Yes, they do.
For example (these may seem harsh to some), here are some things NOT allowed in Christmas movies. Let's not even call them rules, okay? Let call them guidelines.
- A Christmas movie cannot be an action movie. Sorry, "Die Hard" is not a Christmas movie. No. No it is not. It is set during Christmas. But that is the only thing Christmasy about it. You may watch it during Christmas. It may have a Christmas song at the very end. Not a Christmas movie. I really like Die Hard, but no. Batman Returns? Hell no. Let's call these kind of movies, "Christmas Adjacent."
- A Christmas movie cannot be a concept movie dressed up as a Christmas movie in order to capitalize on the idea of being a Christmas movie. Bad Santa is not a Christmas movie. Hold on, hold on - I know it was a pretty successful, R rated, black comedy that lots of people liked, but that doesn't cut the pudding. You cannot share it with your kids and grand kids. Well, you could, but then I'd have to cal social services on you.
- Just having a Santa Claus character in it doesn't automatically make it a Christmas movie. Also, having cute girls in Santa outfits dancing to "Jingle Bell Rock," doesn't magically elevate Mean Girls to Classic Christmas Movie status. That is cheating. Or marketing. Might be marketing.
- Horror movies cannot be Christmas movies. Just no. Admit it, I'm right on this. Watch them at Halloween? Fine. Dress up as Scary Santa or Ax Murderer Rudolph. Great, whatever flies your sleigh (slay?) Just don't think they should be played every single Christmas while the family is over for pie and wassail.
- Any movie with the characters of Pee Wee Herman or Ernest P. Worrell are not Christmas movies. Full stop. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let's make sure that never happens again, please Hollywood.
You don't always need Santa Claus, St. Nickolas, Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle. That would get boring. Also not required is your reindeer or your elves or your snowmen. Unless you can find the perfect voice actors, this can be problematic anyway. Everyone knows reindeer and elves and snowmen have to talk and the voices have to be perfect. Nobody wants a snowman to sound like Kristen Chenowith. An elf, maybe. There are, however, some themes that must be present. Not all need to present in every film, but a true Christmas movie will have many of them neatly weaved together.
- The Ebeneezer Syndrome (also known as the "Scrooge Complex"). Charles Dickens created the perfect "meaning or Christmas" story in A Christmas Carol. Any movie putting a spin on this theme qualifies as a true Christmas movie. Doesn't matter if it's any good or not. Yes, it hurts to say that, but...that's life. Examples are Scrooged (Bill Murray), An American Christmas Carol (excellent and overlooked), Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney and one of my favorites), The Muppet Christmas Carol (the Muppets AND Michael Caine? Puh-leeze.), and Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. Basically, any story where a soulless curmudgeon is redeemed by cuteness and nice people.
- It's Silly, But I Believe. Similar to the Ebeneezer Syndrome except a little kid, instead of an old geezer, is the asshole that finally comes around to believing in the spirit of Christmas. In the process of this happening, elsewhere in the movie somebody who is stuck up falls in love with somebody who is nice and they live happily ever after. Miracle on 34th Street. CLASSIC. Edmund Gwenn is the best Santa ever.
- True Love Conquers All. Even when it sneaks up on you through a serious of hilarious interludes and often romantic singing and dancing. If you don't watch White Christmas and/or Holiday Inn every single single year, you'll know why I choose to ignore you at Trader Joe's. Love, Actually has become a contemporary classic. I will say, right here, right now, it is one of my favorites. Watch it with a significant other and I guarantee you will love it. You might even get lucky later that night. It's that good.
- Don't Be a Dick at Christmas. This is more a motif than a theme, but it turns up in the best Christmas movies. It differs significantly from the ES above, since the Xmas Dick is not universally hated by everyone during the course of the year. Only at Christmas. The Christmas jerk is always redeemed by love, faith, children, or the supernatural. In the The Bishop's Wife, David Niven's character is a rather insensitive priest who is very close to losing his fabulous wife to an angel played by Cary Grant (of course). It's perfect.
Finally, there are a few other very significant things Christmas movies must have. In fact, these may well be THE MOST important elements to any actual, for reals, authentic, sure fire, play-every-year-and-never-get-tired-of-it Christmas movie. They have to be a little sappy. It's the one time of year where we really are expected to wear our hearts on our sleeves and go all-in for a little schmaltz. There has to be a romance. Doesn't have to be all "Beauty and the Beast," but love is the reason for the season after all, right? And last but not least, every Christmas movie must have heart. Heart. Compassion. Empathy. Call it what you Like. Every other holiday can have a little slice of snark, a little bite of bitchy, a chunk of cynicism. But Christmas movies should really remind us that it's never too late to be a good person. Hopefully, we won't shoot our eye out in the process.
Purely as a public service, I will leave you with Wayne's Christmas Movie recommendations:
- Shop Around the Corner (1940)
- Holiday Inn (1942)
- Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
- Star in the Night (1945)
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
- The Bishop's Wife (1947)
- Holiday Affair (1949)
- White Christmas (1954)
- Scrooge (1970)
- A Christmas Story (1983)
- Love, Actually (2003)
- Elf (2003)
- Get Santa (2014)