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THE B-LIST: Skip the usuals for these alternative Christmas films

Christmas movies are like Christmas songs: there are a couple great ones, a whole lot of awful ones, and after the fifth repeat most of them make you want to strangle a nutcracker. The Hallmark Channel alone seems determined to churn out 25 mediocre Merry Christmases every year.

And while plenty of people can't get enough holiday-themed romance as treacly as Aunt Judy's fruitcake, and continue to devour family schmaltz that would choke a reindeer, there are those of us who would happily team up with the Grinch if it meant we didn't have to see one more hirsute guy in a Santa suit or cheerful soccer mom decorating an overpriced evergreen.

That's where I come in, with a list of films that buck (and hack apart, and blow up) the usual Christmas trends. Forget all that "angel getting its wings" soppiness and pop in one of these superior alternatives.

8. "Batman Returns" (1992). Michael Keaton's Batman has double trouble on his hands with femme fatale love interest Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) teaming up with the monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito) to terrorize Gotham City over the Christmas season. Still one of the best comic book movies ever made.

7. "The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996). Geena Davis is a single mom with amnesia who discovers, with the help of Samuel L. Jackson's private eye, that she was once a government assassin. The two have to thwart her former handlers AND get home in time for Christmas in this riotous, unhinged action thriller from the always delightful Shane Black.

6. "Krampus" (2015). Santa brings presents for the good girls and boys, but what about those on his naughty list who fail to uphold the spirit of the season? They meet the horned, hooved, very hairy Krampus and his army of goblins, possessed toys and candy cane-wielding gingerbread men. A VERY black comedy from the guy behind "Trick 'R Treat."

5. "Die Hard" (1988). Of COURSE this makes the list. Bruce Willis takes on German baddies led by Alan Rickman in a hostage crisis at Nakatomi Plaza. For those who angrily assert this is NOT a Christmas movie, let it be known: there are 20-plus more references to the holiday in this than in "It's A Wonderful Life."

4. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993). Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, discovers the sparkly, brightly-lit joys of Christmastown in this cautionary tale of cultural appropriation. The beautiful stop-motion animation will always be impressive, and the fabulous songs make this fun for the whole family.

3. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005). Another Shane Black Yuletide classic — the man sure loves bullet-riddled presents. Here we have Robert Downey Jr.'s thief solving a neo-noir mystery straight from a pulp fiction novel with the help of a gay detective (Val Kilmer) and his long-lost crush (Michelle Monaghan). Zany. Wacky. Infinitely quotable. And the only Christmas film where the dog eats a finger.

2. "Gremlins" (1984). A teenager learns that pets don't always make the best presents when his mystical Mogwai, Gizmo, births a slew of slimy, scaly gremlins that terrorize the city over Christmas. One of the darkest PG family films out there.

1. "The Thin Man" (1934). I've already enthused over this series in a previous column. But this Christmas-set comic noir caper starring Nick and Nora Charles (aka William Powell and Myrna Loy) remains a perfect, oh-so-quotable film. Even better: the sequel takes place over New Year's, so that's another holiday movie night sorted!

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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