This year, at least four LGBTQ-inclusive Christmas movies landed on cable channels and streaming services. TV holiday rom-coms have become a cottage industry over the last 20 years, so some may be surprised it’s taken this long for Hallmark and Lifetime to send jaded gay urbanites home for Christmas to find the love of their dreams.
But mainstream holiday movies are largely aimed at straight women, with predictable plots and sackfuls of stereotypes about relationships, gender roles, family and “the true meaning of Christmas.” While that still definitely plays in 21st century America, networks want to appear contemporary to younger audiences without turning off their core viewers. A genre that’s been around for decades and doesn’t do much to reinvent itself can look staler than last year’s fruitcake.
Enter Lifetime’s “The Christmas Setup” — one of 30 new holiday movies the network is rolling out this year — and Hallmark’s “The Christmas House,” which comes a little less than a year after the network was slammed for pulling a Zola ad featuring two brides kissing (the ad was later reinstated). While the networks get credit for adding diversity to their holiday brand, their motives aren’t purely altruistic.
It’s also important to remember that “Christmas Setup,” “Christmas House,” the Paramount Network’s “Dashing in December” and Hulu’s “Happiest Season” are hardly the first holiday movies to put a little queer spice in the egg nog. Below, we celebrate a dozen movies that make the yuletide just a little bit gayer.
'The Family Stone' (2005)
Fresh off “Sex and the City,” Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Meredith, an uptight Manhattan executive who dreads meeting her boyfriend Everett’s boisterous family over the holidays. In a side plot, Everett’s gay deaf brother reveals that he and his partner are planning to adopt.
While “The Family Stone” doesn’t reinvent the holiday movie, it does shake up conventions about expectations when it comes to romance. Plus, who wouldn’t want Diane Keaton as their mom?
'Make the Yuletide Gay' (2009)
College student Gunn (Keith Jordan) is totally out at school, but he hasn’t gotten around to telling his Midwestern family that he’s gay and that his “roommate,” Nathan (Adamo Ruggiero of "Degrassi"), is actually his boyfriend. Gunn’s mom and dad try to set him up with an old high school girlfriend over Christmas, but the tinsel really unravels when Nathan shows up unannounced.
This indie rom-com is full of charm, humor and heart — and basically spelled out the plot of “Happiest Season” a decade in advance.
'A Diva's Christmas Carol' (2000)
You can’t have a holiday movie countdown without at least one remake of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and this VH1 TV movie features Vanessa Williams giving us diva grinchiness a half-decade before "Ugly Betty."
Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a successful but nasty R&B singer who mends her ways with the help of three spectral visitors, including gay fave Kathy Griffin as the Ghost of Christmas Past. There’s no out characters in “A Diva’s Christmas Carol,” but there’s loads of camp, shade and tongue-in-cheekiness to appeal to queer sensibilities, including a “Behind the Music” special on Ebony and fictional bops like “Sleigh Ride” and “Heartquake.”
Not exactly a lighthearted holiday flick, Todd Haynes’ lesbian romance is still a gorgeous snapshot of midcentury glamour: Cate Blanchett plays an upscale housewife struggling with her attraction to Therese (Rooney Mara), a department store clerk she meets while buying a Christmas present for her daughter.
Carol is not only visually sumptuous, it’s a meaty antidote to all the saccharine rom-coms shimmying down the chimney this season.
'Love the Coopers' (2015)
Diane Keaton plays matriarch to yet another dysfunctional family in this holiday treat from “I Am Sam” director Jessie Nelson. She and John Goodman play a couple of 40 years who want to have one last “perfect” family Christmas before announcing their impending divorce.
Casting stocking stuffers include Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, a pre-”Call Me by Your Name” Timothée Chalamet and future Avenger Anthony Mackie as a closeted cop who finally finds the courage to comes out.
'Some of My Best Friends Are…' (1971)
You might have some trouble finding this low-budget holiday gem from writer-director Mervyn Nelson, but it’ll be worth the effort: A group of regulars gather at the Blue Jay, a Greenwich Village gay bar, on Christmas Eve 1971.
Co-starring Rue McClanahan, Fannie Flagg, trans pioneer Candy Darling and Gary Sanders of “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “Some of My Best Friends Are…” is an astonishingly candid time capsule of the Stonewall era that reminds us that gays have been forging chosen families for generations.
'Holiday Heart' (2000)
In the 1990s, directors loved putting macho actors in drag. In this made-for-Showtime movie from the turn of the century, it was Ving Rhames’ turn. The “Pulp Fiction” star plays a big-hearted drag queen, the titular Holiday Heart, who takes in a crack-addicted mom (Alfre Woodard) and her daughter over the holidays.
Though a bit heavy-handed, “Holiday Heart” has a surprisingly good pedigree: Directed by Robert Townshend and produced by Robert DeNiro, it earned Woodard a Golden Globe.
'Female Trouble' (1974)
If we learn one thing from this gross-out masterpiece, it’s that Dawn Davenport better get them cha-cha heels for Christmas. John Waters’ drag muse, Divine, plays a hard-edged teen who goes on a tear when she doesn't get the present she wants on Christmas morning.
Getting knocked up by a stranger on Christmas morning, Dawn eventually becomes a neglectful mom to sullen daughter Taffy (Mink Stole) and embarks on a life of crime that sends her to a truly gruesome end.
A 2018 blu-ray Criterion Collection edition not only restores this holiday classic to its day-glo roots, but comes stuffed with alternate takes, deleted scenes and rare candid footage.
'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' (1964)
The story of an outsider bullied by his peers until he learns what makes him different is a gift to the world. No, not Rudolph — I’m referring to Hermey, the misfit elf who wants to quit Santa’s workshop to be a dentist.
The gay subtext in this stop-motion classic from Rankin/Bass is pretty hard to miss — even before bearish lumberjack Yukon Cornelius takes Rudolph and Hermey to the Island of Misfit Toys.
Shot entirely on an iPhone, director Sean Baker’s groundbreaking dramedy sees transgender sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) tracking down Sin-Dee’s two-timing boyfriend on Christmas eve.
It’s definitely not one to watch with the kids on Christmas morning, but breakout performances from first-time actors Rodriguez and Taylor, coupled with juicy slices of dark comedy and gritty realism, make Tangerine a unique holiday classic.
'Home for the Holidays' (1995)
Jodie Foster was more than a decade away from coming out herself when she directed this inclusive multigenerational holiday movie starring Holly Hunter, Claire Danes, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott and Robert Downey Jr. as Tommy, the acerbic gay black sheep of the Larson family who nonetheless gets a love interest (of sorts).
Technically set over Thanksgiving, “Home for the Holidays” has all the trimmings of a first-rate Christmas movie, including family grudges, wacky misunderstandings, a disastrous feast and even the hint of a new romance.
Every holiday movie list needs a musical, and “White Christmas” wasn’t going to cut it. Who needs Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney when you’ve got a modern tearjerker touching on gay relationships, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, gentrification and more — all in the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve?
Jonathan Larson’s smash Broadway hit didn’t make it to the big screen for a decade, so Anthony Rapp et al are a little long in the tooth to play struggling 20-somethings in 1980s New York, but, through the magic of music, all is forgiven.
Diehard Rentheads might also want to scour YouTube for “Rent: Live,” Fox’s live production from 2019 starring Tinashe, Jordan Fisher, Brennin Hunt, Vanessa Hudgens and “Drag Race” star Valentina as Angel.