Many people watch the great holiday films around the winter solstice season – “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and all the rest. Wonderful as these movies are, very few of them feature space travel, cunning magical spells, speculative technologies, epic battles, encounters with strange species and intelligent machines, or any of the other great things about science fiction and fantasy. Thankfully, a few do, and if you love sci-fi you owe it to yourself to check out the best (or, better yet, the worst) that holiday-themed science fiction and fantasy have to offer.
The truly brilliant and prolific Sir Terry Pratchett has written about seventy billion (a loose approximation) Discworld books, so he was bound to make a Christmas story at some point. Technically Hogfather is only about a Christmas analogue, since there’s no Discworld Jesus – and the people saving Hogswatchnight from the evil forces who want to stop the sun from rising on the new year are the amiable, long-suffering avatar of Death and his granddaughter (born of his human apprentice and his adopted daughter), Susan, the greatest nanny who ever lived. Featuring the late, great Shakespearean actor Ian Richardson as both Death and the voice of the Narrator, the 2006 British television film version of Hogfather is a delight, with charmingly low-budget production values and strong performances by all the actors.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The 1960s were a time in which brilliant and memorable science fiction stories were penned. This one was… well, it was memorable. One of the campiest, weirdest, most so-bad-it’s-good Christmas movies – maybe movies, period – of all time, “SCCtM” has the distinct honor of being the only movie ever to get a commentary track on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well as successor shows Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic. It’s also got a place in film lore and Christmas lore as the first movie to depict Santa Claus as married to Mrs. Claus. And… that’s about all there is good to say about it. The unspeakably weird plot has the king of the Martians kidnapping Santa Claus on the advice of a senile old wizard because the children of Mars are depressed over not getting holiday presents. They grab a young brother and sister, too, to eliminate the witnesses, and what follows is a series of nonsensical events with indescribably bad pacing that make this movie the perfect target for all the zingers you and your friends can come up with (or you can just watch one of the excellent aforementioned riffed versions)!
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
We all know this one – four kids get sucked through a magic wardrobe in World War II-era Britain, they have to help Aslan the lion save a magical land from the evil White Witch Jadis, et cetera. But is Narnia really a Christmas story, you say, apart from the lion Jesus analogue? Well, the main thrust of the beginning of the plot is that Narnia is trapped in perpetual winter but Christmas never comes, and Santa Claus himself even shows up to give our four young heroes a hand. Go for the big-budget 2005 Disney adaptation featuring Liam Neeson as Aslan’s regal voice and the unnerving yet sexy Tilda Swinton as Jadis – this sort of thing benefits from slick Hollywood production values. By all means avoid the 1988 BBC miniseries, because the child actors in that version are too wooden to stand.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
Have you been a good boy, girl, or otherwise this year? No you haven’t, Santa knows your secret sins. That’s why he’s making you watch the Star Wars Holiday Special. Only by this torment can you atone! In seriousness, the “SWHS” is really very bad. As bad as they say it is, in fact. If you’re a Star Wars fan, it will taint your happy memories of the franchise worse than all the prequels combined. But if you’re with like-minded friends, ripping this cinematic nightmare apart with the best riffs and barbs you can come up with can be the best Christmas Eve entertainment money can’t buy. There is a Rifftrax version, of course, if you want to see the pros tackle the story of Chewie taking Han home to his folks’ place on Kashyyyk for Life Day, only for them to confront the Empire even on this occasion of peace and joy. That’s really just a (boring, bizarre) frame story for (ill-chosen, inexplicable) vignettes. Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, and Jefferson Starship are all in this thing, there is an extended scene performed entirely in untranslated, unsubtitled Shyriwook, the Wookiee language of grunts and yowls, and Boba Fett ignominiously got his introduction in this thing. Be sure to stick around for the ending, where Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia does a musical number visibly drunk, and you may want to dip into the eggnog yourself.