On the Marquee: Obscure Christmas Classics and ‘Star Wars’

Inspired by the “7 Days of Christmas” screenings at the Times Cinema and Avalon Theater, here are a few more films to add to the annual holiday canon. Plus: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hits the big screen.

One of the nice things about the recent resurgence in repertory screenings in and around the Milwaukee area is the surety that there will be holiday-themed screening festivities year-round. And hot on the heels of the Halloween cinematic celebration that spread across nearly all local cinemas, we’re once again smack in the middle of a Christmas movie marathon at many of the same theatres.

The most exciting programming of the bunch belongs to the Avalon Theater and Times Cinema, whose 7 Days of Christmas choices are bringing some top notch choices to the big screen (including such holiday stalwarts as It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story alongside some spicier content in the form of Die Hard and Bad Santa).  But in the spirit of giving and with the hope of even further diversifying the movie options at Christmastime in years to come, I present some alternative options that hopefully can sneak into the rotation at a later date:

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Let’s toss aside for a second that director Henry Selick recently came out with the proclamation that his stop-motion classic is a Halloween movie and not, in fact, a Christmas film. I’d say the balance the film strikes a nearly balance between the two holidays, and although it definitely leans on macabre imagery, that doesn’t preclude it from being a yuletide mainstay. The fact that it is enjoyable for the young and old alike is an added bonus for packing in the crowds.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

You could really plug in any movie that writer/director Shane Black has worked on into this programming and it would work – his insistence on fitting Christmas into every film he makes is one of my absolute favorite authorial touches of any working director – but his debut as a director (a film that also revitalized the career of Robert Downey Jr. and may inadvertently be responsible for the Marvel movie cycle becoming the Earth-devourer it is now known as) is a hilarious holiday noir that makes hay out of the left-field pairing of Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. as a P.I. and petty criminal-turned-actor that are thrown into the middle of a deliciously twisty murder mystery. It remains under seen and some local screenings would help rectify this injustice.

The Shop Around the Corner

While your White Christmases, Miracles on 34th Street and They’re a Wonderful Lives are all full-stop classic holiday movies, my absolute favorite Christmas classic is probably lesser known today than the movie that remade it, You’ve Got MailThe Shop Around the Corner is one of the loveliest works from one of the greatest directors of all time, Ernst Lubitsch, all centered around a leathergoods shop in late-30’s Budapest and the unlikely romance that develops between two combative employees (Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) who don’t realize they’ve been the anonymous letter-writers that each has fallen in love with. There is no deficit of humanity on display here, as this movie is the platonic ideal of the identifier ‘heart-warming’, all without skirting around the darkness that can creep in this time each year. While it has screened in recent years at the Charles Allis Art Museum, it is deserving of a far wider audience than it currently has. One of my absolute favorite movies of all time.


Just because a movie was recently released doesn’t preclude inclusion here. Krampus is a modern classic, the rare film to strike that perfect sugar/spice balance (a la Gremlins) in its telling of the tale of an extended family whose lost sight of what the holiday season is about. Their quarreling triggers the arrival of the titular beast, a cloven-hoofed monstrosity who wreaks havoc on their lives alongside his creepy minions. It’s the perfect gateway for young fans of horror cinema (its PG-13 prevents excessive violence, but doesn’t stop the film from unleashing some genuinely unsettling imagery in terms of its creature design), and its relentless pace and use of humor help the scares go down all the more smoothly. You can still catch this one in local theaters leading up to Christmas, and I’d strongly encourage it, as well as strongly advise that it becomes a staple of the cinematic season in years to come.

Did I miss any obscure Christmas classics you would’ve included? Disagree with my choices? Think this is perfect and needs no further explanation?  Let me know in the comments below or email me some of your alternative holiday choices!

On the Marquee

Wednesday, December 16: It’s a Wonderful Life

7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres (Buy tickets here!)

Wednesday, December 16: Forbidden Films

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (FREE for students & members/$5 gen. ad.)

Thursday, December 17: Covering a Tragedy: An Intimate Look at Families Affected by Police Violence with Erik Ljung and Jenna Knapp

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (FREE for students & members/$5 gen. ad.)

Friday, December 18: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, Sisters & Star Wars: The Force Awakens all open locally

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing

Friday, December 18 through Sunday, December 20: Die Hard, Gremlins & It’s a Wonderful Life at the Times Cinema ($6)

  • 12/18: 7 p.m.: Gremlins; 9:45 p.m.: Die Hard  
  • 12/19: 1:30 p.m.:  It’s A Wonderful Life; 4:30 & 7 p.m.: Gremlins & 9:30 p.m.: Die Hard
  • 12/20: 1:15 p.m. Die Hard; 4:15 p.m.: It’s A Wonderful Life & 7 p.m.: Gremlins

Friday, December 18 through Sunday, December 20: A Christmas Story, Home Alone, It’s A Wonderful Life & Bad Santa at the Avalon Theater ($6)

  • 12/18: 12:30 p.m.: A Christmas Story; 3:15 p.m.: Home Alone; 6:30 p.m.: It’s A Wonderful Life & 9:30 p.m.: Bad Santa  
  • 12/19: 12:30 p.m.: Home Alone; 3:00 p.m.: It’s A Wonderful Life; 6:30 p.m.: A Christmas Story & 9:30 p.m.: Bad Santa  
  • 12/20: 12:30 p.m.: It’s A Wonderful Life; 3:30 p.m.: Home Alone; 6:30 p.m.:  A Christmas Story & 9:30 p.m.: Bad Santa



Tom Fuchs is a Milwaukee-based film writer whose early love for cinema has grown into a happy obsession. He graduated with honors in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has since focused on film criticism. He works closely with the Milwaukee Film Festival and has written reviews and ongoing columns for Milwaukee Magazine since 2012. In his free time, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and dogs at home (watching movies), taking day trips to Chicago (to see movies), and reading books (about movies). You can follow him on Twitter @tjfuchs or email him at tjfuchs@gmail.com.