“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”: A Survey of Holiday Movies Through the Decades / Gracie Lee

Even though students have long since returned to campus, many are missing the warmth of the Christmas lights amid January’s wintery bleakness. The December break offers a plethora of traditions, even ones as simple as one of Gen Z’s favorite pastimes: movies. Or more specifically, Christmas movies. Everyone has their own personal favorites, but even the most cliche hallmark film makes the season a little brighter. Holiday movies, whether old or young, are a nostalgic experience for most individuals. Although there will always be debate about what makes a movie a “classic,” several films have made their mark on the silver screen–and in students’ winter breaks–over the last few decades.

       1947–It’s a Wonderful Life: In a charming 1940s town, a young man named George Bailey is thinking of ending his life due to a financial crisis. His guardian angel, Clarence, is sent down to earth to show him what his loved ones’ lives would be like without him. On the way, the audience witnesses his boyhood, marriage to his childhood sweetheart, and comical interactions with his friends and family of Bedford Falls. It’s a charming retelling of Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest Gift” and implements both comedy and drama into its plot.

  Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart as George Bailey, Donna Reed as Mary Hatch, and Henry Travers as Clarence, didn’t do well at the box office when it first premiered. However, when a clerical mistake in 1974 prohibited the copyright owner from renewing their application, the movie found its way into the public domain. As a result, multiple networks played its reruns through the holiday season and ushered the story into millions of families’ television sets.  Since then, it has become one of the most well-known Christmas movies and is beloved by thousands. 

“I love It’s a Wonderful Life for the warm timeless Christmas feels it gives you, while also teaching you a deeper meaning about the impact you have on others,” Corrie Lee, a junior, said.

1965–A Charlie Brown Christmas: This kid-friendly TV special, based on the 1950 comic strip Peanuts, was first created by Charles Schulz. The strip even premiered as a musical in 1967, and starred Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked) as Sally in 1999. 

The holiday episode features nostalgic songs from Vince Guaraldi like “Christmas Time is Here.” It begins when Charlie Brown complains to Linus–everyone’s favorite blanket-wielding sidekick–that he doesn’t get all the excitement over Christmas. He simply doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about. After Lucy ropes him into directing the Christmas play, he is increasingly upset to find that no one else seems to remember what Christmas means either. Even his kid sister, Sally, asks Santa for “tens and twenties.” Linus reminds them of the true Christmas Story, and Charlie Brown finds the inspiration to buy a Christmas tree. It is sadly sparse and bare, until his friends decorate it with beautiful ornaments. The episode concludes with the entire cast singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” 

It is thought-provoking to notice the commercialism surrounding holidays, even 60 years ago. Although it is depicted comically through characters like Snoopy–who makes his own wish list for Santa–it’s an important reminder to not let the hustle and bustle of the season take away the joy of Christ’s birth.

1983–A Christmas Story: This family comedy was set around the 1930s or ‘40s but premiered in the ‘80s. Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) only wants one thing for Christmas: a “Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle.” Of course, his mother is not keen on this idea, delivering the famous line: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” He receives the same warnings from his teacher and friends throughout the 94-minute film. On Christmas morning, he is overjoyed to find the BB gun and immediately retreats to his backyard to begin using it. As expected, the kickback from the gun breaks his glasses, causing him to initially believe that he has “shot his eye out.” However, all ends well, with adult Ralphie narrating that the Red Ryder was the best present he ever received. Director Bob Clark also interspersed multiple subplots throughout this film, including one where Ralphie’s friend Flick accidentally freezes his tongue to a metal pole. 

There are mixed opinions surrounding the status of A Christmas Story as a classic holiday movie. Some can’t spend the holiday season without watching it, and others find the comedy too slapstick for their humor. Contrary to popular belief, Ralphie’s famous Red Ryder model was never stocked as a real product. It possessed features based on the Daisy “Buck Jones” gun, but the weapon itself is just a figment of movie magic. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, the film wasn’t as popular at its debut as it is now, partly because holiday-themed movies were not as popular at that time. 

1990–Home Alone: This holiday classic was directed by Chris Columbus and extended into a franchise of four films. Macaulay Culkin only played nine-year-old Kevin McCallister for the first two films, however. Producer John Hughes hired Columbus after the latter departed from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation due to conflict with Chevy Chase.  

The movie begins with the entire McCallister clan under one roof the night before their flight to Paris for Christmas vacation. Kevin is in a surly mood and feels left out and overwhelmed by his dozen or so cousins and siblings. His mother, played by Catherine O’Hara, sends him up to the attic to sleep after he has an angry outburst. Unfortunately for the McCallisters, a power outage during the night disrupts their alarms and they all oversleep. In the panic of getting to the airport late, Kevin is left alone upstairs in the attic and awakes to find his house empty. At first, he revels in his newfound freedom but is quickly concerned by the appearance of Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), neighborhood burglars who dub themselves “The Wet Bandits.” When he realizes that they plan to rob his home, he makes up his mind to save it. 

The robbers enter the McCallister home on Christmas Eve night, not guessing that the nine-year-old kid has booby trapped the entire establishment. They undergo painful experiences including blowtorches to the head, Legos to the feet and irons to the face–but eventually come out basically unscathed. After succeeding in saving his home, Kevin wakes on Christmas morning, disappointed that his family has not returned. The movie ends happily, however, with the reunion of his mother and relatives after their frantic return from Paris. This movie requires its audiences to suspend their belief for an hour and a half and accept that the multiple injuries Marv and Harry sustain do no permanent damage to them, physically or psychologically. In fact, especially empathic individuals should probably refrain from watching the movie, as its antics grow exceedingly wild, although hilarious. 

2003–Elf: Director Jon Favreau’s riotous comedy starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, and James Caan as Walter Hobbs, is perhaps one of Ferrell’s most popular works. It even inspired the 2010 Broadway production “Elf, the Musical.”

One Christmas Eve night, an orphan baby crawls into Santa’s bag and is mistakenly brought back to the North Pole. Santa decides to raise Buddy (named after the brand name on his diaper) as his own, and Buddy grows up believing that he is an abnormally large and clumsy elf. He finally realizes the truth when he is in his thirties and sets out to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs. Unfortunately, Walter is on the naughty list and Buddy’s simple, comical, and elfish antics do not mix well with the “scrooge’s” way of life. After getting a job in the mall, Buddy meets Jovie, who he develops a crush on. The two eventually begin dating and Buddy worms his way into his biological family’s hearts. Everyone, that is, except Walter. On Christmas Eve, Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park due to a slump in the Christmas Spirit, its primary fuel. Jovie remembers Buddy’s motto, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” She leads those in Time Square in singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and New York’s faith in Santa is restored, along with Walter’s own belief.

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