Images: Warner Bros., The Orchard (top), Focus Features (bottom)
The holiday season is hectic enough without the stress of having to scroll aimlessly through Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime every time you want to watch a movie. So we’ve done the curating for you, picking movies that will fit a variety of holiday scenarios, all currently available on streaming services. All you gotta do is press play!
If You Enjoy Christmas Movies…
Joe Dante’s warm and fuzzy (and scaly and scary) 1984 tale of little monsters running amok in a snow-covered town is a go-to favourite for obvious reasons. Is there any other holiday movie that dares to include the line “The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas”? Needless to say, like any good cult flick, Gremlins holds up after multiple repeat viewings. (Netflix)
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Why stop at just one Gremlins movie? The 1990 sequel didn’t achieve the classic status of the original because it’s actually a pretty terrible movie, overstuffed with novelty versions of the titular creatures. (A much-loved and likely accurate sketch investigates just how that might’ve happened.)
However, the Manhattan-set Gremlins 2 is so bad that it’s truly good bad, a breakneck feast of visual horrors, achingly broad humour, pop-culture references (including a meta-riff on the first film), bizarre cameos (Christopher Lee?), and multiple moments where your brain can’t quite comprehend what your eyeballs are taking in, like a lavish musical number that sees dozens of costumed critters grunting along to “New York, New York.”
It may aim for more humour than its predecessor, but Gremlins 2 is scarier in so many ways, and ends up being weirdly entertaining in spite of itself. (Amazon Prime)
The Gingerdead Man
There’s no Key and Peele sketch spoofing the origins of this movie, but you can only that imagine someone (drunkenly) dreamed up that star-spangled title, and it was off to the races. Horror-comedy maestro Charles Band (director of Trancers, and producer of the Puppet Master series) directs Gary Busey as a mass murderer who comes back from the dead after his electric-chair execution in the form of the title monstrosity.
All manner of murderous mayhem involving cheesy special effects, acting that’s scarier than the plot, and one very tough enchanted cookie ensues. Yes, it’s goofy — as any movie called The Gingerdead Man is bound to be — but it doesn’t try to be anything more than that, and is kind of perfect viewing for when you’re coming off your Christmas sugar high. (Hulu)
If Current Releases Have Made You Nostaglic…
The Last Jedi is finally out! But you’ve already seen it, and you want to let the theatre crowds die down before you venture out for a second viewing. Now’s the time to revisit Rogue One, especially now that astute viewers have caught the Last Jedi Easter egg that appears in a key scene.
The first standalone Star Wars movie may not be part of the main Skywalker saga, but it’s still got plenty of memorable performances and moments worth revisiting — including what’s maybe the most badass Darth Vader scene ever. (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro’s new movie, The Shape of Water, has gotten rave reviews, with many outlets (including io9) calling it his best film since Pan’s Labyrinth.
The 2006 film is also a blend of harsh reality and dreamy fantasy, though in far more extreme terms; the life of the main character — a little girl tormented by her stepfather in post-Civil War Spain — is crueler, and the magical world she visits is way stranger and scarier.
Despite its deeply sad themes, Pan’s Labyrinth is beautiful, and (like The Shape of Water) it’s a passion project for del Toro, coming after his initial forays into Hollywood with Blade II and Hellboy. (Amazon Prime)
What We Do in the Shadows
Before Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi blasted off to Asgard to make one of the funniest MCU movies to date, he made one of the funniest movies, full stop: What We Do in the Shadows.
Co-written and co-directed with Jemaine Clement (who also co-stars with Waititi), Shadows is a deadpan mock-doc about a group of roommates in Wellington, New Zealand who just happen to be vampires of various ages, from recently-turned to jaw-droppingly ancient. They don’t always get along with each other — or with the outside world — but they are never not hilarious. (Amazon Prime)
If You’ve Got Kids in Your Midst
A story that’s been adapted over and over again — but only once with a fox portraying the title antihero, and a singing rooster voiced by legendary honky-tonk crooner Roger Miller as the narrator.
The 1970s were kind of a low-key time for Disney animation, with animal-centric tales like The Aristocats and The Rescuers delighting kids but not really setting the world on fire — that revival would come in 1989, with The Little Mermaid. (For some reason, the Hulu menu has Disney’s Robin Hood marked with “1982,” when its actual year of release was 1973.) But there’s something very charming about Robin Hood, with its occasionally cheeky sense of humour and catchy songs that both kids and grown-ups can enjoy. (Hulu)
Kubo and the Two Strings
Stop-motion studio Laika has released an intriguing slate of films that blend unique stories with gorgeous animation. Last year’s Kubo and the Two Strings didn’t quite achieve the box-office heights of previous films like Coraline and ParaNorman, but it raked in accolades (including rare double Oscar noms for both Best Animated Feature Film and Best Visual Effects) and weaves the magical tale of a young boy in feudal Japan who goes on an epic journey to solve the mystery of his past.
Though the story can sometimes show its influences a little too much, that doesn’t take away from the excellent voice cast (Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes) or the absolutely stunning visuals. (Netflix)
Once upon a time, basketball superstar Michael Jordan starred in a live-action/animated film with the Looney Tunes. Once, because the 1996 comedy (which also features supporting turns galore from other NBA greats, as well as actual actors like Bill Murray and Wayne Knight) is a truly singular blend of sports, cartoons, outer space, slapstick, Quad City DJs, and R. Kelly.
It’s in-your-face silly, but somehow, it’s still fun — and has taken on new life as a nugget of cult nostalgia, too. (Hulu)
If You’d Rather Be in Outer Space Than at an Ugly Sweater Party
Image: Warner Bros.
Robert Zemeckis’ 1997 adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel stars Jodie Foster as a scientist who discovers an alien signal being beamed to Earth. Under intense media, government, and religious-group scrutiny, she and her team realise the signal contains instructions to build a mysterious device that will, presumably, open the passage to first contact.
Though Contact can feel a bit heavy-handed, it’s still a fascinating, solidly-made film that asks some Big Questions that remain relevant 20 years later. And if you already know what happens when Foster’s character takes her space journey, you can concentrate on the other elements of the movie — which are ultimately more important than her eventual experience anyway.
When a madman launches a crazy scheme to wipe out every human on Earth so he can repopulate the planet with a genetically perfect “master race,” only James Bond (Roger Moore) can stop him… with a little help from a CIA agent/astronaut named… wait for it… Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles).
He also gets an assist from toothy former foe Jaws (Richard Kiel), who becomes a changed man after falling in love. Sure, why not? With special effects that were considered cutting edge for 1979, and a globe-trotting (as well as space-truckin’) plot that’s preposterous in any day and age, Moonraker is maybe the most extra 007 movie ever… which means watching it again is always a good idea. (Hulu)
Make sure you have some boozy eggnog or maybe just a bottle of whisky handy for watching Michael Bay’s ludicrous adventure about a group of deep-sea oil drillers recruited by NASA to save the planet when a rogue asteroid suddenly appears in the sky.
If you drink every time there’s gratuitous slo-mo, or a weirdly jingoistic moment, or someone pulls a gun in space, or an animal cracker appears, or the strains of Aerosmith begin to infect the soundtrack, or the words “space dementia” are spoken, or Billy Bob Thornton looks visibly uncomfortable, or one of the oil-drillers who isn’t Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck has a single scene that serves as their entire characterisation… you will be sloppy drunk well before act three. (Netflix)
If You Just Want to Zone Out With Cult Classics
Star Trek: The Voyage Home
A sentimental favourite among the original Star Trek movies, this entry sends the Enterprise crew back in time to 1986 (conveniently the year of the film’s release).
The plot involves the urgent need to track down a pair of humpback whales, the only creatures capable of responding to a destructive alien signal. But the real fun of The Voyage Home, of course, is seeing Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the gang try to navigate the wilds of San Francisco with their limited grasp of 20th-century culture (with blind spots extending to fashion, currency, pizza, and the general rule about not diving into tanks with animals at the zoo).
Leonard Nimoy, who also directed, gets arguably the best scene when he takes down an obnoxious bus passenger using the Vulcan nerve pinch. The best scene in any movie ever made, that is. (Hulu)
For those keeping score, this is the second vampire movie we’ve suggested, in case you want to mix-and-match your own sidebar festival. Tom Holland (Child’s Play) directs this tale of a teenage horror fan who realises to his horror that his neighbour is a murderous creature of the night.
When nobody believes his wild claims, he recruits a down-on-his-luck local horror host (Roddy McDowell, clearly having a blast) to help destroy him. Despite the title, there aren’t a ton of frights, but there are plenty of laughs and some awesome practical effects and make-up. (Hulu)
“Into an age of darkness… in a time of mysticism, sacrifice, and plunder, there came the only light!” Don Coscarelli (the Phantasm series, Bubba Ho-Tep) directed and co-wrote this 1982 epic fantasy about a musclebound lad with two distinct qualities: 1) a thirst for vengeance, after his people are slaughtered (they’re not really his people per se, but the people who raised him after some unfortunate business between his kingly father and the resident evil sorcerer); and 2) the ability to communicate with animals. His posse includes an eagle, two rascally ferrets, and a tiger, all of whom help him with his quest.
Once a cable staple, The Beastmaster doesn’t pop up too much anymore, but it’s at least as campy as the Conan movies with the added value of critter cuteness. (Amazon Prime)