When I was little, in the era of MTV, all things trite and cheesy, many a Christmas classic was born.
How many of us sat by the TV as a family, and enjoyed Ralphie dressed as a Pepto Bismal colored Bunny? Or giggled uncontrollably as Clark Griswold had yet another meltdown? And of course, the epic moment when Kevin McAllister applies his Dad’s aftershave and screams as the burn sets in?
We all know and love these movies and continue to share them with our kids today, but what about those amazingIy over the top, corny movies that have somehow fallen off the radar in recent years (or never quite made the radar to begin with)? If you’re lucky enough to find these gems, watching them will rekindle your childhood love of extra sugary sentimentality, antiquated special effects, and over the top antics.
1. Ernest Saves Christmas
Oh Ernest. How I love thee…
Those of us who grew up in the eighties were lucky enough to enjoy the endless shenanigans of the dopey, affable Ernest P. Worrell. He goes to jail, he battles trolls at Halloween, and at Christmas, he aids Santa Clause in his quest to find his replacement. Only in the eighties could we feature runaway teens who steal Christmas gifts, and still manage to make her part-hero in the end (their take on the “hooker with a heart of gold” I suppose). It had Elf/Santa Clause type qualities to it, years before those smash hits made the screens. Inclusive of Ernest haphazardly driving a sleigh, an “everyday” man morphing into Santa, and all the family feels, it won’t disappoint.
These days, you can still find plenty of Ernest movies on Prime Video (some of them included, but this one will cost you $2.99 to rent…WORTH IT!)
2. All I Want For Christmas
Teen Ethan (Ethan Embry, of 90’s cult classic Empire Records) and younger sister Hallie (the incredibly talented Thora Birch) live with their Grandmother (Lauren Bacall) in her beautiful NYC brownstone ever since their parents’ divorce. Their mother has moved on to arrogant Tony (played by Kevin Nealon), and their father puts all of his time and energy into the start of his lifelong dream, opening a diner. When Hallie asks Santa (played by the iconic Leslie Nielson) to get her parents back together, Ethan decides to help her launch a hair-brained scheme to make it happen.
With the big apple as the backdrop, and an all-star cast, this movie should have been a hit; however it was universally panned by critics and was a total box office flop. Perhaps it was that the parents in question still had undeniable chemistry, or maybe it was that their entire scheme revolved around a mouse named Snowball; but it was sweet, well acted, and a lovely film to watch, without too many emotional curveballs.
You can usually find it somewhere on TV at least once during the season. I’d definitely recommend recording it if you can find it on your cable lineup!
3. Look Who’s Talking, Now!
The third (and final) of the Look Who’s Talking! movies brings a role reversal for usually underemployed, relaxed James, and hard working, successful accountant Mollie. Now that the “talking” babies are actually well versed elementary aged children, it’s James and Mollie’s dogs who do the comical narrating.
The franchise was huge in the 80’s and early 90’s. Travolta and Alley at their prime, great scripts, and an opposites attract love story; but this last installment was a box office bomb. Kids, like myself, were none-the-wiser to the pitfalls of the movie. James suddenly finds an extraordinary job the same day Mollie is laid off? He gets them a dog (without asking) and his new boss hands over her prized poodle (without asking), the same day. The dogs not only escape into the city, but have a romantic dog date AND find their way back to their apartment? It was all total nonsense, but enjoyable nonsense. The villains include James’ beautiful boss who tries to “steal” him from his family ON Christmas, and a bunch of wolves who try to attack Mollie’s car when she decides, very smartly (eyeroll) to drag her kids into the snowy mountains to find James at his boss’s house (all of their Christmas gifts and dogs in tow).
Script wise, its clearly a disaster, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch it every year. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t mist up at the end, when James is reunited with his family to the tune of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for a great soundtrack.
Free on VUDU or available for rent on services like Prime or iTunes.
This was a box office hit, and a critical success. I’m not sure there are many my age who haven’t seen this one, but considering I’ve noticed it getting less play the last few years, I felt like it qualified for my list.
In case you missed this one, this was an 80s “modern day” take on A Christmas Carol. It’s probably one of the more mean spirited and “rougher” takes on the classic. Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a greedy television executive who overworks his team through the holiday, citing production of the very tale the movie is modeled after. Of course, the “ghosts” show us why Frank is the way he is, the decisions he made to become this way (including leaving his love for his promotions), and his future. One particularly raw scene includes his “future,” in which he’s being cremated alone, with no one to mourn but his brother, and he finds himself in the box, about to be engulfed in flames.
With hilarious cameos by Carol Kane and Bobcat Goldthwait (amazing 80’s comedian), a happy ending everyone knows is coming, and great acting, Scrooged was way ahead of it’s time. This one isn’t just worth it to rent, it’s worth it to own.
Available for rent/own on Prime, iTunes, or DVD retailers worldwide.
Maybe it’s just because I like furry little animals, maybe it’s because he had a really cute voice to match (performed by Howie Mandel, who’d later use a similar voice for his comedy routines and animated TV show), but Gizmo was a love of my childhood (we even named our dog after him!). Of course, this is really more a cult horror classic, but it’s Christmastime back drop makes it just enough of a scary-Christmas combo to be considered a holiday movie.
When Billy’s dad is looking for a unique gift to give him as a Christmas present, he stumbles upon a Chinatown antique store that has a rare animal, a Mogwai. This “pet” comes with some strange rules (such as don’t let it get wet, no food after midnight, and no bright light…sounds like a cool pet…huh?). Of course, within days, Gizmo gets wet, and the sweet faced baby monster pops out green, lizard like monsters that terrorize the town (and both fear and hilarity ensue). Somehow, the evil gremlins consistently outsmart the humans (when they aren’t maiming and killing them). Gizmo drives a toy car in to save the day at the very end, and goes back to living with his antique store owner. Yes. That is the synopsis of an actual movie, and a great one at that.
While the Christmas part is random, at best, it was (and still is) considered an 80s family holiday movie.
If you’re up for something dark and funny this holiday season, it’s a “highly recommend” from me! It’s available for rent/purchase on VUDU, Prime, iTunes and YouTube.
1. One Magic Christmas
This one didn’t quite make the list, since as an adult (and one who’s experienced trauma), I realize it may be a huge trigger for a family like mine.
The Grainger family is having a tough Christmas season, with dad Jack out of work, and cranky mom Ginny pulling extra holiday shifts at the supermarket to make ends meet. Enter guardian angel Gideon, who tells little Abby and Cal not to be afraid of what’s coming. On Christmas eve, Jack is shot and killed when a desperate local man tries to rob their bank, and he drives off with the kids in the car, and into an icy river. They’re saved by Gideon; who tells a pleading Abby that he cannot bring their Dad back to life, but Santa may be able to. The rest is a journey to help Ginny find her Christmas spirit (and a trip to the north pole for Abby). Once she does, time is reversed, Jack is alive again, and they all live happily ever after.
When I was little, I loved the magic of this film. In theory, I still do. However, having lived through the conversation of telling my young kids that their father had died, and having no such Santa to reverse time for my family, I don’t like my kids to see movies with this kind of magical thinking. If you haven’t dealt with tragedy like this, I think its a beautiful movie with similar undertones as Its a Wonderful Life.
Available for rent/purchase through Prime, or on DVD at all major retailers.
2. Die Hard
The only reason this doesn’t make this list is because it’s been widely debated for years whether or not Die Hard is actually a Christmas movie. I’m on the fence here, since action movies weren’t my thing as a kid. The most recent poll on the debate says no (https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/article/is-die-hard-a-christmas-movie/), but I put it in here as honorable mention for those Bruce Willis loving, die hard Die Hard fans, to give the amazing 80s film it’s due. It has all the thrills of an epic action film; guns, explosions, espionage and an anti hero, to boot! Somewhere in there is a holiday party and a Christmas tree. It can be found on any and all rental services and on DVD at all major retailers.
So there you have it, folks! Did you see your favorite childhood movie on the list? Comment on our page to let us know what your favorite 80s/early 90s holiday movie is!
Have a Yippie-Ki-Yay Holiday, everyone!!
Megan Courtney is a widowed mom of three young wildlings, ages eight, six, and three, and dog mom to two goofy black lab mutts. She writes about her journey through widowhood and single parenthood on her blog (http://mom-entum.co/), and continues passionate work as an advocate and fundraiser for the National Brain Tumor Society. She is also a fitness enthusiast and health and wellness coach, who’s training for a half marathon and working toward earning her CPT certificate. Megan holds a BA in English Literature and always finds inspiration in the little things: her favorite song, a new book or planner, or a fresh set of pens. You can find her on Instagram as @megs_momentum.