Christmas movies have been around long before Hallmark Christmas Movies and Great American Family Holiday films became winter staples. In fact, Christmas movies have been around almost as long as cinema itself. The first Christmas movie ever made was in 1898. From romance classics to screwball comedies, we can’t imagine the holidays without them. And the best part is you don’t have to wait ‘til December to enjoy them. In fact, some of the most loved holiday classics of all time were released between May and September. It’s no real surprise considering that summer is peak box office season. Let’s take a look at some of the best-loved Christmas movies, from summer blockbusters to bonafide holiday classics, that came out during the summer.
And yes, technically, some of these films came out during the spring. But since they were all after Memorial Day — aka, the unofficial start of summer — we say they still count!
Miracle on 34th Street
Released: June 4,1947
It wouldn’t be Christmas for millions — including us at the Elf Squad — without sitting down to watch this cozy classic. So it’s hard to believe it wasn’t even released in December. That’s all thanks to the head of 20th Century Fox at the time, Darryl F. Zanuck. He pushed for a summer premier since that’s when moviegoers would fill the most seats. They even went so far as to hide the actual plot in all marketing to avoid confusion. Whatever they did to get people in theaters, it worked like a charm.
Doris Walker, an event director and divorced mother, hires a mysterious old man to fill in for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He’s such a hit that she brings him back to perform regularly at the world-famous New York City store. Yet as time goes on he claims to be the real deal, resulting in him getting fired and later committed. It’s up to Doris’s young daughter, Susan, and attorney Fred Galley to prove he’s telling the truth.
Aside from becoming a holiday staple, it was also one of the first full-length black-and-white films to be colorized. It even won five Academy Awards, including one a well-deserved statue for Edmund Gwenn’s performance as Kris Kringle.
In 1994, a remake was released starring Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, and Richard Attenborough stepping into the role of Santa Claus. While Macy's refused to be involved in the production this time around, the Miracle on 34th Street remake was released during the holiday season and properly marketed as a Christmas film. Despite unfavorable comparisons to the original, this remake has come to be known as a beloved modern classic to many who grew up with it.
Released: July 15, 1988
When you think of Christmas movies, big action blockbusters don’t really come to mind. Yet thanks to its festive imagery and heavy use of Christmas carols, Die Hard is an automatic holiday favorite for many. It became the highest-grossing action film of 1988 and turned Moonlighting sitcom lead Bruce Willis into a major action star for decades to come.
NYPD detective John McClane decides to visit his estranged wife, Holly, in L.A. for Christmas. Yet, during a holiday party, she and many others are held hostage when a group of German terrorists take over the skyscraper where she works. McClane, however, slips away and hides within the building, starting a long cat-and-mouse game with multiple lives on the line.
The film even went on to spawn four successful sequels, with Die Hard 2: Die Harder being released just two years later on Independence Day. Although they brought back the Christmas Eve setting for this one, it never quite caught on as a holiday favorite.
Released: June 8, 1984
If you’re a fan of 80’s horror and black comedy, then you definitely watch Gremlins every holiday season. Not only is its Christmastime setting a major plot point, but it also includes many of the same aspects as other holiday movies. Everything from likable characters to important life lessons are all front and center in this surprise classic directed by Joe Dante. And after its summertime success, you can bet that the merchandise made excellent gifts come December 1984.
On Christmas Eve, Billy Peltzer receives a strange creature called a mogwai as a gift from his father. He names his odd yet adorable new pet Gizmo and is given three very specific instructions for taking care of him. What Billy doesn’t know is that the shop this creature came from initially refused to sell him to Mr. Peltzer. And when the rules are accidentally broken, Gizmo rapidly spawns multiple clones that wreak havoc all across town.
Gremlins spawned a bonkers sequel titled Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which saw the return of Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo. There is also an upcoming animated series on HBO Max called Gremlins: Secrets if the Mogwai, which the Elf Squad can't wait to check out.
Released: August 4, 1942
Our next long-standing classic is a Christmas movie musical by Irving Berlin, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It actually takes place throughout an entire year and even features a very memorable Easter song. Yet its Christmastime scenes are still its most famous to this day. After all, this movie did give us two of our favorite Christmas songs, ‘Happy Holiday’ and ‘White Christmas,’ with the latter winning an Oscar for Best Song in 1943.
Holiday Inn centers around Jim and Ted, the singer and dancer of a performing trio. When Jim is rejected by Lila — the third trio member — for Ted, he quits show business and leaves town. Soon after, he turns his new country inn into a holiday-only music venue. Things start to look up for Jim when he falls in love with Linda, a performer he booked at the inn. Yet it all goes sideways when Ted reappears and develops feelings for the same woman.
Released: June 8th, 1983
This beloved comedy pairs up two of Saturday Night Live!’s most famous alums: Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy. It also had some heavy box office competition from Return of the Jedi and Superman III when it came out that summer. Despite this, the John Landis helmed comedy still became one of the highest-grossing films of 1983 and helped further launch Murphy’s budding film career, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis.
As the holidays draw near, wealthy investor Louis Winthorpe III and street hustler Billy Ray Valentine suddenly find their paths crossing. They become the subjects of a bet — organized by Winthrope’s greedy employers — to see how each man will do in the other’s position. When both finally catch on to the experiment, they decide to team up and plot their revenge.
With so many classic films being released closer to Christmas in July than during the actual holiday season, there really is no reason to wait to watch your favorites. Just as it's never too early to start planning your holiday decor, there's never a wrong time to watch your favorite Christmas movies!
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