Sure, the holiday season is a time for togetherness and goodwill towards humanity and all that, but that doesn’t mean you have to choke on the candy cane sweetness of stop-motion Rudolf specials. What you need is a movie that’s just for you. Something mildly inappropriate with dark themes and curse words, but also tinsel on the trees and snow on the ground.
It’s fully possible to get wrapped up in the Christmas spirit while being entertained like the grownup you are. Watch the 12 best Christmas movies for adults after the kids are nestled all snug in their beds and sugar plums dance in their heads. Of course, if you don’t have kids, you can watch them whenever you damn well please. At full volume. Even at night.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Sure, Clark reverts to an idiot 13-year-old when talking to sexy shop girls and his driving maturity is sorely lacking, but all the man wants is to make a big, memorable Christmas for his family. Nothing more adult than that. Christmas Vacation is a mandatory annual rewatch that never disappoints. And if it’s your first holiday season with the Griswolds, you’ll soon have the pleasure of finding out just what that funny squeaky sound is.
Bad Santa (2003)
When the saccharine sweetness of comfort and joy gets you down, turn to the movie that holds nothing sacred. Rude, offensive, and far funnier than it has any right to be, Bad Santa dresses up a foul-mouthed Billy Bob Thornton in a Mall Santa outfit—the perfect guise for robbing the place at night. Taking a bullied kid under his wing gives Billy Bob’s character some adulting points, but really it’s the pure perversion that makes this movie all grown up.
Reimagining Scrooge as a jaded TV exec, Scrooged follows the curmudgeon’s path-of-awakening that was laid down by A Christmas Carol. This time it’s Bill Murray learning the lessons with his dry comedic perfection along for the cab ride. The makeup and special effects are still impressive and Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present was my childhood hero.
Die Hard (1988)
If you harbor doubts as to whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not, let our own Brian Adee put those doubts to rest. Then enjoy the ride as an off-duty cop saves his ex-wife’s place of business from a band of terrorizing thieves. It’s got the badass lines, the sweet moves, and the right kind of ho-ho-holiday spirit for those who prefer their halls decked with explosions.
A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (2011)
The third installment of the Harold and Kumar stoner series sees the two buds getting a feel for adulthood. Harold got married and wears a suit now. Kumar is going to be a dad (and the actor who plays him had a real job in the actual White House before and after filming). But none of that means these guys won’t dive headlong into irreverent misadventures as they quest to find a very special Christmas tree.
Office Christmas Party (2016)
In Office Christmas Party, Jason Bateman plays his fine-tuned brand of beleaguered straight man to a full roster of balls-out comedians. Honestly, I’d watch Jason Batemen read long segments of the tax code but it’s far more fun to watch him try to jump start a flagging office party and then try to slow the insanity down once things start to get very out of hand.
Black Christmas (1974)
For those who like their Christmas movies a little more stabby than jolly, we recommend this classic slasher flick from the ‘70s. Two remakes followed, with the last one in 2019, but neither manage to match the good old-fashioned murder and mayhem of the original Black Christmas. Based on the elegant “the call is coming from inside the house” horror movie trope, this deserves its place in the cult movie pantheon thanks to solid acting and tightly ratcheted tension.
Coopers’ Camera (2008)
In this very Canadian found-footage obscurity, Daily Show alums Samantha Bee and Jason Jones play the mom and dad components of a very dysfunctional family. Their young son Teddy captured all the wrongness, obscene behavior, and bad dancing on a “gently used” video camera during one epically disastrous Christmas back in 1985. If you need reassurance that your holiday could always be worse (and funnier), watch this.
The Ref (1994)
Imagine a couple so embittered that getting taken hostage by an armed robber doesn’t make a car ride home any worse than it was already going to be. Dennis Leary takes on the title role of The Ref, doling out unfiltered advice to a viciously bickering couple as he hides from the cops in their house on Christmas Eve. If only every messed up family had Leary’s zero-bullshit sneer to set them straight.
When you need a movie that fixes your smile muscles in the upward position for the duration, go with Will Ferrell’s sweet and funny turn as a human adopted by elves. When he leaves the North Pole and heads to NYC to find his biological father, even the roiling metropolis can’t beat the goodwill out of him. Elf is plenty smart enough for grown-ups but this is one that kids can love too.
Despite tie-in marketing of exceedingly cute Mogwai dolls, Gremlins is one violent Christmas treat. Murderous puppets and a healthy dollop of gore strain the limits of the movie’s PG rating and yet every time it’s played, a yuletide spell is cast over the whole thing, enchanting Children of the ‘80s and Gen Z kids alike. It’s also the reason we’ll always associate Johnny Mathis’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with death by microwave.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Back when broadcast television was the only game in town, Christmas wasn’t Christmas without marathon reruns of It’s a Wonderful LIfe. These days, we make our own choices when it comes to what shows up on the TV screen, so it’s a pretty good testament to the quality of a film when something made before our parents were born still gets an annual revisit. If you’ve only ever had it on in the background while you deck the tree, it’s worth giving your full attention one of these years.