As Tom Lehrer once said: “Christmas is the time when we all get to reflect on
what we most truly and sincerely believe in. I’m referring of course to money”. Like him I suspect that most of us view the commercialisation of Christmas at best as a mixed blessing. However it’s become an inescapable fact that the modern holiday season has become a huge exercise in generating cash. Hollywood was typically quick to jump on this bandwagon and over the years has produced literally hundreds of Christmas-themed movies. Here then is my list of the five of the best that aren’t trying to sell you anything, and put the boot into capitalism as well.
1) It’s a Wonderful Life
On the face of it this isn’t the most cheering of films, featuring as it does James Stewart attempting to commit suicide, but I can’t think of a better anti-capitalism Christmas movie than this. The villain of the film, Mr Potter (Boo! Hiss!) is a stock broker and for extra topicality it also features a run on the banks.
2) Die Hard
Not the most obvious choice for this list but it’s set at Christmas so it counts. Money-obsessed baddie Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman doing his best German accent) attempts to rob a huge Japanese corporation by invading its head offices during the Christmas party and taking the staff hostage. His plan is foiled by plucky cop Bruce Willis. Initially armed with just a vest and a couple of iconic one-liners he defeats the bad guys and wins his estranged wife back at the same time, while she learns that family matters more than her corporate career.
3) Miracle on 34th Street
Not the horrible 1994 remake (Richard Attenborough should have known better) but the 1947 original. Here a department store Santa turns out to be the real thing as he teaches those around him the true meaning of Christmas. One of the few films where the hero is saved at the end by the US Post Office.
4) The Muppet Christmas Carol
Who would have thought that the Great Gonzo would turn out to be the definitive Charles Dickens of his generation? Almost every year someone attempts to make their own version of Dickens’ classic tale, as the book’s themes are truly timeless, but this is one of the better attempts. Scrooge has spent a lifetime accumulating wealth and power only to discover that money can’t buy him happiness. While there are many fine versions of A Christmas Carol, this is one of my favourites as it’s both a musical and features talking animals.
Yet another Dickens’ adaptation, this time starring Bill Murray as an evil TV executive who is visited by the three ghosts. This is a gleefully satirical attack on pretty much every Christmas institution you care to mention and features Lee Majors as a machine gun armed Santa. Classic stuff.
And just for balance here is the worst Christmas movie of all time:
The Star Wars Holiday Special
Few of you will ever have seen this monstrosity as George Lucas, in a rare moment of wisdom, has banned it from ever being shown again and used his vast wealth to destroy all copies. However, thanks to the wonders of modern technology it’s been preserved on YouTube as a terrible warning to future generations. Made just after the first Star Wars movie, this TV film features Han Solo and friends attempting to get Chewbacca to his home planet to celebrate Christmas. No one wanted to appear in this but were forced to due to their contracts. It’s hard to choose what is the worst part but here are some of the more cringe inducing: Harrison Ford visibly drunk, Princess Leia singing, Jefferson Starship turning up to help out. The Star Wars Holiday special is quite possibly the most cynical movie ever made and a naked attempt to extort money from gullible fans.
Dr Matthew Ashton is based in the Division of Politics and Sociology in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences