Highkey, Lowkey, No Key Christmas Movies

This year, the 12 Days of Christmas is getting a special TEENPLICITY twist – 12 Days of TEENPLICITY! From Saturday, December 12th through Wednesday, December 23rd, we will be posting a new holiday-themed feature each day! Including interviews with this season’s merriest entertainers as well as tips for the best holiday treats, we hope this celebration will bring some joy and good cheer to all during a very tough year.

As part of this special event, the 4th Teenpliciday offers a few suggestions for movies that aren’t exactly holiday movies by definition, but might be fun or interesting to watch for the holiday!

Every year, we get a million posts recounting Christmas classics. We’re reminded why they’re classics, why they do and don’t hold up, and which ones should be watched on Christmas to really get in the spirit. Trust me, I love a good Christmas movie, I love the heart that they have, the aesthetic, the cliches, the music, the fact that almost every movie involves a plot where bankers are lowkey one of the villains. (Yeah! Down with capital!) But something I’ve noticed is that a lot of people, myself included, have our own Christmas classics that rarely make the lists because the plot isn’t about Christmas.

I think this is one of the reasons the “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate continues on because the Christmas canon of movies–in our lives–expand past our original monikers for what makes a Christmas movie. So, with the help of suggestions from social media and a few movies I have personally gotten into arguments with people about, I decided to make this very incomplete list of what I’m calling, “Highkey, Lowkey, or No Key” Christmas movies. I’ve spent the last week watching and rewatching these movies to determine if they’re highkey, lowkey, or no key a Christmas movie and this is the final product.

It goes without saying, but since these are my opinions, of course, this isn’t definitive. Also goes without saying, but you can literally watch whatever you want to get in the holiday spirit (or in cases for some of these, the anti-holiday spirit). For transparency, here’s how I determined each tier, although I also took liberties depending on the feel for each movie when I watched it:

Highkey – Absolutely a Christmas movie posing as something else with just about everything that qualifies as a Christmas movie.

Lowkey – Part of the fun of watching this movie is spending a majority of it thinking, “Did I just get tricked into watching a Christmas movie?”

No Key – No dice. Not a Christmas movie, but still would be fun or feel right to watch on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Alright, so without further ado, let’s get to it! I tried to rank these from no key to highkey, there might be a few debatable missteps along the way, but simply just read the third paragraph of this intro and then remember that also this list is for fun!

La La Land

Directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land is a musical about aspiring actress Mia and jazz pianist Sebastian who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles.

Verdict – La La Land is two things: not a winner for Best Picture (haha Zing!) and a No Key Christmas movie. That said, I can see why someone would watch it on or around Christmas. Also, as someone that doesn’t like Sebastian as a character and finds him far too pretentious about a genre I don’t think he should have as much claim to as he takes, I’m not gonna lie, him being fired on Christmas does seem like a Christmas miracle to me, and almost got it classified as lowkey on my list, but alas, it felt too petty. Anyway, musicals in general always feel a good go to for a Christmas watch, I mean who doesn’t love a good musical number? And honestly, I do think the dance numbers in this are very entertaining and fun to watch, but I could also see myself opting for something like Singin’ in the Rain instead if I want a musical about Hollywood.


Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, Anastasia is an animated musical loosely based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia when 18-year-old Anya, an orphan with memory loss, goes on a journey with conmen Dmitry and Vlad to discover her past by fleeing Russia and going to Paris to meet her grandmother.

Verdict – I have made many an impassioned speech about how Anastasia is a High Key Christmas movie…which is why it pains me to now on record via this post, determined Anastasia to actually be a No Key Christmas movie. Just completely jumped to a whole different tier, but let me explain my decision. So first of all, I think Anastasia is a perfect movie to watch around the holidays. And I still consider “Once Upon a December” to be a holiday song. It’s still a movie that gives me the holiday spirit. But, there isn’t much Christmas, necessarily going on. And that’s the only reason it’s under No Key instead of the other two tiers. In my memory, I’ve always imagined the opening scene when they’re at that party to be a Christmas party, which would have made me feel justified to put it under Lowkey but to my understanding, it’s actually just a ball that they’re having because rich people just be throwing parties to celebrate their wealth or something. Anyway, it’s No Key a Christmas movie but still worthy of a watch this season.

Black Christmas (2019)

Directed by Sophia Takal, Black Christmas is a slasher flick that follows a group of sorority girls who are being harassed by an unknown stalker.

Verdict – Given the title, you’d think it’d automatically make it a High Key Christmas movie, but I think it’s actually a Lowkey Christmas movie bordering on No Key. It’s not the movie to watch if you want to get in the Christmas spirit but it is the movie to watch if you want to watch a movie that takes place around Christmas and is the complete opposite of a fun Christmas movie. (I don’t mean this in a shady way, you’re just gonna be stressed watching the movie if you’re like me.) I also have never seen any of the other versions of this movie (I didn’t even know they existed until I watched this version for this post!) so maybe the other ones are more Christmas-y? But, I will say, Black Christmas is high key about how fraternities are problematic. It’s also about how men who do awful acts and men who do nothing when they see men doing awful acts are both trash. Also, I guess this is a spoiler, but the Black girl survives which matters because it’s not that common in scary movies. So THAT is a Christmas miracle!

Batman Returns

Directed by Tim Burton, Batman Returns finds Batman battling both the Penguin and Catwoman as the Penguin aims to kill all of Gotham’s firstborn sons and Catwoman seeks vengeance against Max Shreck.

Verdict – I almost wanna say it’s No Key a Christmas movie, but honestly the ranking that I think is fairer is that it’s on the same level as Black Christmas. The reason why it’s higher than Black Christmas is that I’ve seen many people who have watched this movie far more times than I have (I’ve seen it a few times before this but it’s not really my favorite) that put this in their Christmas catalog so clearly there’s something there. However, I can’t fully make the argument right now, but I think there are other Batman movies that could be argued as a Christmas movie more than this one is, but this one is set at Christmastime which I assume is just to really nail in on the gloominess of it all. Also, I mean Danny DeVito just straight-up has fun in his role I feel like which, good for him!

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, this animated movie tells the story of Miles Morales as he becomes the new Spider-man amidst the opening of the multiverse leaving him and the other Spider-People of various dimensions to defeat King Pin.

Verdict – So, Into the Spiderverse is No Key to Lowkey a Christmas movie BUT I think it’s a fantastic movie to watch to lift your spirits which is what most Christmas movies aim to do anyway. I also think that if you really want to consider it a Christmas movie, you have a ton of material that you can use to make your argument. First of all, we know it takes place sometime in Winter…kinda…the weather is very inconsistent in this movie. First, it’s snowing and then it’s not and then they need a jacket and then they don’t. And this all takes place in New York which to my understanding has cold winters so it doesn’t really track unless climate change is wildin’ in this universe the same way it is in ours which is possible. Anyway, Miles dates his test as Decembruary, which is close enough for me to just assume it’s within those months. There’s a mention of Spiderman dropping a Christmas album, so there’s that. The hero is a person in a red suit…so take that Santa. Also, the movie features the trope of a hopeful kid helping and trying to inspire an adult that is pessimistic and down on his luck. One of the ultimate Christmas tropes! Honestly, it’s more Lowkey than it is No Key and the only thing preventing me from making it high on the Lowkey list is just because I don’t know the exact moment in Winter it takes place.

Perks of Being a Wallflower

Directed by Stephen Chbosky, this coming-of-age film based on Chbosky’s book of the same name follows 15-year-old Charlie as he writes to an unnamed person about his experiences during his first year of high school while coping with PTSD and struggling to fit in.

Verdict – Maybe a quintessential coming of age movie/book for a lot of us, ever since reading the book and watching the movie, I’ve considered it somewhat linked to Christmas. But I don’t consider it a happy Christmas movie. It’s not meant to put you in the Christmas spirit, but the events of Christmas and the scenes that take place on Christmas feel like they have to happen on Christmas. This is why I consider it a Lowkey Christmas movie although it spans an entire school year for Charlie. Is Perks of Being a Wallflower perfect? Not really and the older I get the more flaws I find in it, but it’s a story I still find myself going back to every once in a while and having the urge to watch around this season. Fair warning though for triggers including sexual assault, domestic abuse, violent homophobia, and suicidal tendencies. A lot of the joy from holiday movies is that they’re supposed to offer an escape for people to feel happy and this movie doesn’t offer that in these departments.

Die Hard

Directed by John McTiernan, Die Hard is an action film that follows John McClane when he’s caught up in a takeover of Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas when he goes to visit his estranged wife.

Verdict – The absolute moment of truth here folks! The moment you all have been waiting for! The best way to describe how Die Hard is a Christmas movie is when Argyle drops John off at the building and he plays “Christmas in Hollis,” by Run DMC to which John replies, “Don’t you have any Christmas music?” and Argyle says, “Man, this IS Christmas music!” Is “Christmas in Hollis” a traditional Christmas song? No, but just because it’s not traditional doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. John comes to LA because it’s Christmas, otherwise, he and Holly would still be in their respective cities with John being Holly’s lackluster estranged (separated? divorced?) husband. Which brings me to my next point, the family baggage required for the plot of this movie? On par with most Christmas movies and pretty much exactly the same as Home Alone except For Adults. Like Kevin McCallister, John McClane saves Christmas and his family thereby pretending everything is fixed, but without any real foundational work being done to justify saying the problems are actually solved. This means that I officially give Die Hard the ranking of Lowkey a Christmas movie that just so happens to have a resolution (a cop that learns how to shoot people again after he once shot a kid????) that is absolutely the worst resolution ever for a movie, even for the 90s. Like what? Why couldn’t we have just gotten Argyle having more fun in the car? (Also, if you’re a man who argues that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, as I’ve said before on Twitter, actually nevermind, no it’s not because I refuse to let you have that win 😌❤️)


Directed by Joe Johnston, Jumanji is a fantasy adventure movie where the players of a supernatural board game suck the players in and force them to finish the game to survive.

Verdict – Full transparency here, I wasn’t actually able to rewatch Jumanji to do this post so this is solely off of memory and because when it was suggested to me, my immediate thought was, “Yeah, good point it IS a Christmas movie!” But why? What makes it a Christmas movie? Well, first of all, I’m calling it Lowkey a Christmas movie. And actually, I would classify it as very Lowkey and the only reason it actually ended up as high on this list as it did is that it’s one of those classic family movies that I can see being a Christmas tradition that folks have had for years around it already. Also, the movie ends on Christmas. (Erm…spoiler?) They’re at a Christmas party and the story ties up nicely enough that there are happy endings. (If my memory serves me correct!) Also, Robin Williams is such a delight, and watching him is a work of magic and magic is pretty Christmas I’d say.

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 centers on Tony Stark as he recovers from the events of The Avengers just as the mysterious Mandarin comes to and wrecks havoc.

Verdict – Come on, Iron Man 3 is Lowkey a Christmas movie. And if we’re being honest, it could actually Highkey be one. Christmas isn’t central to the plot but it’s blatantly set at Christmas time with decorations and Christmas music playing around the movie. The third act battle also begins with Tony Stark saying “Merry Christmas, buddy” which makes for a good Christmas card. At the end of the battle, he says “screw it, it’s Christmas” followed by what’s basically a firework show except it’s not because it’s explosions of suits…also could make for a good Christmas card. There’s a lot about this movie that makes for a good Christmas card which by default makes it a Christmas movie. When I was watching, I was gonna keep a tally of all the Christmas references I could find just because they were peppered in there so strongly, and to be honest, I kinda just forgot to do it, but there are a number of them.

Bridget Jones Diary

Directed by Sharon McGuire, Bridget Jones Diary follows 32-year-old Londoner Bridget Jones as she documents her life with the intention of setting everything she wants to happen in, meanwhile two men vie for her attention.

Verdict – We take a quick break from the action to now bring you a rom-com! Bridget Jones Diary is another Lowkey to Highkey Christmas movie. For starters, it’s a reinterpretation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen which to my understanding is lowkey Christmas culture? (I could be wrong but I’ve heard many a people say that around the holidays they get in the spirit to reread it or watch one of its many adaptations and interpretations.) It kicks off around Christmas (okay so actually, it’s New Years, but everyone knows that between Christmas and New Years, time is completely fake so whatever) and then we see Bridget Jones basically living the life of just about every holiday rom-com you can imagine in the most imperfect way. Also, there’s a big kiss in the snow as a closer (…spoiler, I guess?) which…I mean you can’t have a Christmas rom-com with a kiss in the snow! Unless it takes place in California but come on…

While You Were Sleeping

Directed by Jon Turteltaub, While You Were Sleeping is a rom com about CTA token collector Lucy who saves the life of her crush Peter and then has to pretend to be in a relationship with him while he remains in a coma.

Verdict – While You Were Sleeping is Highkey a Christmas movie. Why do you ask? Does it look like Sandra Bullock saved Peter Gallagher’s life on Christmas Day for it NOT to be a Christmas movie?! Is that not enough?! Honestly, it’s more so just a Winter movie (which is funny because it came out in April?) but it just feels like it’s meant for Christmas through and through. It’s another Christmas rom-com basically, this time set in Chicago and as a Chicagoan, I think it’s also just such a fun watch even if it is basically just up North. But the family dynamics, the bickering between Lucy and Jack, the amount of hilarious effort Lucy has to put into keeping up the facade between her and Peter because somehow everything will be ruined if the truth comes out…so many Christmas movie shenanigans run wild in this.


Directed by David F. Sandberg, Shazam! follows Billy Batson, an orphaned teen looking for his mom who gets chosen by a wizard and given superpowers in order to stop the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins just as he has been adopted into a new family.

Verdict – Here we are! The final action movie on the list. It’s amazing how high I have it because originally I put it as very Lowkey but honestly? Shazam! is definitely Highkey a Christmas movie in my book. It’s set around Christmas time but I actually wouldn’t say it’s relevant to the plot in any way other than that the opening scene is almost even sadder knowing that it happened on Christmas day. That said when we flashforward to the present, it’s Christmas time again and the whole movie is blatantly decorated with decorations and Christmas music. But, what really made me decide to put it as Highkey is the aspect of family, both found and biological, that this movie touches on. It’s done in a way that resembles that of the kind of family movies you look for around the holidays. It’s a movie that is both fun and heartfelt enough that watching it on Christmas day or Christmas eve makes a lot of sense. Watching it for this post was actually my first time watching the movie and I just had a ton of fun during it, the actors all nailed their roles and the heartfelt moments were very heartfelt while the funny moments made me laugh out loud. It brought joy and honestly, who doesn’t want joy around Christmas?

Catch Me If You Can

Directed by Stephen Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can is based on the life of Frank Abagnale as he successfully performs millions of dollars worth of cons before his 19th birthday.

Verdict – Fun fact about Catch Me If You Can, it’s my favorite movie to argue is definitely a Christmas movie! Why is Catch Me If You Can Highkey a Christmas movie? Because the years in this movie is measured by Christmas that’s why. When you watch the movie, every time we reach another Christmas, Frank’s life changes in some way. Even Carl brings this up to him one Christmas when he asks him why is it that it’s always Christmas when he calls. It’s because that’s when Frank is at his loneliest which really hits in one of the most heartbreaking climaxes (to me) when Carl finds him at the warehouse on Christmas and then later on when Carl is at the window and realizes that the family he has left is not the family he had when he first left. I love watching Catch Me If You Can around Christmas. It’s a crime movie sure, but Leo and Tom are both funny in it so you get to have moments where you laugh, there are moments when you’re like “Oh hey, that was clever!” Also the number of times you see an actor that wasn’t super famous yet make an appearance in this and you’re like “Wait?! They’re in this too?!” is abundant which is one of my favorite movie games.


Directed by Chris Columbus, RENT is the movie adaptation of the Jonathan Larson musical RENT. It follows the lives of several artists in New York between the years of 1989 and 1990 and they struggle financially, fall in and out of love, attempt to make art, and battle with the AIDS epidemic.

Verdict – My second favorite movie to argue is a Christmas movie is RENT. Now yes, we all know that technically RENT measures a year. They got a whole song and a B side to that and a reprise that makes a callback to that song to prove it. BUT Angel doesn’t do a whole dance number in a Christmas costume for it not to be Christmas movie. Collins comes in the first place so he can celebrate Christmas with Roger and Mark. All of the events that set up the story occur during the period between Christmas Eve and New Years (which as I said earlier…….time is not real during those days!!!) And then what happens? We see glimpses of what life was like for the group throughout the whole year, how they had falling outs, how they tried to find themselves and their art again, how Angel unfairly dies even though she is literally the best part of the story and single-handedly keeping this friend group together which makes no sense because she was like the last one to join it so how were they even friends up until that point? And then we reach Christmas Eve again, the entire group completely different (well…okay so not really but the plot wants us to pretend they are) and coming back together to reconcile with Mark’s glorified PowerPoint he claims is a documentary that took him a year somehow and Roger’s really bad song that also somehow took him a year? Yeah, RENT isn’t great. But yet, I still find myself watching it around the holidays whenever it’s available to stream.

Little Women (1949)

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Little Women is based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name as the March sisters deal with their lives and who they want to become.

Verdict – This was my first time ever watching any of the Little Women‘s and I also haven’t read the book although I have seen that it’s like a million pages. But immediately i was ready to classify it as Highkey a Christmas movie from the jump. The start of the movie is basically a set up for a Christmas movie. It’s literally set at Christmas, we hear the carol as Jo runs in the snow, and decorations are abundant. But i’d also argue that most old movies could actually pass for a Christmas movie off of feel alone as long as there’s snow. There’s just something about the holidays that make you want to watch an old movie, I say this as someone that used to watch Gentlemen Prefer Blondes around this time constantly when Netflix had it on streaming. That said, the movie literally begins at Christmas and it centers on family and a very ambitious Jo wanting more than life is giving her. I went back and forth on if I would call it Lowkey or Highkey for a bit mainly because at some point, I got a little lost in the timeline of the movie. But I’m clearly more prone to saying Highkey than I am Lowkey. It made its way this high on the list kinda purely on accident and I’m not sure it’s my definitive ranking other than that looking at all the other movies, if we went off feel and aesthetic, it almost feels out of place anywhere else. So, here we are.

A reminder again that this list isn’t complete, but I gave you 15 movies (most of which were suggested by other people to me) that you can watch if you don’t want to watch a traditional holiday movie this season! And if nothing else, hopefully I at least gave you a laugh or a “Huh…okay fine I guess I’ll allow that ranking.”


Do you have a suggestion for a holiday movie that’s not exactly a holiday movie? You can let Teenplicity know what you’d like to see on Twitter or anonymously on Tumblr! Or you can directly contact Mary Ayers on Twitter and anonymously on Tumblr or Brie Garrett on Twitter and Tumblr!

24-year-old Chicagoan and Creative Writing/Television graduate that's always writing, reading, and watching something. Future creator of television and books, co-creator of this website. Follow my Twitter and Tumblr to learn more.

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