In what has now become an annual tradition, Mat Corne brings you a day-by-day guide to some of the best movies showing on UK free-to-air TV over the Christmas period – festive films not included!
ITV4, Thursday 21st, 23:25
Steven Spielberg pretty much invented the summer event movie with this 1975 thriller, but it has since become a Christmas stalwart. The event in question is of course a man-eating Great White shark terrorising the residents of a summer vacation resort, leading local sheriff Roy Scheider to team up with marine biologist Richard Dreyfuss and wily sea dog Robert Shaw to take on the beast. The shark itself may look a bit cheap these days, but with jump scares aplenty, an action-packed final showdown and John Williams’ masterful score, the film still has the ability to jangle your nerves, which is an amazing achievement after more than forty years.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
BBC1, Friday 22nd, 13:45
The man with the hat is back in his third adventure, having appeared in his first two on BBC1 on the previous two days. This time he’s on the trail of a religious artefact that could provide immortality, and it’s no surprise that the Nazis are also seeking it. There’s no denying that the film is thematically similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the addition of Sean Connery as Indy’s father adds a new dynamic to the adventure, with much of the film’s humour stemming from their relationship. There’s also plenty of action, including a thrilling showdown between Indy and a tank in the Arabian desert. Over the years this has become my favourite film in the franchise and seemed to be a fitting end to the Indy saga, until the 2008 release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sullied it somewhat.
The Fugitive (1993)
ITV4, Saturday 23rd, 21:00
This adaptation of the 60’s TV series tells the story of Dr Richard Kimble, who is framed for the murder of his wife and sentenced to death, but escapes on his way to prison and sets out to clear his name. Harrison Ford is the leading man, and does a fine job, but the real star of the show is Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar-winning performance as the tenacious U.S. Marshal on the trail of the escapee. The film is a near-perfect cocktail of heart-pounding action sequences, smart dialogue between the two stars, and the suspenseful unravelling of the conspiracy that led to Kimble’s arrest. In an era when the traditional action movie was starting to get tired, The Fugitive was a breath of fresh air and proved that heroes didn’t have to be muscle-bound killing machines in order to impress us.
Film4, Sunday 24th, 22:55
Arnold Schwarzenegger leads a team of hardened commandos into the South American jungle on a rescue mission, but finds an unexpected adversary in the form of a ruthless alien hunter. Packed with action, suspense, impressive special effects and a touch of comedy, this is one of the big man’s best, with an excellent supporting cast including Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura, who like Arnie would later become Governor of a US State. Director John McTiernan proved he was a master of the action genre by following this classic with an even better film in 1988’s Die Hard.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
Film4, Monday 25th, 21:00
Making his big screen debut as a leading man, Taron Egerton stars as a directionless youth plucked from a life of petty crime to follow in his father’s footsteps as a member of an elite spy organisation. Once his training is complete, he joins with fellow spies to foil a sinister plot conceived by a deranged Tech billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson). “James Bond with Chavs” seemed like a terrible idea in principle, but this turned out to be one of the surprise hits of 2015 thanks to a great blend of comedy, over the top action and Egerton’s engaging performance. With the sequel due to hit cinemas in a matter of weeks, this is the perfect time to check out the original if you haven’t already.
Back to the Future (1985)
Channel 4, Tuesday 26th, 18:00
In all honesty you should never need to watch this blockbuster on Freeview TV because everyone should own a copy on DVD or Blu-ray! If you don’t, then once you’ve finished hanging your head in shame, tune in to watch one of the greatest films of all time, a perfect blend of Sci-Fi, adventure, comedy and 80’s coolness, with a superb story and fantastic performances from everyone involved. Not to mention the magnificent soundtrack, spectacular visual effects and thrilling action sequences. In case you hadn’t worked it out, it’s quite good. Almost as good are its two sequels, which follow on the same channel over the next two days, completing what I consider the greatest trilogy ever made.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
BBC1, Wednesday 27th, 16:10
This CG-animated adventure is based on a relatively obscure Marvel comic, and follows the story of Hiro, an intelligent but lazy teenager who specialises in robotics, just like his older brother. When his brother is tragically killed in a fire, Hiro forms a team of heroes to track down the man responsible and bring him to justice. The key member of that team is Baymax, a soft and cuddly medical droid who provides much of the film’s humour and helps Hiro deal with the grief of losing his brother. Disney Animation Studios finally matched their Pixar stable-mates by bringing together action, comedy and dealing with grown-up emotions, and as a result this is one of their best.
Casino Royale (2006)
ITV2, Thursday 28th, 21:00
What would Christmas be without a Bond film? After a four year absence following the dismal Die Another Day, cinema’s most famous spy returned with Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 putting a more contemporary spin on the character. His portrayal of the iconic spy is far more realistic than his predecessors, and while the cars and gadgets are still present, the story takes place in a far more plausible world, and it feels like Bond is a fallible character for the first time. With a tense storyline based on Ian Fleming’s very first novel, an enigmatic villain portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, and one of the most emotional endings of any Bond film, Casino Royale is a worthy reboot of the legendary series.
BBC1, Friday 29th, 14:25
Pixar’s animated adventure sees an old man finally set out to fulfil his dream of visiting a distant land by the most unusual of methods – a floating house suspended by thousands of balloons. Along for the ride is a young stowaway, and the two meet some unlikely friends and enemies along the way, including an army of ‘talking’ dogs. The story is decent and there are plenty of funny and action-packed scenes, but the film would be fairly by-the-numbers were it not for the opening ten minutes, which documents the harrowing back story of the man and his wife. Only those with the hardest of hearts will fail to be reduced to tears, and it showed that Pixar was reaching new levels of emotional involvement with their audience, along with the company’s superb technical achievements.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
5Spike, Saturday 30th, 23:05
In his first (and sadly last) international film, Bruce Lee stars as a martial arts expert tasked with infiltrating the island lair of a drug lord, which also happens to be home to the killer of his sister. The story is rather inspired by James Bond, but the action is anything but, as Lee and his co-stars show off all their best Kung Fu moves. With surprisingly good acting from the majority of characters and the memorable finale in the room of mirrors, Enter the Dragon was undoubtedly the best film of Lee’s tragically short career, and over four decades on is still rightly regarded as one of the finest martial arts films ever made.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Film4, Sunday 31st, 23:25
When two American hitch-hikers get lost on the Yorkshire moors on a dark night, they are attacked by someone – or something – beyond their worst nightmares. One of them survives, but his nightmare is just beginning as he discovers when the next full moon comes around. John Landis’ film is a masterful blend of comedy and horror, with almost as many laughs as there are shocks, while Rick Baker’s outstanding werewolf transformation sequence still looks incredible even in these days of CGI magic. With rumours of a remake doing the rounds, why not remind yourself that the original is one of the scariest, funniest and saddest horror films ever made? What a way to usher in the New Year!
BBC2, Monday 1st, 06:55
Certainly an unusual way to start the New Year, Tim Burton’s film features a young Victor Frankenstein, who resurrects his dog after it was killed in a car accident, inspiring his classmates to try their own macabre experiments. A charming stop-motion offering made in black and white, the film is heavily inspired by horror classics, and features many characters that are endearing despite their ugliness. With a touching story that also parodies classic monster movies, this quirky film is one of Disney’s bravest and Burton’s best of recent years.