Where have all the good festive films gone?

Article by Lisa Needham /
Pursuit /
December 20, 2019 /
Click here to view original /

The magic of Christmas has been depicted countless times in Christmas films.

Heartwarming tales of hope over adversity set in idyllic snowy landscapes have become an integral part of Christmas for families around the world.

But are traditional Christmas films a thing of the past?

Over the past couple of decades Christmas films have virtually melted away from the cinematic landscape. The British film, Love Actually, is still viewed by many as a recent Christmas favourite – but 16 years since its release it can hardly be called a recent Christmas offering.

Then again, does it really matter that we’re no longer inundated with sentimental tales set in wintery landscapes familiar only in the northern hemisphere?

Luke Devenish, novelist, screenwriter and lecturer in the School of Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts says that the traditional Christmas film does play an important role by reminding us of the magic of Christmas

“It’s a time for coming together, for being grateful for family, for being grateful for good times, grateful for friends, grateful for the chance to not be working for a few days and Christmas movies do reinforce those things so there is an importance in that.”

For many people, Christmas is a special time.

We get to escape our busy lives and spend time with loved ones. The tradition of decorating our houses with tinsel and lights, singing carols around the Christmas tree and feasting on delicious food are important rituals that make up Christmas for many families.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne in the School of Social and Political Sciences has written extensively on the depiction of Christmas in films and she believes that the ritual of watching Christmas films with family and friends is also an important part of Christmas celebrations for many families.

“Christmas films are part of the real-life celebrations of people: many families integrate the watching of certain Christmas films into their own celebrations: whether it be Die Hard or It’s a Wonderful Life or Home Alone.”

But here lies the problem.

Ask people today what their favourite Christmas film is and they are as likely to say Die Hard as they are to say Miracle on 34th Street.

So, have we moved away from the idea that Father Christmas has to feature in a Christmas film?

Although the traditional Christmas film has been around for a long time Luke Devenish says it’s not been a constant offering.

“It’s a template we’ve worked with for a long time, it’s ebbed and flowed across the various eras of film-making, it disappeared in the Sixties and Seventies, and it came back again in the Eighties where we started to see a lot of Christmas starting to appear in stories.”

And it was in the Eighties that we started to see the regular Christmas films released each year, just in time for the holiday season.

But by the turn of this century, with the emergence of film franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, Luke Devenish says there was a shift in what was being released at Christmas.

“Certainly, Lord of the Rings changed things because it was delivered in a number of installments and those installments each came out as Christmas offerings. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is very happy to sit in that space too and none of those movies flirt with Christmas, they are all fantasy.”

This year there’s an exception.

The film, Last Christmas, starring Emma Thompson and Emilia Clarke has Christmas in abundance, but Luke Devenish says it’s striking that it was released well before Christmas.

“It’s intriguing that it has come out ahead of the season, maybe whetting appetites for the season, or maybe the distributors didn’t want it to get swamped by the stuff that we now actually think of as Christmas movies.”

Fantasy films like Star Wars, which is due for release in Australia just five days before Christmas, still give us the tales of hope over adversity, they are just set in otherworldly lands rather than wintery towns.

They also come with the added bonus of spectacular special effects and epic soundtracks.

Luke Devenish believes that our expectations have changed and what we now want when we go to the cinema, particularly at Christmas, is big blockbuster releases.

“I think we’ve come to expect that Christmas movies are more about the big blockbuster releases. We’ve come to put that as the Christmas package really, that’s what we think of as the Christmas movie and those movies have absolutely no Christmas in them.”

It seems that the fantasy film may have stolen Christmas, from the big screen at least.

However, Luke Devenish says there is still a place where we can get our fix of snow, tinsel and festive cheer and that’s at home in our living rooms.

“Television hasn’t changed, the big screen has evolved but the small screen has clung to Christmas.”