The saying goes that they don’t make them like they used to. And while this broad adage can be applied to practically anything, it’s certainly true of contemporary Christmas movies…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year once again. Christmas means a lot of different things to different people; for some it might mean spending quality time with cherished family members or reflecting on the spiritual importance of the holiday season. For film fans like myself, the Christmas break means ploughing through as many festive films as possible. What better way to enjoy the time off than by rewatching classic Christmas movies year after year?
In decades gone by, Hollywood has developed a certain fondness for the festive season – classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle of 34th Street have paved the way for more current mainstays like The Santa Clause, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Love Actually.
For most families around this time of year, the usual suspects are dusted off the shelf for their annual spin through the DVD player. You know the movies I’m talking about – Home Alone, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf – and generally a good time is had by all. These films are warm, familiar and comforting – like a big woolly sweater emblazoned with misshapen reindeer and baubles. We’ve seen them dozens of times but they never get old. I’d happily watch Home Alone every year until the end of time – but does that mean we should stop trying to make new Christmas movies that are actually decent?
If you ask me, that’s exactly what Hollywood have done.
It seems to me that we’ve kind of forgotten how to make a good Christmas movie in the last few years. I mean, Christmas movies are definitely still a thing – just last year we had The Night Before (a raunchy Seth Rogen comedy), Love the Coopers (a meek family drama/comedy) and Krampus (a zany horror) – but all of these films were either not very good (Love the Coopers) or didn’t offer broad appeal to families of all ages like a classic Christmas movie should (The Night Before).
After doing some reading, I’m pretty certain the same can be said for the year before and every year before that until at least 2003. In the last decade, major studio Christmas movies have included Four Christmases (2008), A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), Fred Claus (2007) and the billionth version of A Christmas Carol (2009). Remember any of those? Of course not. A quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes reveals that they were all savagely mauled by critics or quickly forgotten by audiences. I don’t imagine anyone is going to look back at Fred Claus, a woeful Vince Vaughan vehicle, with rose-tinted glasses in 2030.
It doesn’t look like this trend is set to change any time soon. This year we’re being treated to not one but two raunchy adult comedies revolving around hallmarks of the festive season; the first, Bad Santa 2, is a wholly unnecessary sequel to a terrible mid-noughties comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton. The second is the unimaginatively-titled Office Christmas Party which, you guessed it, is a movie about an office Christmas party that gets out of hand.
Without wanting to be branded a scrooge, neither of these films really tick any of the essential Christmas movie boxes in my mind – they’re rough, mean-spirited or crass and certainly not the kind of film you can watch while sipping eggnog with your grandma on the sofa. Bad Santa 2 is just a recycled comedy sequel about a grouchy old man that happens to dress up as Santa and Office Christmas Office – well, where do we even start? It looks like it was cast, shot, edited and marketed by a computer that was instructed to assemble the most generic comedy film imaginable. It’s essentially The Hangover meets Horrible Bosses – but this time, it’s at Christmas! Cha-ching!
Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten what Christmas movies are all about. For studios, Christmas isn’t about spreading peace and goodwill to all men anymore – it’s about tipping consumers upside down and shaking them for every penny they have. Boxing Day, the biggest day of the year for filmgoers in Australia, is now dominated by blockbusters that take the shape of Star Wars, The Hobbit, Mission Impossible or Avatar – not one of which has anything remotely to do with Christmas.
If we cast our mind back over the last decade, how many genuinely memorable Christmas movies have hit cinemas? And I don’t mean movies that merely feature Christmas in some shape or form – you can leave your snarky comments about Iron Man 3 or In Bruges somewhere else thank you very much.
I’m talking about actual Christmas movies. Movies that are uplifting, comforting, family-friendly and sprinkled with a gentle layer of snow – not merely using Christmas as a backdrop for yet another bland romantic comedy or crass romp. Give us magic and wonderment like Tim Allen discovering the quirks of his new job as Santa Claus or goofy fun like Macaulay Culkin booby-trapping his bedroom; the kind of beaming grins you get when Hugh Grant starts to dance in Downing Street or when Buddy the Elf discovers New York.
C’mon Hollywood, stop being such a cynical scrooge and embrace the inherent warmth of the season. We deserve better films than the current crop to share with our kids and remember fondly in the years to come.
And if all else fails, maybe we can talk Richard Curtis into putting together a reunion for Love Actually?