rare in Hollywood films; and the sun looks amazing!

    Kate – I associate LOTR with autumn, not Yule! But of course, it’s appropriate for reading/viewing at any season. Currently reading the History of LOTR in one hand and the trilogy in the other. Fascinating glimpse into Tolkien’s creative process
    Winter break? You get a winter break???

  5. Having Children of Men on the list does make up for Sunshine…. and yes, it starts with good space travel, but like it’s plot, they get it a bit screwed up at the end.

  6. Chuck Jones directed The Grinch who stole Christmas not Tex Avery. Boris Karloff does the voice over but does not sing the song.

  7. Thanks, Richard. As soon as I read “Chuck Jones” my brain went – duh! I did know that, but somehow my brain supplied the wrong name, and you’re the first one in 2 years to catch the error. Correcting it now.

  8. “City of Lost Children” opens with a Christmas theme, and the excellent “The President’s Analyst” ends with one.

    “Jacob’s Ladder” takes place over Christmas.

    “Things to Come” has Everytown destroyed by an air raid on Christmas Eve, 1940.

    Antonio Margheriti’s “Gamma One Quadrilogy” movies are a strange mixture of some really ambitious ideas with scanty budgets and dodgy dubbing, but can be enjoyable. “The War of the Planets” opens with an alien invasion on New Year’s Eve.

  9. Welcome, John, and thanks for adding these suggestions. Would you say Jacob’s Ladder fits in speculative fiction? I haven’t seen it, so I can’t judge. I would class The President’s Analyst as a straight up spy comedy, rather than spec fiction, but there’s a big audience overlap for those two genres, so it’s worth mentioning to readers here who haven’t seen it.

  10. If you’re willing to sacrifice a few brain cells, well maybe more than a few because you’ll probably need to be pretty drunk to get through it, one can’t forget (no matter how hard one tries) Santa Claus Conquers The Martians.

  11. Hahaha! Great suggestion. I’ve never seen this one, but I think we’d all agree that sometimes brain cells need to be sacrificed just to get through the season. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  12. I’m glad you included Hog Father. It’s one of my favorites. I think because it isn’t your typical Christmas special, but has a good message. Here is a little present for you — a short video that is propably the weirdest Christmas video I’ve ever seen.

  13. Cynthia, that’s a brilliant little short film! The title is “Rare Exports” everyone, just 7 minutes and well worth adding to this list of Christmas/Yule movies.

  14. Yeah, I think the Finnish Sami must have a weird sense of humor. I just found a very strange Mexican children’s movie from the fifties. Santa lives in outer space and has “It’s a Small World” children for helpers instead of elves. He has to battle Satan with the help of his strange alien technology. It’s very Willy Wonka-ish.

  15. A beautiful list! A quick word and a comment. Boxing Day used to be the day you give things to those who work for you…..but that pretty much died out during the first world war. Now it’s a day to recover from the big holiday….watch more telly, and eat even more.

    And if you like the film of “Enemy Mine” (I’m not sure what that has to do with any holiday), the film is good, but the short story is one of the finest I have ever read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: