For many of our readers, your memories of big Christmas movie premieres probably come from the early 1990s, when BBC One ran with big movie premieres year after year, both in the afternoon slot and in primetime. Landmark premieres included E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in 1990, with further Steven Spielberg films like Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Hook, and Jurassic Park making their terrestrial debut on later Christmas Days.
The following year, Batman arrived in primetime, just over two years after Tim Burton’s artful comic-book blockbuster had taken the global box office by storm. This was a big deal for those who had missed it in the cinema, especially if they were too young at the time it first came out, and in subsequent years, the Beeb would include further premieres in the heart of their primetime schedule, including The Mask, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and Babe.
Meanwhile, the commercial channels moved away from premieres on the day. ITV had run out of Star Wars films for the time being and the Bond films were, ironically enough, on hiatus due to legal disputes over international broadcast rights. During the early 1990s, the channel’s Christmas premieres were more along the lines of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Field Of Dreams, which went out back-to-back in 1993.
Channel 4 and Five (which launched in 1997) didn’t run too many film premieres at this point, airing archive films that weren’t typically available on VHS or (by the end of the decade) DVD instead. But then for commercial channels, the big money for adverts lies in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, not in the sofa sale season that officially begins on the 24th, which is why these channels put fewer big draws on the big day.
On another note, ITV briefly adopted the Disney Time format from the Beeb towards the end of the decade, enlisting the likes of Phillip Schofield and Suggs from Madness to present clips from classic and contemporary animated films in a half-hour package. Most importantly, they also premiered Disney’s The Muppet Christmas Carol at 3.10 p.m. on Christmas Day 1997, and across various channels, the film has been a rightful fixture of festive telly ever since.