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Does IRON MAN 3 Really Qualify as a Christmas Movie?

Some films are obviously Christmas movies, like Frosty the Snowman and It’s A Wonderful Life, but for others it’s not so clear cut. They may be set during the holiday season, and they may even touch upon Christmas themes, but does that mean they truly qualify in the traditional sense? To find out, we’re putting these movies on trial and laying out all the evidence for and against them by answering some pertinent questions, like we did with Die Hard and also Gremlins.

And there’s no better movie to enter into the great Christmas movie debate than the MCU’s most festive film, Iron Man 3.

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, ask yourself…

How much of the movie takes place at Christmastime?

All of it. Near the beginning we see Tony working in his basement with a Christmas tree and listening to a rocking version of “Jingle Bells.” He also gives Pepper her Christmas gift, a giant stuffed bunny that looks like a dog. There are a handful of other touches throughout, like a bar that plays Christmas music and a Home Shopping Network decoration for sale. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian also plans to kill the president above festive lights in the shape of a tree. Tony even references A Christmas Story and says he has a “holiday message” for the Mandarin.

Between the Mandarin saying he “intends to finish this before Christmas morning” and the Vice President having a family feast, it’s suggested the big ending sequence will take place on Christmas Eve, but that’s not made explicitly clear until after Tony and Pepper kill Killian and Tony says, “And so, as Christmas morning began, my journey had reached its end.” However, while the movie reminds you throughout everything is happening at “Christmastime,” it doesn’t do it so much you really feel the spirit of the season.

Would the movie be fundamentally different if it were set at any other time of the year?

Not even a little bit. If you lose the decorations, the two holiday songs, and the references to the time of year you wouldn’t sacrifice any plot or character development. There is a holiday that is relevant thought: the flashback to New Year’s Eve in Switzerland in 1999 that the movie revisits throughout is all about regret, rebirth, and new beginnings. If you changed that scene to another time of year it would really hurt the movie, whereas as its present day Christmas setting doesn’t really contribute to either the story or its themes.

Are any of the major themes classic Christmas ones?

Iron Man 3 touches on a lot of ideas, the biggest (directly stated) being how “we create our own demons” through our mistakes and fears. That connects to themes of regret, cruelty, hubris, selfishness, facing our past, compromising our ideals, and coping with trauma. Considering the villains literally regrow limbs and both the main protagonist and antagonist are metaphorically reborn, rebirth is a major one too. On a much smaller scale the movie also touches on family and friendship, but it doesn’t develop them or have much to say.

Some of those themes, like being selfish and forgetting to keep our best intentions at the forefront of our actions, do feel appropriate for the holiday, and other classic Christmas stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life cover similar ideas of regret and being haunted by your past. They just aren’t very Christmas-y here, especially since they tie into New Year’s Even so much more. The relevant themes here are Christmas-adjacent at best.

Does watching it at Christmastime enhance the experience?

It might be fun to watch this at Christmastime because the movie reminds you it is set during the season, but you’re not going to have less fun if you watch it the other 11 months of the year. Hearing Christmas music out of season is always bizarre, but there are only two songs here so it’s not much of an issue. The movie also has three main settings, and two of them are warm and sunny Malibu and Miami. Not exactly winter wonderlands.

Has it been accepted as a Christmas movie tradition?

Maybe it will be some day when Disney owns everything and we can/must watch Marvel movies all the time on the recently merged Disney Plusflix Prime-ulu streaming site, but for now it’s not, even if the movie pops up on basic cable every once in awhile any time of year.


Director Shane Black loves setting his movies around famous holidays, especially Christmas (we might even put another film of his to the test soon). Iron Man 3 certainly fits that modus operandi, but it definitely does not qualify as a Christmas movie. The holiday is merely decoration to anchor it to a specific time of year, but it doesn’t embrace Christmas in its story, and it does so only tangentially in its themes.

That’s not to say it isn’t a holiday movie though. This might secretly be one of the great New Year’s Eve movies of all time. Moving on, rebirth, starting over—those are all great ideas for the New Year. It’s actually too bad the film isn’t set just one week later, with the end of Christmas used at the start as it builds to December 31, when Killian decides to finish the Mandarin’s “lessons” with a bang. Old president and way of doing business out, new one in. Killian had been reborn, but that night Tony moves on and embraces who he really is, someone not defined by his suits, Iron Man. Tony would have then blown up all of his suits at midnight, making that “fireworks display” even more appropriate.

Really, who sets off fireworks on Christmas Eve?

Featured Image: Marvel

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