Maybe it’s curling up with the kids to watch “Elf.” Maybe it’s sharing a six-pack with friends to watch “Die Hard” (which is definitely a Christmas movie). Maybe it’s hate-watching “Love Actually.”
Whatever it is, chances are almost everybody has a go-to Christmas movie that’s become a tradition each holiday season. (Or, in the case of Hallmark Channel movies, a hundred nearly identical movies.)
While it’s great to be able to dial up that movie on streaming, there’s something to be said for getting together with an audience to enjoy a holiday classic. Especially when popcorn or cocktails are involved.
In that spirit, here’s a rundown of the holiday movies playing in Madison-area theaters and bars this December:
“It’s a Wonderful Life"
Wednesday, AMC Madison 6; Wednesday and Thursday, Marcus Point and Marcus Palace; Dec, 17, Flix Brewhouse Madison; Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, New Vision Fitchburg 18
I try to watch the Frank Capra classic at least once a year. The story of George Bailey’s realization that he really was the “richest man in town” always gets me, and it’s a film where you notice new details and identify with different characters as you grow older.
Wednesday and Thursday, Marcus Point and Marcus Palace; Dec. 12, Flix Brewhouse Madison; Dec. 20, Majestic Theatre
It’s funny that in his entire movie career, Will Ferrell has never really surpassed the two characters he created in two of his earliest movies — “Anchorman” and “Elf.” Don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins and miss it on the big screen. Madison theaters are going all-out for "Elf" -- Flix Brewhouse is having a "fan fest" with a special menu and free souvenir glassware, while Majestic will have drink specials for its' "Brew 'n' View" event.
“Miracle on 34th Street"
Wednesday, New Vision Fitchburg 18; Friday through Dec. 13, Marcus Point and Marcus Palace; Dec, 12, AMC Madison 6
There have been several versions of this holiday classic about a department store Santa who insists he’s the real deal. This is the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, and don’t worry, it won’t be colorized.
Wednesday and Thursday, Marcus Point and Marcus Palace
It just wouldn’t be the holidays without parental neglect and home invasion, and the 1990 Chris Columbus classic has plenty of both. The original is much preferable to the 1992 sequel, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” in part because the original movie doesn’t feature a cameo by our current POTUS.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”
Wednesday, Flix Brewhouse Madison; Friday through Dec. 13, Marcus Point and Marcus Palace; Dec. 16 and Dec. 19, New Vision Fitchburg 18; Dec. 19, AMC Madison 6
How many movie franchises can say that it’s the third film in the series that ended up becoming its signature film? While “National Lampoon’s Vacation” has its moments, nobody watches “European Vacation” or “Vegas Vacation” anymore, right? But it’s 1990’s “Christmas Vacation” that sticks with us, maybe because it reminds us that our own attempts to have a perfect family holiday are bound to go awry.
Thursday, High Noon Saloon
If you’re feeling a little Scrooge-y about Christmas, you might be in the mood for this free double feature of holiday horror movies, “Black Christmas” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night.”
"A Christmas Story"
Thursday, Flix Brewhouse Madison
Thanks to round-the-clock screenings on TV, what was a huge box office flop in 1983 has become a beloved Christmas classic. The story of Ralphie's quest to get an air rifle has spawned a thousand quotes and leg lamp gag gifts.
Friday, Flix Brewhouse Madison
Don't get them wet, don't feed them after midnight and maybe don't show Joe Dante's Christmas classic to little kids — it's scarier than you might remember. For older kids, though, it's a blast to watch this horror-comedy about adorable creatures who turn into little terrors (a metaphor that the parents of teenagers might understand).
“The Polar Express”
Friday through Dec. 13, Marcus Point and Marcus Palace; Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, New Vision Fitchburg
CGI animation has advanced by leaps and bounds since Robert Zemeckis released this groundbreaking animated film in 2004, but the spirit of the original still endures. Zemeckis takes the simple children’s book about a mysterious train that takes skeptical kids to the North Pole and turns it into an action-packed extravaganza.
Saturday, Flix Brewhouse Madison
I completely forgot the 1982 Eddie Murphy-Dan Ackroyd comedy was set at Christmastime. But, in its tale of how a homeless man thrives when given a few advantages (even if its part of a sinister bet between two rich old men), it does embody the holiday spirit in a way.
"The Night Before"
Monday, Flix Brewhouse Madison
This underseen comedy gem from 2015 stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anthony Mackie as three lifelong friends who, facing the responsibilities of adulthood, decide to embark on a night of debauchery in New York.
Tuesday, Flix Brewhouse Madison
The most-maligned modern Christmas movie is this 2003 Richard Curtis ensemble comedy about cute Brits falling in and out of love. Some of it is genuinely treacly (the Colin Firth subplot, oof), but other storylines are perfectly fine, including the heart-rending Emma Thompson-Alan Rickman subplot.
“Hallmark’s A Royal Christmas”
Dec. 13, Majestic Theatre
Those cheesy Hallmark Channel movies have become a huge (if ironic) part of many people’s holiday viewing, so the Majestic is getting into the spirit with its “Hallmark Movie Drinkmas” event. The theater will supply the booze (including cans of wine) and the drinking game rules as you enjoy “A Royal Christmas” the way it should be enjoyed, half in the bag with friends.
Dec. 22, Majestic Theatre; Dec. 30 and Jan. 2, New Vision Fitchburg
It’s the quintessential holiday movie, as a father returns home at Christmas to reconnect with his estranged wife — and throw a terrorist out a high-rise window. Happy Holidays!