The holidays are a joyous time, full of food and alcohol and presents and TV specials and family and friends. To most people it’s the best day of the year, but to film buffs it is merely a warm-up act, providing us with ample opportunities to catch up on the latest releases, and get suitably intoxicated for the upcoming awards season. Christmas is the start of a two month binge, where life is temporarily on hold and nothing else matters but the movies.

The same cannot be said for Academy voters, as they frequently demonstrate a total absence of any Christmas spirit. Festive films are almost completely ignored at the Oscars, and with a success rate even more abysmal than comedies it’s about time we address why you shouldn’t make a Christmas film if you want to win an Oscar.





In 1948, Miracle on 34th Street became the second and last Christmas film to win an Oscar (Holiday Inn was the first, winning for its song White Christmas in 1943), picking up two for writing and one for supporting actor Edmund Gwenn. In the following sixty-four years many seasonal movies have come and gone, and some would earn a nomination but to no avail. Die Hard won several nominations in technical categories, while Home Alone composer John Williams earned himself two nods for both score and song, and back in 1947 It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture. Many others such as Elf, Love Actually, and Jingle All the Way enjoy significant commercial success but fail to win acclaim from their Academy peers. In short, just to be nominated is a resounding critical success for any Christmas film, but why can’t they win?

Many Oscar-nominated films are released in the latter months of the year, which obviously ties in nicely with Christmas films, so the answer lies elsewhere. In fact, there are two fundamental reasons why this genre goes largely unnoticed by the Academy. Firstly these films are not made with the intention of winning awards, but for making money. Many stars and studios, some previously Oscar-nominated, will turn their attention towards a Christmas movie because a successful one guarantees royalties every year. The DVD sales and broadcast rights gives everyone involved a little Christmas bonus, and because the motivations for producing this genre are almost always financial, studios have no interest in campaigning them for Academy Awards, nor would this be of any significant benefit to the film’s profitability, and in fact adapting the production to make it a viable contender for Oscars could even be detrimental to its long term success.

Secondly, we have already established that comedy is not the Academy’s favourite genre, and Christmas films overlap considerably with comedy in terms of production value and target audience. As such, a film’s commercial success is achieved through the abandonment of any peer acclaim and future awards. Take a look at many of the biggest new Christmas movies since 2000. Elf, Four Christmases, Bad Santa, Love Actually, Nativity – all of these films star a predominantly comedy cast, and all these films are essentially comedy films set at Christmastime.

Films like Home Alone and Die Hard are two interesting examples, because they promote themselves as Christmas films, and they are in many ways a Christmas film, but they are also just good films set at Christmas with a narrative that has very little, if anything, to do with Christmas. I realise you might think this is a crazy accusation to make of Home Alone, but the gist of the film is that a kid gets left at home while his family are on holiday. It could have been a summer vacation, a thanksgiving visit, or Uncle Frank’s birthday – any excuse for a holiday. The basic premise has nothing to do with Christmas; it is just a great film with a great score by an Academy stalwart. Die Hard is just a great action film done right, and is aptly rewarded with sound, editing, and visual effects nominations.

To summarise, if you want to win an Oscar you don’t have to avoid making a Christmassy film, in fact it may help get a few extra bucks in your pocket, but if you set out to make a classic Christmas movie and a serious Oscar contender you will almost certainly fail. The priorities for both are too wildly incompatible that it poses an impossible conflict of interests. Those films defined by many as Christmas films that do go on to be nominated are either a) set partly at Christmas because it can’t hurt the box office takings but the producers’ main intent was to make a good, credible, acclaimed film or b) they get lucky. The latter is yet to happen because if you make a Christmas film conceived as a Christmas film for the demographic that enjoy watching Christmas films then there is absolutely no point wasting money campaigning for Oscars when you could be marketing that film to people who actually care about it.

So if you want to win an Oscar, don’t make a Christmas film.