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Three 80s Films Set During Christmas for No Reason

December 14, 2010

Why are films set during the holidays if the holidays themselves are to play no part in the plot or affect character outcomes? Would it matter what season the events in Sex and the City 2 took place? Anyone remember what holidays were celebrated in the original Ghostbusters? In fact, unless there are title cards or I rarely notice when the events depicted are supposed to be taking place. Of course, many films give cues at to which season of the year they take place, whether it’s through costuming, exposition or release date, yet for the most part the stories never seem tied to the time of year. When I’m watching an especially mediocre film my thoughts turn to such concerns. I wonder if Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson are going to have Robert Redford over for Thanksgiving dinner once the bitterness and the resentment of the “indecent exposure” is resolved. Or if Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd exchange awkward holiday cards lacking any mention of the traumatic bonding they experienced why trying to track down a serial killer. In most cases I assume every Ashley Judd film takes place during Thanksgiving, whether she’s shown eating turkey or not. All those years of Thanksgiving Day Judd film releases are partly to blame. I got to thinking about three films I really like, which take place during Christmas and yet the films have absolutely nothing to do with the holiday. All of them could be set during another part of the year with no disruption to their plot. Which begs the question: why are they set during the holidays in the first place?

Die Hard (1988) John McClaine and his long suffering wife Holly really didn’t need to stage their ill-fated reunion during the Christmas season, yet there are stuffed toys, drunken festivities and, of course, holiday acrimony. All this becomes incredibly jarring if one remembers the film was released in July. Even the terrorist plot doesn’t seem especially tied to the holly cheer and mirth, except the holiday party and debauchery at the Nakatomi Plaza certainly made rounding up hostages a snap!

Less Than Zero (1987) Linger resentments and secret lives rise to the surface like dead goldfish in this watered down adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ overrated first novel. Again with the Christmas setting and again it doesn’t seem to be of particular use to the story. The only reason I even remember this film takes place during Christmas break was the inclusion of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”!

Rocky IV (1985) While the film was released during the holiday season, the decision to center the most importation event – Rocky avenging the death of Apollo (oops, sorry) – on Christmas Day is still odd. To this day I wonder why Christmas. It doesn’t have much to do with the plot or further support the supposed gravity of the story. I know. I ought to let that go.

Am I the only person who notices this? In what films have you observed the phenomenon?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 9:07 am

    Wasn’t Brazil set around Christmas?

  2. anya permalink
    December 14, 2010 9:41 am

    I know you’re mad at *him*, but wasn’t precious Lethal Weapon @ Christmas too? Didn’t Amanda Huntzinger go concrete diving during that time? Plus I clearly remember Mel schlappin his face in some parking lot filled with trees on Sherman way…

  3. December 14, 2010 9:57 am

    It’s always bothered me that Home Alone took place at Christmas. Because, you know, everyone takes the entire family to France for the holidays. Wouldn’t summer vacation or spring break been a more logical time for the entire neighborhood to have been emptied out?

  4. eieioj permalink
    December 14, 2010 10:34 am

    As Rocky IV singlehandedly ended the threat of Communism (with maaaaaybe a little help from those wacky Red Dawn kids), I think the “significance” of the ultimate fight of good and evil being set at Christmas is that Communism=bad=NO CHRISTMAS!

    Of course, that might just be me projecting my childhood issues on this non-plot-point; my parents told me that Communists didn’t believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy. This proved helpful to them when I lost a tooth and the tooth fairy was “too busy making back payments to children in the Eastern Bloc now that the wall is gone.”

    I always think “why is this at Christmas?” when I watch Gremlins. Which I do every year. At Christmas. Seriously, that set of events could have happened at any time.

    Also, isn’t Eyes Wide Shut set during the Christmas season? Because nothing says Christmas like…that.

  5. December 14, 2010 10:45 am

    It’s funny to think movies like Die Hard and Gremlins (!) were set during Christmastime, because the holiday is the last thing thing the movie is memorable for.

    If anything, I guess setting movies at Christmas is either a convenient way to gather everyone in one place (like @snarkysmachine says about Die Hard), for the pretty lights and decor to be used as a backdrop for either romance or to blown up during action scenes, or as a reason to explain why all the characters are sad and miserable.

    Two other movies I totally forgot were set at Christmas: The Ref and The Apartment.

  6. December 14, 2010 11:21 am

    Also, isn’t Eyes Wide Shut set during the Christmas season? Because nothing says Christmas like…that.


    @anie – Yeah, Lethal Weapon even cold opens with some Xmas music!!!

  7. evmaroon permalink
    December 14, 2010 11:38 am

    I guess the Xmas theme worked in Gremlins. And figured into Phoebe Cates’ back story. But I thought it was there for mood in LtZ, no?

    Why are there no Easter-themed movies like these?

  8. December 15, 2010 12:25 pm

    Oh damn, being late means someone else already said Eyes Wide Shut. How about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I remember that seemed pointlessly set at xmas time.

  9. December 15, 2010 12:30 pm

    Ha. Other than Bill Nighy I don’t really understand what is the point of the Christmas framing in Love Actually.

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