Hugh Jackman stars in 'Les Miserables.'

Hugh Jackman stars in ‘Les Miserables.’

DOWNTOWN — Christmas morning.

It’s several hours of wrapping paper carnage, dogs running off with sticky bows and older members of the family spreading holiday cheer with one more mimosa because, after all, “It’s Christmas.”

But after the new-present shine wears off and the buzz has turned into a dull throb, people find themselves saddled with the perennial question of what’s next?

Members of other faiths and traditions have long held the key to Christmas Day survival; given a day off for a federal holiday that’s more connected to a fat man in a red coat on the verge of type-two diabetes than the birth of a deity-made-flesh, it’s become something of an art to find ways to fill the time.

For many, that quest has ended in front of a silver screen.

“Seeing everybody out there celebrating Christmas, they tend to go to the movies,” said Mark Young, a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business.

To Young’s estimation, the tradition of movie theater attendance on Dec. 25 has been going on since 1995, and was largely dominated by the Jewish segment of the population. Now even Christmas observers have joined in, packing their families into cars as the day begins to wind down to maintain the festive spirit.

“The box office gets hot somewhere around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.,” Young said, noting that the timing coincides with the end of presents and potentially a heavy midday meal.

This year, Academy Award-favorite “Les Miserables,” a cinematic re-creation of the famous book-turned-musical, will debut alongside Quentin Tarantino’s violent tale of a slave turned bounty hunter, “Django Unchained.”

Rounding out the trio of releases is the family-friendly “Parental Guidance,” starring Billy Crystal as an old-school disciplinarian forced to reckon with his three wild grandchildren.

If that sounds like a strange mix of cinematic genres, one has only to look back to 2011 to see that major motion picture companies rarely try to capture the holiday spirit with their Christmas Day releases.

Last year, a movie adaptation of the book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” the tale of an autistic boy trying to follow clues to learn more about his father’s death in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, hit theaters at the same time as “War Horse,” a book turned play about the relationship between a boy and his horse during World War I.

But people came out. “War Horse” pulled in a cool $7 million on its opening weekend, despite its limited release, and “The Darkest Hour,” an alien invasion movie that came out the same day, got 23 percent of its revenues in its opening weekend.

Previous years have also seen decidedly morose and somber films, as noted in a list on the “Live a Good Life” website called “Top Movies Released on Christmas Day that have Nothing to do with Christmas.”

Winners include the 2001 biopic “Ali” starring Will Smith in the title role, and the dystopian “Children of Men” with Clive Owen set to protect a pregnant woman in an age where the population has lost the ability to reproduce.

A quick poll of people loitering in the seating section at the ICE skating rink in Downtown Santa Monica showed a mixed bag.

Maurizio Trevellin, a Santa Monica resident, isn’t aiming for anything so heavy this year when he “probably, maybe” goes out to the movies on Christmas Day.

“I want to see the new movie, with that guy who did the Oscars,” said Trevellin, struggling to match Crystal’s name to his new role as a cantankerous patriarch.

Peter Wetherell, who happens to work in the industry, said that movies on Christmas Day just aren’t for him.

“Not on Christmas Day. The day before, the day after, maybe,” Wetherell said. “It’s a family day.”

 

ashley@smdp.com