Christmas is an emotive time for soft and cuddly caring and sharing.
But because so much energy is invested in making it special, there’s always the potential for things to go wrong in spectacularly grim ways.
And there are a few magic movies over the years that have capitalised on the flipside of the festive season to splendid effect.
So if you like your chestnuts roasted with a dash of cynicism, take a look at how these five alternative Christmas movies were sold.
1. A Christmas Tale – Rare Exports
In Scandinavian cultures, Sinterklaas is more of a bogeyman-figure than an obese fellow in a red suit ready to hand out gifts at the drop of a bauble hat.
And the ferocious feral Santa defrosted from suspended animation during 2010’s Rare Exports is definitely the former version.
This festive horror movie features the F-bomb and a naked Father Christmas — so it’s not for faint-hearted traditionalists.
The trailer tagline reimagines the words to a classic Christmas carol: ‘he knows when you’ve been sleeping/he knows when you’re awake/he knows when you’ve been bad or good…and he doesn’t give a f**k.’ Charming.
So flipping the script to subvert expectations can make audiences see something familiar from a totally new angle.
2. Star Wars Holiday Special
Despite what you may think, The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t the second movie in the Star Wars series — although anyone who’s seen The Star Wars Holiday Special will wish it was.
Made for TV straight after A New Hope, the plot of this Christmas curio centres on Han Solo’s efforts to reunite his furry friend Chewbacca with his Wookie family in time for ‘Life Day’.
It features a bewildered Luke Skywalker caked in pantomime dame makeup and Princess Leia singing a space age Crimbo carol to a remixed version of John Williams’ Star Wars theme tune.
Watching it is like seeing one of your childhood heroes drunk in a lift you’re both sharing, the smell of egg nog and Christmas sadness wafting from their breath – no one needs that.
It was marketed in earnest as a peek inside the festive traditions of beloved characters — but woeful writing and bargain basement special effects launched it into the realms of parody at hyper speed.
The Holiday Special serves as a cautionary tale on always providing customers with the genuine article.
Christmas comedy horrors don’t get much bigger than Spielberg’s Gremlins.
If you’ve been hiding under a yuletide log for the past 33 years, Spielberg’s production merged genuinely scary monsters and heedless humans together with a calamitous Christmas backdrop to spectacular commercial success.
The movie was supported by a full-spectrum branding campaign that saw characters recreated as stuffed toys and stickers and even printed on toilet paper packaging.
So if you’re doing something truly different, execute it with excellence and make your presence felt in no uncertain terms.
4. Trading Places
The John Landis comedy Trading Places borrows plot elements from Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and sees Eddie Murphy’s streetwise hustler swap lives with Dan Ackroyd’s commodities trader to hilarious effect.
Trading Places primarily raises a Christmas chortle but scrapes the surface of serious issues like prejudice and poverty just enough for them to linger in more considerate viewers’ consciences.
Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder were originally set to star in the film following their on-screen chemistry in Stir Crazy. But after Pryor withdrew, the main characters were re-cast and Murphy was awarded his second film role after 48 hours, with Ackroyd replacing Wilder.
Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche star as the dastardly Duke brothers — they reprise their roles with cameo appearances in a later Eddy Murphy vehicle, Coming to America.
Trading Places made money and generated rave reviews — thanks in no small part to the star power of 80s movie ledges Murphy and Ackroyd.
Elf ‘s comic plot reunites Will Ferrell’s central character Buddy with his cynical father Walter, played ably by James Caan.
The story structure is familiar — the protagonist leaves home on a quest to find his family, conquers challenges and realises that he’s really discovering himself, then returns home transformed.
But there’s a bit of magic in the air thanks to the contrast of Buddy’s child-like naivete with the coldness of corporate Manhattan and his blossoming romance with shop worker Jovie.
Ferrell’s comedic timing is perfect and the tone of the tale never falters — lessons that apply to any marketing message.
All of these Christmas movies with a difference prove you can differentiate your brand ingeniously whether your products and services are familiar or completely original.
Most stories are very similar — but the way they’re told makes them memorable.
So what can these films teach us about marketing?
• Bold branding makes you stand out from the competition — especially in a crowded marketplace.
• If your USP is quality, always deliver on it — maintain high standards or risk your reputation.
• Star power is a major draw in the world of marketing. That might mean having Eddie Murphy as the lead player in your film, or an A-list influencer fronting your brand.