What do Halloween and Christmas have in common? Turns out not much, but that's for audiences to know and Jack Skellington, voiced by Chris Sarandon, to find out in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.
In this 1993 stop-motion musical, audiences are taken on a holiday-themed ride through the horrorscape of Halloween Town where monsters and unpleasantries run rampant. Jack, who is the king of this town, leads his people as they organize their annual Halloween celebrations. Everything changes however when Jack grows bored with the monotony and routine of his job.
One night when he goes on a walk through the woods, he comes across six doors, each marked with an icon of popular holidays, ranging from Valentine's Day to Easter. It is the Christmas tree that catches Jack's attention, and upon venturing through the door, Jack finds himself in Christmas Town. Completely enamored by what he sees, Jack returns home wanting to create their own version of Christmas. He deigns himself Sandy Claws — upon mishearing Santa Claus — and embarks on a dysfunctional journey of kidnapping the real Santa, voiced by Ed Ivory, and delivering presents himself. Along the way, Jack learns the joys of accepting who you are, as well as the true meaning of Christmas.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is popular stop-motion director Henry Selick's feature debut, who has since directed other popular stop-motion films such as 1996's James and the Giant Peach, 2009's Coraline (2009), and, most recently, 2002's Wendell & Wild. Upon release, the film was commended for the innovation of stop-motion animation, as well as its characters and musical score.
If you're looking for more frighteningly fun holiday films or are an avid fan of the art of stop-motion, look no further. Here are 10 films to watch after The Nightmare Before Christmas, ranked by Metascore.
Best for: Fans of monster parodies and stop-motion animation
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This 2005 stop-motion supernatural comedy parodies the classic monster movies we all know and love. Part of an already existing Wallace and Gromit series, the film follows eccentric inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his intelligent but quiet dog Gromit as they undertake being pest control agents. When their town is infested by rabbits right before the annual giant vegetable competition, the duo sets out to save the town only to find a giant rabbit is consuming the oversized veggies. Stop-motion aside, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is similar to The Nightmare Before Christmas given its spooky themes.
"This latest and biggest installment is a whimsical success of a very high order: The pace never lags, the invention is incessant, and it makes you want to have a bite of cheese afterward." — Ed Park, The Village Voice
Best for: Fans of Burton and arranged marriages
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Based on a 17th-century Jewish folktale and set in the Victorian era, 2005's The Corpse Bride is a stop-motion dark fantasy film that tells the story of two young people Victor (Johnny Depp) and Victoria (Emily Watson) as they prepare to be wed, as was arranged by their parents. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the pair share a mutual attraction for each other. One night, practicing his vows in the woods, Victor places his wedding ring on a tree branch that resembles a human hand, but to his horror, he discovers that he has wed himself to a corpse bride named Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) who has always wanted to be married but was tragically murdered on the night of her elopement. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, this film remains true to a dark nature, exploring human themes of love and loss through the lens of the kooky characters and horrific backdrops.
"Will be hailed for its macabre imagination and inventive farce. But it also elegantly renders an archetypal teenage tale." — Michael Sragow, Baltimore Sun
Best for: Only children and doll owners
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Also directed by Selick, this 2009 stop-motion dark fantasy film chronicles the adventures of Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a young girl with blue hair and an insatiable curiosity who's having a hard time adjusting to her new life at the Pink Palace Apartments in Oregon after moving there with her workaholic parents. Strange things begin to happen when a neighbor gives Coraline a doll that looks just like her. In her dreams, she's transported to a parallel universe where she meets her Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) and Other Father (John Hodgman), who are more fun, attentive, and caring. Despite being a seemingly perfect world, Coraline must learn to distinguish fantasy from reality as she uncovers the truth behind her new home. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline deals with themes of accepting one's reality and may actually top The Nightmare Before Christmas in terms of how far the film leans into its elements of horror.
"This eccentric and deliriously inventive fantasy finds stop-motion auteur Henry Selick scaling new heights of ghoulish whimsy, buoyed by a haunting score that works its own macabre magic." — Justin Change, Variety
Best for: Fans of Roald Dahl and ladybugs
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Based on the 1961 Dahl novel of the same name, this musical fantasy film from 1996 follows James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry), a young orphan who lives with his sadistic and cruel aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes). One day after saving a spider from the rage of his aunts and receiving a strange gift from an old man, a massive peach begins to grow from the nearby peach tree. At night, James eats through the pit fruit to find that at its center live several human-sized human-like bugs of all kinds, from a grasshopper to a spider to a ladybug, who help James escape his aunts. Using the peach as a vehicle, the group sets off for New York City so that James can finally see the Empire State Building. The film combines live-action and stop-motion, relaying a dark story through a child-like lens.
"If only they'd trusted it more, they might have made a marvelous kids' film instead of a merely charming one." — Owen Geliberman, Entertainment Weekly
Best for: Fans of Winona Ryder, Depp, and daring haircuts
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Also directed by Burton, this 1990 dark fantasy romance film tells the story of Edward (Depp), an unfinished man-made humanoid who has scissors instead of hands and was left to live alone at the top of a cliff. When he is discovered by a kind local saleswoman, she takes him into her home where he lives with her family as she helps him acclimate to a life in the suburbs. Initially fascinated by Edward, the neighborhood applauds his ability to trim their hedges as well as their hair, but as time goes on, Edward's unique skills and kind demeanor are taken advantage of. Despite the protagonist's dark origins and off-putting appearance, Edward Scissorhands is ultimately a love story, and, not unlike The Nightmare Before Christmas, deals with the theme of self love.
"Edward Scissorhands isn't perfect. It's something better: pure magic." — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Best for: Fans of Frankenstein and family pets
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A feature-length remake of Burton's 1984 short film of the same name, this 2012 3D stop-motion horror sci-fi film tells the story of a boy named Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), a young scientist and filmmaker who prefers to spend time with his dog Sparky over other children his age. In an effort to make Victor more social, his father encourages him to play baseball. However, after Victor hits a home run during his first game, Sparky chases the ball and is hit and killed by a car. In a desperate attempt to bring him back, Victor uses lightning to reanimate his best friend and does so successfully, shocking his friends and family and challenging the idea of what it means to be alive. The film is grim and explores well known cultural references such as Frankenstein in a way that any fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas will appreciate.
"This is a more personal movie for Burton than one might initially suspect. The very fact that he elected to re-tell this story after 28 years is an indication of how much it means to him." — James Berardinelli, Reel Views
Best for: Fans of black comedy and strange pets
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This Christmas-themed horror film from 1984 follows Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), a struggling inventor who visits an antique store in the hopes of finding the perfect Christmas gift for his son. When he comes across an odd, furry creature, he feels inclined to purchase it, though the exchange comes with an ominous warning from the store owner's grandson: Don't expose the creature to light, don't let it come in contact with water, and never feed it after midnight. Due to a series of unfortunate events, a rule is broken causing the creature to respawn into five more troublemaking creatures which sets off a chain reaction that terrorizes the town on Christmas Eve. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, this film explores the "what if" of a horrific iteration of one of the year's most joyous holidays.
"What's confusing yet ultimately illuminating is the way his gremlins function as a free-floating metaphor, suggesting at separate junctures everything from teenagers to blacks to various Freudian suppressions." — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Reader
Best for: Fans of animated films and mailmen
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 96 minutes
This 2019 Spanish-American Christmas film offers audiences an alternate tale of Old Saint Nick through the lens of a lazy, spoiled 19th-century postman named Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) who is stationed in the Far North by his disappointed and frustrated father. It is there that Jesper befriends an isolated toymaker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons), who, despite his intimidating appearance, proves himself to be a kind and generous gift giver. As word spreads of a mysterious man who gives children free toys, the children turn to Jesper who tells them that if they write Klaus a letter, they'll receive a toy, as he and Klaus secretly deliver the gifts to the children at night. Though Klaus is significantly less scary than The Nightmare Before Christmas, both films explore an alternate reality of the holiday we all know and love.
"It's far more successful with holiday magic than it is with character-based comedy, but that's not enough of a flaw to keep young audiences (and their parents) from potentially turning this feature into a cherished annual tradition." — Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Best for: Fans of zombie movie musicals and high school shenanigans
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This 2017 British movie musical has it all: zombies, Christmas, and high school drama. The film follows Anna Shepherd (Ella Hunt) as she prepares to finish school and travel abroad for a year before attending university. One night, while she's at work at the bowling alley, a zombie infection breaks out throughout the town, unbeknownst to her. The next morning, still oblivious to the fact that there was a zombie apocalypse, Anna leaves for school as if it's a normal day, until she encounters and kills her first undead person. Left with few options of places to seek refuge, Anna and her friends battle their way through the outbreak, while singing some catchy tunes along the way. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, this film takes the joyous holiday in a very different direction, playing with the irony of holiday cheer paired with elements of horror.
"Does Anna deliver on its billing? Well, it does for a while. For its first half, the movie's blend of earnest teen crooning and dismembered blood-geyser heads is pretty entertaining." — Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
Based on the 1843 Dickens novel of the same name, this animated Christmas film tells the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey). The story begins on Christmas Eve 1843 in London when Scrooge encounters the ghost of his departed business partner who warns him that he must change his selfish ways or he'll be damned. Over the course of three nights, Scrooge is haunted by three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all voiced by Carrey as well. It is only with the guidance of these three hauntings that Scrooge has a chance to right his wrongs, redeem his soul, and embrace the meaning of Christmas. Eerie in tone, this animated film was not a hit with critics, but still might satisfy fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas because it retells a classic tale with a dark twist.
"This Christmas Carol seems like a pale ghost of Dickens' magical Christmas classic." — Claudia Puig, USA Today