It’s finally here, guys—we’re in deep into the Christmas season, which means you no longer have to sit on your couch and watch reruns of Law and Order: SVU on your television (I mean, you do you, sister!). It’s time to get holly freaking jolly and break out those Christmas specials.
Of course, there are the typical go-to’s like Elf, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Santa Clause. They’re the same few specials that run during ABC Family’s (I rebel against Freeform) “25 Days of Christmas.” And while I love watching Tim Allen get progressively fatter right before my eyes, because #relatable, I often find myself wishing for some different Christmas specials in my rotation. I like me some variety, people!
Over the years, I’ve endeavored to broaden my Christmas special horizons, and now I bring to you the ultimate unconventional Christmas movie watchlist, just in time for the holidays. Since ABC Family turned to Freeform and consequently lost a bajillion rights to all your favorite Christmas movies, I’ve listed alternate places where you can watch the movies discussed in this post. Because really, no one wants the last movie of the Christmas season to be The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (that’s right, Freeform really tried to make any Disney movie a Christmas special).
Here are my favorite unconventional Christmas specials ranked in order from “she cute” to “OMG my all-time fave.”
7. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)
This movie is the ultimate Christmas movie character collab. Get ready for Rudolph and Frosty’s mixtape dropping this Christmas Eve at a store near you. In the meantime, watch this Christmas special about the time Frosty and his family go to visit Rudolph in the North Pole during the summer. There’s a lot of brouhaha that happens during this movie, so it’s a bit hard to explain.
Basically, there’s this evil ice wizard named Winterbolt who is trying to regain power over the North Pole. After realizing Rudolph is public enemy #1, Winterbolt endeavors to frame Rudolph so he’ll get kicked out of the North Pole. When Frosty and Rudolph travel out of the North Pole to attend an out-of-country circus to watch some fireworks (yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that), Winterbolt successfully frames Rudolph for stealing money, and also tries to steal Frosty’s hat in the process to make himself an army of living snowmen. At the end of the day, Frosty and Rudolph get help from some other classic Christmas characters to try and defeat Winterbolt. There’s no lack of entertainment in this Christmas special, for sure.
I recommend this to: Anyone who is missing that summer weather, but who also wants to get in that Christmas spirit.
Watch it on AMC
6. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year(1976)
Bet you never knew that Rudolph has so many spin-off specials, did ya? In this adventure, Father Time calls up Santa on his hotline to tell him that Baby New Year (named Happy) has run away. If Baby New Year isn’t found before New Year’s Eve, it will be December 31stforever. Santa sends Rudolph on an espionage mission to find the Baby New Year and bring him back safely. On his way through the “Archipelago of Time” (aka heaven for historical figures), Rudolph runs into a caveman, Benjamin Franklin, and The Three Bears. Rudolph and his band of dead people realize Happy was stolen by Eon, an evil vulture who is destined to die at the end of the year. Throughout the film, Rudolph and the gang endeavor to return Happy back safely to father time so the New Year can continue.
I recommend this to: Anyone who’s looking for an alternative to Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve. Who wants to see Mariah Carey botch a lip sync performance when you could watch Rudolph save yet another holiday?
Watch it on AMC
5. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town! (1970)
AKA the historically accurate origins of Santa Clause. It’s a Claymation Christmas movie in which Santa is voiced by the ultimate Christmas king Mickey Rooney. This movie follows how the wonderful and pure Kris Kringle gets abandoned at birth and comes to be raised by a bunch of elves that make toys. When Kris becomes older, he meets a mystical Warlock who helps him enchant these toys to make them special. He begins to deliver the toys to sad children in a place called Sombertown, ruled over by the evil Burgermeister. Despite the Burgermeister trying to prevent Kris from delivering the toys, Kris always finds a way to carry out his Santa duties. This film also includes some swingin’ tunes, like the all-time bop “One Foot in Front of the Other.”
I recommend this to: Anyone who wants to learn the true story of how Santa came to be. All that crap about Kris Kringle being a Catholic Saint is totally a myth, kids.
Watch it on Freeform.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think Christmas Vacation is the funniest holiday special around. Chevy Chase stars as Clark Griswold, an average family man hell-bent on giving his family the best Christmas ever. Despite his best efforts, disaster strikes at every turn. The Christmas turkey gets so burnt that it literally deflates before everyone’s eyes. The Christmas lights on the outside of the house won’t turn down. A feral squirrel ends up running amok in the house. We’ve watched this movie at my family’s Christmas party the past few years, and it’s always a crowd pleaser. It’s incredibly relatable, cringe-y, and altogether sums up what it’s like to spend the holidays with your crazy extended family.
I recommend this to: Anyone looking for a good, honest laugh this holiday season. It’s just as funny as Elf, though perhaps a bit more NSFW.
Watch it on AMC
3. Die Hard (1988)
I stand proudly on the side of the aisle that considers Die Hard 100% a Christmas movie. I mean, the whole thing takes place on Christmas Eve at a Christmas Party. There’s even a Santa hat placed on a dead body, and Bruce Willis maybe utters a “ho ho ho” here or there. Sounds like Christmas to me. The film follows off-duty NYPD officer John McClane at his estranged wife’s office Christmas party. During the Christmas party, Alan Rickman and his gang of merry criminals break into the office and kidnap the company’s CEO in an attempt to get the code for the vault. While the villains try and obtain access to the vault, McClane sneaks around, foiling their plans left and right. Consider this film Christmas with a killer twist. Grab some eggnog, put on your Christmas pajamas, and settle down to watch Bruce Willis, aka action movie Santa Clause, save Christmas.
I recommend this to: Anyone looking to watch a Christmas movie without being smacked in the face by cheesy Christmas songs and tiny demonic elves running around.
Watch it here
We all know and love the O.G. Charlie Brown Christmas Special, so why not get in some extra laughs with this companion special featuring Linus and Lucy’s little brother Rerun. Adorable bean Rerun is trying to convince his family to get him a dog for Christmas. In an effort to prove he can take care of a living thing, Rerun takes it upon himself to host Spike, one of Snoopy’s brothers who live in the desert. Throughout the special, Rerun and Spike get into all of the shenanigans, including a perilous bike ride with Rerun’s mother, and playing ridiculous, nonsense card games with one another. This special never fails to make me bust out laughing; I’ll have tears streaming down my face by the end of it.
I recommend this to: Any dog lover who’s in need of the Christmas spirit. This is also a great special for little kids!
Watch it on ABC
1. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
There’s something super nostalgic about the good old Claymation Christmas movies. Just watching them makes me feel all cozy and warm inside. Mickey Rooney, who voices Santa Clause in this movie too, does incredibly well at embodying a tired, downtrodden Santa who falls bedridden on Christmas Eve. Mrs. Clause—with the help of elves Jingle and Jangle—undergo a perilous journey in an effort to show Santa there really is still Christmas spirit in the world. Along the way, Vixen the reindeer gets taken by a dog catcher, there are jazzy songs sung by Snow Mizer and Heat Mizer that will be stuck in your head far past Christmas, and Mother Nature shows up to help give Santa a holiday—all in one hour! This is actually my favorite Christmas special of all time; I consider it a sin if I don’t watch it before the end of the Christmas season.
I recommend this to: Anyone who’s feeling like Christmas is a little less exciting than normal. This movie is both a tear-jerker and an all-around good time. It’ll put you right in the spirit again, and—just maybe—have you believing in Santa Clause.
Watch it on AMC