The genre of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other such winter holiday films is a delightful one. For the most part, it’s also pretty family-friendly. Classic tales like Elf and Home Alone were crafted with pleasing audiences of all ages in mind. However, in recent years, there has been a bit of a boom in holiday films that cater to a more mature audience.

Granted, there have always been stories like this and this list will reflect some older films from, say, the 1980s. Yet, the influx of R-rated Christmas films in recent years is definitely worth remarking upon. It shows that the genre is all-encompassing and able to deftly move between tones.


UPDATE: 2022/12/23 13:00 EST BY SHAWN S. LEALOS

It seems like most Christmas movies play it safe. A perfect example is the new Netflix original Christmas movie, Falling for Christmas. The movie brought Lindsay Lohan to Netflix, and it is a movie that the whole family can watch. However, sometimes the adult crowd wants something risque and R-rated. This year brought one of those movies as well with Violent Night. The movie saw Santa Claus arrive to help a good little girl, but this is not a movie that kids should be watching, as it is full of violence, blood, and lots of adult material. However, for many fans, that is just what the doctor ordered. Violence and R-rated humor all in the name of the holiday season.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

Stream now on Netflix

Kiki, Amy, and Carla cheering at a bar in Bad Moms Christmas. 

Bad Moms arrived in 2016 and was a big R-rated success, showing three mothers who tired of their boring lives and set out for a life of fun. However, along the way, they realize that maybe they don’t need to go quite so hard when things spiral out of control. It was so popular that one year later a sequel arrived.

In A Bad Moms Christmas, things got even worse when the mother’s mothers showed up and the audience saw why these women ended up so messed up to begin with. The cast was as great as the first movie, and they turned in another great release. Anyone wanting an R-rated funny Christmas movie made for women should look no further than this instant classic.

The Ref (1994)

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Dennis Leary in The Ref.

Before Denis Leary showed everyone how great an actor he was in his TV series Rescue Me, he showed his deadpan comic side in the R-rated Christmas movie, The Ref. In the movie, he starred as a burglar who broke into a house with the most dysfunctional family in holiday movie history

By the time he spent even a little amount of time with Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis’s always fighting married couple, he just wanted to escape. The funny thing is that the couple’s only son wanted to go with him. The movie is full of raunchy humor, but it really showcases the dysfunction of Christmas for many families.

Go (1999)

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Adam, Zack, Claire, and Mannie pose in Go

Sometimes, the best Christmas movie has little to do with the holiday season itself. In Go, Doug Liman created a movie around the holidays that was one of the best Quentin Tarantino wannabe movies of the 90s. Much like Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, Go was a crime movie told from different points of view.

The entire movie surrounds a woman (Sarah Polley) who wants to buy some drugs, but eventually everything spirals out of control. With a cast that includes William Fichtner, Jay Mohr, Katie Holmes, and Taye Diggs, with a whole host of familiar faces in supporting roles, this movie is well worth revisiting two decades later.

Violent Night (2022)

In Theaters Now

Santa Claus with his sleigh in Violent Night

The most recent R-rated Christmas movie to hit theaters arrived in 2022 with the horror action comedy Violent Night. David Harbour (Stranger Things) stars in the movie as the actual Santa Claus. However, he spends the first part of the movie lamenting how consumerism has destroyed Christmas and no one believes in him any more anyway.

He then spends the second half of the movie killing mercenaries in horrific and violent ways to save a little girl. The movie is darkly humorous, gloriously violent, and even has a festive message at the end. For Christmas horror, it doesn’t get much better.

Trading Places (1983)

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Billy Ray and Louis hugging in Trading Places.

The 1983 John Landis comedy, Trading Places, starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, is not only a stellar Christmas film; it’s also a classic comedy overall. Playing off tropes from The Prince and the Pauper, Trading Places infuses that story structure with the sentiments of the holidays.

The holiday, which often sees comparisons between giving and receiving, serves as a backdrop for the film, which is a commentary on classism, privilege, and the inherent loneliness of wealth. The thematic substance of the film positions it as a Christmas classic worth revisiting.

Office Christmas Party (2016)

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Jennifer Aniston in Office Christmas Party

Admittedly, there is a bit less thematic resonance in Office Christmas Party, the 2016 ensemble comedy led by Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman. It might not have as long a pair of legs as Trading Places does, but it’s a solid vehicle for some outrageous holiday laughs.

Plus, while Bateman and Aniston are solid leads, it’s really underrated comedy stars like Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, and Karan Soni who steal the show. Not to mention, Jimmy Butler, of the Miami Heat, even turns up. Nowhere to go wrong there!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

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Two men point guns together from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

It wouldn’t be an R-rated Christmas movie list without bringing in the great director and screenwriter, Shane Black. Black famously enjoys setting all of his films during the holidays (Iron Man 3 is the MCU’s closest thing to a holiday film to date).

Something about the Christmas season just feels like a reset and a reassessment of the year. With characters like Black’s, who always face down self reflection, it’s a perfect marriage. And the snappy, quick-witted, twisty story of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a prime example.

The Nice Guys (2016)

Stream now on Netflix

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys

An even more prime example of Shane Black’s relationship with R-rated Christmas movies is 2016’s The Nice Guys, though. Starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, it has a strong argument for being the greatest buddy cop film ever made.

It’s insanely funny and, while the holiday decor and spirit is subtle, it’s still ever-present. It serves a perfect middle ground between something that is (until the end) cynical, like Scrooged, and something profoundly saccharine, like Godmothered.

Carol (2015)

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Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in Carol

Another great Christmas film that is more backdrop than story substance is the remarkable 2015 romance film from Todd Haynes, Carol. Carol starred Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and was woefully underappreciated upon its initial release.

The holiday shopping season receives some biting criticism as the audience instead follows the charms of the two leads who engage in a “forbidden affair” with one another. Really, Carol is a worthwhile film any time of year.

Die Hard (1988)

Stream now on Starz

John McClane with a gun in Die Hard.

The debate about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie is an extremely uninteresting one. All the points have been made and no one who brings up it these days has an original idea behind it. It’s time to let it go.

If The Nice Guys can be considered a Christmas movie, then Die Hard certainly can, too. As the more action-centric version of Paul Blart (which is more concerned with the dénouement of the holidays), it’s worth revisiting in an R-rated capacity, if not only for the Run-DMC needle drop.

Bad Santa (2003)

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Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Soke in Bad Santa

Bad Santa is clearly one of the best R-rated Christmas movies. It’s also kind of impossible to craft an R-rated Christmas list without it, considering it’s the exact kind of story that most fans of edgier holiday fans are looking for.

Billy Bob Thornton portrays Willie, alongside turns from Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, and John Ritter. The entire affair is extremely raunchy and deliberately R-rated for a Santa movie. There’s hardly even a version that could air in an edited capacity in the 25 Days of Christmas.

Love Actually (2003)

Stream now on Peacock

Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon wave in Love Actually

That being said, the purveyors of Freeform have found a way to air Love Actually in their celebration. They did so, mostly, by doing away with the subplot with Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, who have stand-in sex while shooting a film.

They’re arguably the part of the story that most contributes to the R-rated nature. But even beyond that, stars like Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, and Emma Thompson make this one of the best holiday movies ever made, R-rated or otherwise.

In Bruges (2008)

Rent now on Prime Video & Apple TV

Ray and Ken sitting together in In Bruges.

In Bruges is the greatest Bruges movie of all-time. This is an achievement the Martin McDonagh classic will likely boast forever. However, it’s also underrated as a Christmas film, as the holidays provide much of the moral thrust of the characters.

The lights and decorations also help portray Bruges as an impossibly gorgeous city. It’s one of the best films of the 2000s, and it will make the holidays for viewers more R-rated, but also more writerly.

The Night Before (2015)

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Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie in The Night Before.

When The Night Before was released in 2015, it didn’t immediately seem like a new holiday classic. But in recent years, word-of-mouth has spread, and the film has been propped up as the hilarious masterpiece that it is.

There’s plenty of that R-rated humor Seth Rogen is known for, even in the holiday tale. However, it’s also surprisingly sweet, and it even dabbles in elements of fantasy. Rogen’s performance is perhaps the funniest ever achieved by a supporting performer, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie also help carry this hysterical movie. It’s the best R-rated Christmas film to check out during the yuletide season.

NEXT: The 10 Best Christmas Movies Of The 2020s (So Far), Ranked According To IMDb

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