It’s strange that there are actually a lot of parallels between thrillers and holiday movies, and sometimes, the only thing that separates the two is comedy. Whether it’s drama that erupts into violence between families or kids who use their creativity for violence, there’s nothing but a few Christmas carols that keeps them from being intense thrillers.


These Christmas movies feature narratives that could just as easily be thrillers, and in the hands of the right director, they could even be better than the original movie.

UPDATE: 2022/12/10 17:58 EST BY STEPHEN BARKER

With the festive season now in full swing, Christmas movies are on heavy rotation in almost every household, and parents might be noticing just how surprisingly dark most holiday films are. And the newly released The Mean One, which is a horror take on the Jim Carrey-led How the Grinch Stole Christmas, proves that even the most high-spirited Christmas movies can easily be turned into dark and gritty movies unsuitable for children.

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Falling For Christmas (2022)

Sierra, Jake, and Avy with the Chesnut Vendor in Falling For Christmas

Netflix’s Falling for Christmas is one of the newest festive films, but it’s notable for being Lindsay Lohan’s comeback role and little else. The film has been critically slammed, and the premise of a pampered daddy’s girl losing her memory and learning to enjoy the little things as a log cabin worker is too reminiscent of a Hallmark flick.

However, the movie could be great if that very premise was used as a thriller movie. Instead of being taken in by a Prince Charming-type character, Sierra (Lohan) could just as easily have been taken in by a sleazy cabin owner who fed her lies about her previous life to keep her there, a la 10 Cloverfield Lane. But, in fairness, that isn’t all that different from the way Falling for Christmas unfolds, which makes the movie that much weirder.

Scrooged (1988)

Bill Murray smoking a cigar in Scrooged

In fairness, Scrooged is as close to a thriller as a family Christmas movie gets, as it’s exciting, full of crime, and even frightening in parts. The Ghost of Christmas Past as a New York cabbie has frightened the life out of kids over the years.

The only thing it’s lacking is the suspense, and if Scrooged kept the fact that it’s an adaptation of A Christmas Carol a secret until the end, the spooky 1988 festive comedy would have made for a great and disturbing mystery thriller. That approach would have left audiences guessing what was going on the whole way through, and it would have had such a satisfying payoff too.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Steve Martin looking furious in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

While Planes, Trains & Automobiles has always been popular over the holiday season, it’s especially popular this year due to the newly released three-hour version and Drew Barrymore wanting to reboot the film with Cameron Diaz (via MovieWeb). If the reboot does happen, they could go down the much darker avenue that was hinted at in the original film.

It has been heavily speculated that Del keeps his wife’s body in the huge suitcase he lugs around everywhere, which would make for a much more thrilling movie than the fun road trip flick that was the final result. After all, what better career is there for a serial killer than a traveling salesman?

Christmas With The Kranks (2004)

Nora on the floor in Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks is about a family who lives in a neighborhood that’s obsessed with Christmas, and while that isn’t exactly out of the ordinary for a holiday film, especially for one set in Chicago, it’s way over the top in the 2004 release. The community in the film is less like a community and more like a hateful cult that condemns anyone who doesn’t do what the leader says.

Christmas with the Kranks would have been a lot more entertaining if it focused on this aspect of the community than the Krank family simply ignoring anything Christmas-related. Not only that, but it could have made for one of the best cult-based thrillers and could have been more like Mandy than Deck the Halls.

The Santa Clause (1994)

Scott Calvin in The Santa Clause

Tim Allen’s transformation into becoming Santa is one of the reasons why he’s the perfect Kris Kringle in The Santa Clause, but it’s easy to overlook the very reason why he transformed into old Saint Nick in the first place.

In The Santa Clause, Allen accidentally kills Santa and then ultimately steals his identity, and if that isn’t grounds for an intense, gritty, David Fincher-esque thriller movie, then what is? That could have been the premise for the newly released series The Santa Clauses, but that might not have exactly been a great fit for Disney+.

Bad Santa (2003)

Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa

Bad Santa is already dark for a Christmas movie, and this Santa isn’t so jolly. The festive film follows a mall Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) who’s completely depressed and drowns his sorrows with alcohol and other substances.

It’s one of the Christmas movies released after 2000 that could be considered a classic, but the character is scarily on edge and inhabits all the traits that make a great on-screen serial killer. Maybe if Bad Santa 2 played on this idea it wouldn’t have been so disappointing. However, the recently released Violent Night has seemingly filled that void.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Ralphie in A Christmas Story

“You’ll shoot your eye out” is one of the most iconic quotes from A Christmas Story, as Ralphie has his eyes on only one thing for Christmas, a Red Ryder BB Gun. In the end, he actually gets the present and he, of course, ends up injuring himself when playing with it, which completely puts him off the idea of toy guns.

However, if that accident had never happened, it’s possible that Ralphie could have fallen in love with shooting guns, and possibly led him down a dark path. While A Christmas Story Christmas was way better than expected, it would have been interesting to see this alternate timeline hinted at in the newly released legacy sequel.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Cindy and Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas

There’s no denying that it’d make more of a great horror than a thriller, and it has just recently been done too, as the newly released The Mean One is a horror take on the beloved children’s book. However, How The Grinch Stole Christmas has all the hallmarks of a great thriller movie too.

If the movie was a thriller, it would probably have been more well-received upon its release, Not only that, but Jim Carrey would certainly have been seen as one of the greatest antagonists ever, up there with the likes of Hannibal Lecter.

Jingle All The Way (1996)

Arnold Schwarzenegger with a group of Santas in Jingle All The Way

Jingle All The Way already takes some major liberties and pushes the boundaries as far as it can in terms of what can be shown in a children’s movie. The film follows two men locking horns and literally trying to kill each other over a doll that their children want. And the movie briefly turns into an action crime flick, as a warehouse full of criminal mall Santas gets raided by the FBI for selling damaged goods.

One of the men even threatens to bomb a building, and it’s all for comedic relief. The movie is almost already a dark movie disguised as a family film, as all the studio needs to do is remove the jokes and it instantly becomes a thriller.

The Polar Express (2004)

The mysterious Hobo as he appeared in Polar Express

Tom Hanks voicing several characters is one of the hidden details people missed in The Polar Express, whether it’s the stern but fair train conductor, Hero Boy, or even Santa Claus himself. But there’s another character that the actor voices, which is the Hobo found sitting on the top of the train who suddenly disappears.

Hobo frightens the life out of Hero Boy, and the character’s meaning was always left open-ended. But in any other movie, the character would surely have been the suspect in a murder case. Given that some believe Hobo is an older Hero Boy, that fan theory could be explored as a captivating thriller movie.

Deck The Halls (2006)

The Halls and the Finches stand by their cars in Deck The Halls

Deck the Halls sees two neighbors go head-to-head in trying to one-up each other on their Christmas decorations. The movie was completely financially unsuccessful, as it bombed at the box office, making just $47 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo) and faired miserably amongst critics.

But the movie’s failure might have been due to not knowing what genre it is. As the two characters go to great lengths to ruin each others’ Christmas, comedy might have been the obvious direction, but maybe not the right direction. Instead of being a festive comedy, Deck the Halls could just as well have been a great Christmas-themed cat-and-mouse thriller.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Clark getting ready to snap in Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is arguably the best holiday movie, as it sees Clark, played amazingly by Chevy Chase, become overwhelmed by the burden of Christmas.

Whether it’s the in-laws dropping in, the hazardous Christmas lights, or his non-existent Christmas bonus, all of that stress combined with his over-the-top hatred for his boss could lead to some nasty outcomes. In the film, Clark totally cracked under the pressure, but in reality, that would have led to some truly frightening consequences.

Home Alone (1990)

Kevin McCallister screaming in Home Alone.

There’s no denying that Home Alone is the perfect material for a Christmas thriller. However, while it’d make a great, disturbing thriller film, it wouldn’t be the Wet Bandits who are the villains. The traps that Kevin set up would have realistically murdered Harry and Marv several times over, and Kevin simply found it hilarious.

The fact that Kevin could very well be the Jigsaw killer is proof enough that he is capable of some very horrific things. When Kevin sets up dozens of traps to catch some thieves in Home Alone, it showed how clever, creative, and heroic the child is, but if he was pushed in the wrong way, the kid could use that creativity and braveness in much more terrifying ways.

Why Him? (2016)

James Franco and Bryan Cranston in Why Him
Bryan Cranston and James Franco in Why Him

Why Him? is about a boyfriend (James Franco) and his potential father-in-law (Bryan Cranston) failing to get along, which leads to both of them pulling Home Alone-like pranks on each other. The two inevitably wipe the slate clean and end up getting along by the time the credits roll, but a much darker version of the film would have been way more entertaining.

Meeting the other half’s parents is terrifying enough, and with Cranston in the role of the father-in-law, who is known for playing one of the most iconic villains of the 21st century in Breaking Bad, he could have been such a genuinely fearful antagonist in a meet-the-parents thriller. Why Him? would have been more successful and certainly more memorable if it was more Get Out and less Meet the Parents.

Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf in Elf

Buddy the Elf could very well be mistaken for a horror movie villain, as many of his stories are completely ludicrous and he’s borderline stalking who he thinks is his father, making Elf the perfect candidate for a thriller movie. Not only that, but he breaks into buildings he isn’t allowed in, he enters female locker rooms while women are showering, and he has no problem assaulting kids, even if it is with snowballs.

It’s very possible that Buddy is even hallucinating about being in the North Pole, as the art direction for those scenes is entirely different from the rest of the movie, leading to the possibility that he is imagining being an elf. That might even make a better movie than the instant-classic original.

NEXT: 15 Least Festive Christmas Movies That Even A Scrooge Would Love



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