While director Stanley Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation The Shining is widely recognized as a horror classic, it is rarely seen for its secondary genre — The Shining is a Christmas movie. While The Shining is a lot darker and scarier than most festive offerings, as a story of a family forced to work together to survive a harsh winter, it is ideal Christmas viewing. This may or may not be intentional on the part of the writer and director Stanley Kubrick, but The Shining nevertheless shares a lot of the elements that make holiday movies so beloved and, as such, can be added to the pantheon of classic Christmas horrors.
Christmas means something different to everyone, which is why movies like Die Hard and Black Christmas get thrown into wild debates over whether they can be considered holiday fare based on their content. The Shining falls into the same category, and like Die Hard, there are some clear indicators that show The Shining is a Christmas movie. Details like the setting, the costuming, and even the overall narrative hint that it’s a holiday film, meant to be watched with the likes of A Christmas Story and Elf all the same. Here’s every bit of proof to close the debate on whether The Shining is a Christmas movie.
Why The Shining Is A Christmas Movie
For decades, the debate about what constitutes a “Christmas movie” has lit up comment sections every year across the Internet. While Netflix’s Holiday Movie Universe means that sugary cinematic confections like The Princess Switch series are unquestionably classified as Christmas movies, other projects make the term harder to define. The question of whether a violent, hard-R action movie or gruesome slasher can be called a Christmas movie is tricky, since many of these genre offerings have festive settings and yuletide elements but go against the spirit of the season.
On this note, Stanley Kubrick’s iconic Stephen King adaptation The Shining is an inarguable horror classic. However, depending on the term’s definition, The Shining is also a Christmas movie — despite what some readers may assume. Proof that the blackly comic psychological horror has earned its status as a Christmas movie may not be immediately obvious, but the combination of a snowy setting, a story of a family struggling through hardship together, and the addition of horror to what could have been a sweet story make Kubrick’s The Shining an unlikely, but undeniable, Christmas movie. There are many points supporters of The Shining on Christmas movie lists use to back their argument, and below are all the reasons The Shining belongs to the holiday season explained.
Christmas Horror Is A Cinematic Tradition
The biggest roadblock to claiming that The Shining is a Christmas movie comes from its genre. It is a bleak, brutal horror movie — the type of film that few viewers would immediately associate with the holiday season. However, from slashers like Santa’s Slay and Silent Night Deadly Night, to more family-friendly fare like Krampus and Gremlins, Christmas cinema has always been welcoming of both good cheer and gruesome horror alike. The enforced cheeriness of holiday settings contrasts perfectly with darker themes, meaning The Shining is far from the first entry in the horror genre to subvert traditional Christmas movie tropes. Much like how Shane Black’s Christmas action movies set gunfights and bloody brawls against a backdrop of snow and Christmas lights, The Shining shares its snow-struck winter setting with countless classic dark holiday movies, from director Bob Clark’s classic proto-slasher Black Christmas to Kubrick’s own anti-Christmas Christmas movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Being a horror movie doesn’t discount The Shining from Christmas movie lists — it’s an argument for its inclusion.
The Shining’s Snowy Winter Setting
Not only does the Overlook spend the entirety of The Shining blanketed in snow, but the only reason Jack gets a job there is because the haunted hotel needs a winter caretaker. From its opening scenes onward, The Shining centers around snow, winter, and family—all classic Christmas motifs, here subverted beyond recognition. It may be hard to picture the Overlook Hotel seen in The Shining and Dr. Sleep as a welcoming or warm location, but the setting forces the Torrance family to spend time together and bond as a family. Admittedly, this does not go to plan and results in a darker, gorier ending than that of most Christmas movies, but the tale of a mismatched family being snowed into a secluded hotel and forced to spend the holidays playing nice is one that could play out as a conventional Christmas comedy in the hands of another director.
The Shining Is A Family Story
When King saw Kubrick’s movie, he was famously annoyed by the changes made to his novel The Shining, and the alterations in Kubrick’s version of the story serve to make the movie more of a dark spin on standard festive film tropes. For example, the later Shining television miniseries that King scripted in the ’90s plays down Jack’s unhinged behavior until well into his stay in the Overlook and offers a more sympathetic view of his gradual mental collapse. In contrast, Kubrick’s movie makes it explicit that Jack is on the verge of a major breakdown from the opening scene onwards and The Shining then slides gradually into being an extremely dark comedy wherein viewers are forced to watch as, bit by bit, his grip on his sanity loosens further. Unlike King’s story, Kubrick’s version of The Shining does not play out like a portrayal of a troubled man gradually succumbing to madness.
Instead, The Shining’s story of a family being torn apart by isolation and ensuing madness plays out like a dark subversion of classic Christmas comedies wherein long-suffering dads are driven crazy by their kids and spouses. Unlike the underrated Misery, this Stephen King adaptation doesn’t encourage viewers to relate to its protagonist or view him as a put-upon hero. Instead, unlike National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, or any number of other Christmas family comedies, Jack Torrance’s breakdown isn’t presented as relatable or harmless to the audience, but rather as a terrifying and inescapable threat to his family. There is undoubtedly a lot more going on in The Shining, with some critics reading it as a dark satire of America’s colonial history, but even these deeper themes reinforce its status as a subversive spin on the traditional festive film.
The Costume Design Is Christmassy
The Shining takes place over the Christmas holidays in the dead of winter, meaning there are a lot of Christmas sweaters in the film. Knit sweaters are a massive part of Danny and Jack’s wardrobe in the Stephen King adaptation, even if most of the movie is set indoors. The costume design is reminiscent of many a Sears Christmas catalog from yesteryear, usually featuring shiny happy, and smiling families donned in matching holiday garb — though the Torrance family is anything but happy. That being said, you certainly wouldn’t know that based on their wardrobe. While their clothing isn’t overtly Christmas-themed with bells or traditional green and red coloring, the image of the many knit sweaters that Danny wears simply screams Christmas, and Wendy’s multitude of jumpers don’t help either. It probably wasn’t intentional on Stanley Kubrick’s part, but the wardrobe in The Shining definitely adds to the theory that the horror flick is a holiday film.
The Shining Subverts Christmas Movie Cliches (& Everything Else)
The thrust of The Shining’s plot — stuck with his family in freezing winter, a put-upon dad struggles to keep it together — is a standard Christmas movie setup. Themes that crop up throughout The Shining’s dark, twisty story — Jack yearning for a simpler time, children disobeying their parents, the hero turning to drink in frustration — are all elements that could be played for laughs in a lighter, more hopeful movie. However, Kubrick’s movie instead subverts these images to create an altogether darker and more complex story wherein the past isn’t the panacea that patriarchs dream of, the beloved father is a murderous monster, and his frustration with his family boils over into attempted murder instead of being a cute punchline. Thus, The Shining acts as a subversion of traditional Christmas movies and, as a result, can be listed alongside the many other classic Christmas horror movies as a festive scare-fest.