Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
For this week’s Debate Club, we are in a festive holiday mood. Specifically, we wanted to look at the greatest Christmas-themed moments in genre movies. We know there’s always a debate about what is a “Christmas movie,” but there doesn’t need to be such a divisive discussion here: This is about Christmas moments in movies that may or may not be “Christmas movies.” Because even Santa likes to catch a great popcorn flick every once in a while.
A Christmastime robbery goes wrong (but also right) in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
It would be dopey not to include a Shane Black movie on this list. The filmmaker has given us plenty of yuletide-centric films as a writer (Lethal Weapon) and director (Iron Man Three). But we’d like to spend a moment talking about his underrated 2005 thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is clever and snarky, as well a fun middle finger to the solemnity and good will of the season.
Black sets the tone early, establishing how a two-bit criminal (Robert Downey Jr.) made his way from New York to Los Angeles by botching a break-in during the holidays — only to be chased by police and find his way into an audition, where his sweaty desperation turns out to be exactly right for the part. Christmas is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s constant backdrop, and Black loves tweaking the season’s phony uplift. For those who hate the holidays, Black’s your man.
Kate’s worst Christmas ever in Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a little cracked anyway – though not nearly as insane as his delirious sequel – but it veers into the surreal when Phoebe Cates’ Kate pauses the entire narrative to explain why she doesn’t like Christmas. She has a pretty good reason!
The best part about this is that the reveal – that her father was in that chimney – is punctuated with a Gizmo reaction shot. This movie was for kids?
Max Schreck’s Christmas Speech in Batman Returns (1992)
Christopher Walken’s casual, almost bored villainy in Tim Burton’s Batman sequel is uproarious pretty much from start to finish, but there’s nothing quite like his Christmas speech. Introduced by the mayor as “Gotham’s own Santa Claus,” Schreck ambles up to the microphone and delivers the most insincere, half-hearted, hilariously self-serving improved speech imaginable.
You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard Walken, deadpan, say, “I only wish I could hand out more than just expensive baubles. I wish I could hand out world peace … and unconditional love.”
Jack discovers Christmas Town in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Imagine being an adult and just then learning that there’s a thing called Christmas. It would probably blow your mind. Little wonder that Jack Skellington freaks out after walking through the portal to Christmas Town and feels inspired to break into song. “What’s This?” is one of the highlights of this stop-motion classic, laying out all the wonders of the yuletide season that all of us tend to take for granted nowadays. The sights! The sounds! Just don’t get the bright idea of kidnapping Santa, kids.
'Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let in Snow' in Die Hard (1988)
Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie — not just because it’s set during the season but also because it uses Christmas accouterments as part of its plot. (Wrapping paper and tape: also great for concealing a gun on your back!) But we’ve always been partial to the film’s last scene, where John and his wife Holly share that kiss in the back of the limo as they drive off into their happy ending. Just then on the soundtrack comes Vaughn Monroe’s warm, hearty rendition of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” with its ironically perfect first line: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful / But the fire is so delightful.” In this case, the fire is the debris from all the mayhem John caused. As for the weather — hey, it’s Los Angeles. The weather’s always delightful there. Plus, during the holidays, there’s no traffic — that’s even better than a white Christmas.