Best offbeat Christmas movies to stream in 2018

12 compelling alternatives to the standard feel-good Christmas fare.

7 xmas veryharoldkumar jma
New Line

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We watch and re-watch Christmas movies for many reasons—for nostalgia, or as a reminder that there’s still goodness in the world. Other times, you’re just in a kind of Scrooge/Grinch mood and want to see something a little more... alternative, a little more offbeat. These 12 essential movies are either Christmas-themed or simply set during Christmastime with some decorations evident, but they’re sure to put a wicked grin on your face.

For even more recommendations, take a look at our top picks in this category from 2017. We've updated the entire list, so you'll know which services are streaming your favorites.

Gremlins

(Rental—Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, etc., from $3.99) 

1 xmas gremlins jma Warner Bros

★★★★☆

Joe Dante’s subversive, gleeful Gremlins (1984) should not be shown to any kids (or grownups) that believe in Santa; a notorious monologue about a chimney accident has been the stuff of nightmares for many. At Christmastime in small town Kingston Falls, Billy (Zach Galligan), gets a mogwai as a gift, a cute little guy named Gizmo, but there are three rules. (He doesn’t like bright lights; don’t get him wet; and don’t feed him after midnight.)

As Dante loves satirizing the absurdities of human behavior as filtered through classic monster movies and cartoons, these rules get broken in ways that are hideously bonkers. Phoebe Cates plays Billy’s crush who helps out during the mayhem. Hoyt Axton, Corey Feldman, Keye Luke, Dick Miller, Judge Reinhold, and Jonathan Banks co-star. Comedian Howie Mandel provides the adorable voice of Gizmo.

Brazil

(Hoopla)

2 xmas brazil jma The Criterion Collection

★★★★★

Living in a densely detailed future of tall buildings and narrow spaces, but with its own film noir-ish aspects, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a clerk who pushes reams of paperwork for a corporation so big and soulless that no one even knows what’s going on. A printing error sets off a chain reaction of bizarre and incredible events, leading Sam to literally meet the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), as well as a renegade repairman (Robert De Niro).

Switching between fantasy and dream sequences to a dark version of reality, Terry Gilliam’s masterful black comedy Brazil (1985) is constantly mind-blowing. Virtually no rules apply, and Christmas imagery occasionally appears, almost as if by mistake. Gilliam’s former Monty Python cohort Michael Palin co-stars, as do Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, and others. Playwright Tom Stoppard co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay.

Scrooged

(Rental—YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, etc., from $2.99) 

3 xmas scrooged jma Paramount

★★★★☆

Richard Donner’s Scrooged (1988) was initially dismissed as violent, misguided, and sour. But saner heads have prevailed, and Bill Murray’s take on Ebenezer Scrooge has become a wicked holiday favorite. He plays a cynical TV executive, Frank Cross, who orders a very expensive, live, all-star Christmas Eve broadcast of a production of Dickens’s Scrooge, requiring thousands of people to work over the holiday.

Frank is hilariously mean to everyone, but soon he’s visited by three ghosts, including a taxi-driving Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) and a toaster-wielding Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane). This deluxe, prickly, glistening production takes a few short cuts, but it’s long on wicked laughs, and Murray’s transformation into a genuine human being is truly touching. Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Forsythe, and the legendary Robert Mitchum co-star, and the equally legendary Miles Davis can be glimpsed as a street musician.

The War of the Roses

(Rental—Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, etc., from $3.99)

4 xmas waroftheroses jma Twentieth Century Fox

★★★★★

Danny DeVito directed this slick, sinister black comedy that begins bright and cheery, but spirals downward into a constricted vision of a dark, angular hell; The War of the Roses (1989) could be the best movie about divorce ever made. Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) and Barbara (Kathleen Turner) meet, fall in love, get married, have kids, and buy a beautiful mansion.

But soon, resentment begins to stir, and each one of the couple’s littlest personality traits become grating to the other. They begin a battle over who gets the house, which turns nasty, and perhaps even murderous. Much of the story takes place at Christmastime, with the seasonal décor clashing viciously with the story at hand; a Christmas tree catches on fire in one scene. DeVito also plays a lawyer narrating the tale to a potential client (Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, who never speaks a word here).

Edward Scissorhands

(Rental—Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, etc., from $3.99)

5 xmas edwardscissorhands jma Twentieth Century Fox

★★★★★

Director Tim Burton’s unofficial, irreverent Christmas trilogy consists of Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and this weird, but quite lovely film. Edward Scissorhands (1990) opens with Vincent Price as an inventor building his creation, Edward (Johnny Depp, using mostly his eyes to convey a disarming innocence and hurt), but dies before he can make Ed’s hands.

Years later, an Avon saleslady (Dianne Wiest) discovers him hiding in a decaying mansion and invites him to come back with her to a weird vision of suburbia, both comforting and unreal, like a snow globe. There he meets the beautiful Kim (Winona Ryder, hair bleached to become one of Burton’s many, beloved blonde angels) and the bully Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). But he finds his place by using his scissor hands to create topiary masterpieces and bizarre hairstyles for the housewives. The poetic, open-hearted wintertime/Christmas sequences make all the weirdness seem delightfully comfy.

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