Movies | December 20, 2022 7:25 am

Nobody Does Christmas in Chicago Like the Music Box

We spoke with the team behind the theater's 39th annual holiday sing-along and double feature

The Christmas Sing-Along and Double Feature at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago
Don't miss the sing-along with Santa before showings of "White Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life."
Courtesy of Buck LePard

Chicago’s best movie palace is in the midst of its 39th annual Christmas singalong and double feature. They’re also screening some not-exactly holiday “classics” like Batman Returns and Santa’s Slay. And they’re still showing some of the best and buzziest cinema from around the globe. In other words, they’re doing it all, like always. Or at least like every December.

We spoke with Music Box Theatre Marketing Manager Buck LePard about the White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life double feature, the resurgence of the second Michael Keaton Batman and what modern holiday films might become holiday canon. 

InsideHook: The 39th Annual Music Box Christmas sing-along and double feature has obviously been going on for a long time. Do you think anybody is sick of It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas?

Buck LePard: If they are, we give them enough other options of things to check out during the holiday season. We certainly understand if people are — tastes come and go. Or if you need a year off from a movie, we want to make sure that we give a few more selections, which get changed up each year, for folks to check out.

Do you see it ever altering? Maybe changing so some of the films that are in the Alternative Christmas film slate become part of the double feature? Will Mean Girls be part one of the holiday double feature in 30 years?

I don’t think so. I think we might still be doing [It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas]. You know, the number of times we play it every year varies usually based on dates, what day of the week Christmas falls on. Sometimes we’ll go three full weekends, sometimes it’s two and a half weeks. I think the highest point we ever got to was 32 combined shows of the two of them over the course of an 18-day period. 

We’ve done more Alternative Christmas shows of different movies over the years. It used to just be like one Tuesday. We’ve expanded that — we’re getting three days for Alternative Christmas shows, with multiple streams of things like Elf, Love Actually, Die Hard, Home Alone and Gremlins.

Batman Returns seems to be on everyone’s radar. Is it just because it’s the 30th anniversary? Is it just because it’s superheroes? Why do you think Batman Returns is resonating in 2022?

I think both of those reasons, for sure. I think a lot of people who grew up with Batman Returns probably have kids who are now old enough to go see Batman Returns. I remember I was a little too young for it, the first time I saw it. Yes, it’s popular because of the superhero boom, but it’s also a very Christmas-y, wintry-feeling movie. The Gothic nature of it all, the snow — Gotham sort of feels like so many big cities at Christmas time.

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What else makes a non-Christmas movie a Christmas movie? 

Setting, time of year. It has to do with the community within the film. Comfort within the film, whether it’s actors you love or a story you love. You know, I remember someone made a good point to me: He had never seen It’s a Wonderful Life until a few years ago. And the first thing he said to me afterwards was, “There’s barely any Christmas in the movie!” If you’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life dozens of times, you don’t necessarily think about it, but not a lot of that movie takes place on Christmas. [It’s] the way it ends with Christmas and with the community coming together, and you know, the bells on the trees. Really sort of brings that Christmas feeling home at the end.

Are there any movies of the last five years, 10 years that you think will be part of the Alternative Christmas features in the future?

I run the Music Box Twitter. I polled our audience and asked what were the definitive Christmas movies of the 2010s. The two biggest responses we got were Carol and Krampus, the Christmas horror movie that came out in 2015. 

I recently watched the Will Ferrell/Ryan Reynolds Spirited movie, the new musical version of A Christmas Carol, and thought it was very well done. You know, every time there’s a new version of A Christmas Carol, you kind of wonder, do we need another one? But I thought this one had a great twist on it. It was a lot of fun, good music. And I could see us playing that on the big screen in the future.

I love the Music Box. I don’t know how obvious that is, but I’m a huge, huge fan. And it’s kind of odd to me that for 11 months of the year, it presents some of the most cutting-edge, beautiful, progressive films from all across the world from the last 100 years. And then for one month in December, it feels like it’s a Gilmore Girls setting. You know what I mean?

Yeah, yeah. That’s tradition and the audiences keep coming. We do have some people who only visit us every December, and then we don’t see them for 11 months and then they come back. Part of that’s because they no longer live in Chicago, but when they’re back here for the holidays, they want to come visit. 

We also run other stuff concurrently with our Christmas shows. They don’t take up every showtime. Right now we’re still playing Aftersun, the indie film that is currently getting a lot of awards buzz. We’re going to be opening Sarah Polley’s Women Talking at the end of the month. And we certainly hope people will come back for those if they’re having to see the poster or trailer while they’re here for the Christmas shows.

Do you believe that Santa belongs with horror films just as much as he belongs with Christmas? Because you do have the Music Box of Horrors coming up.

I certainly do. And actually that’s another one of our Alternative Christmas shows. We’re doing a double feature of Santa’s Slay and another Christmas movie called The Children. I’m up for any and all interpretations of Santa — you know, he’s been around for a long time. If you can make a good story about it in an entertaining movie? Bring it on.