What is a Christmas movie?
That’s the question that has been haunting human civilization since Al Gore created the Internet, and by the transitive property Twitter. Intellectuals will say any movie that has Christmas “as a character” is a Christmas movie. Sure. I get it, it’s pretentious, but I get it. A more layman’s definition of Christmas movie is a movie you watch around Christmas time. Also solid logic, until you get to those illogical people that watch fucked up movies on Christmas to spite the idea of Christmas spirit. Either way, it’s fairly straightforward. There will always be people arguing that Home Alone (I know, but they exist) and Love Actually are not Christmas movies, those people, for the purposes of this piece, can fuck off. What we’re here to debate is at the heart and soul of what I’m calling The Die Hard Christmas Controversy.
The natural evolution of “is this a Christmas movie” question always leads to the real question of Christmas, is Rudolph actually the first X-man, but after that it’s is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Now the second you read that you say the answer in your head… yes. Yes of course, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Why, because everyone thinks so, and the writer himself laid out the best argument and did it in a way even the least literate among us can understand… A chart!
He said if Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie then neither is White Christmas and to disagree is to deny an infographic which is the holiest of facts presented in the most understanding way. We can agree that it does make sense and while the idea of a German Ringleader being a qualification necessary for a Christmas movie is thought provoking (Joe Pesci playing a German in Home Alone) it’s not necessary. What is necessary though, are conditions. Using the “scientific method” or whatever I remember from school as being the scientific method I’ll determine what movies are action Christmas movies and which ones you should actually watch.
Condition #1 - What is an action movie? According to extensive (3 wikipedia pages) Internet research, an action movie is a film in which protagonists are sent into a difficult series of challenges often including violence, life-threatening situations, extended fighting sequences, feats of strength and frantic chases. Book it. We can quibble over details but quibbling something Professor Quirrell probably did which is why he was weak enough for Voldemort to take the back of his head.
Condition #2 - Must take place on Christmas. Can you be a Christmas movie and not feature Christmas? No. Does the whole movie have to take place on that day, also a no, but Christmastime has to be a feature.
Condition #3 - It’s not enough to just take place on Christmas, there must be Christmas cues involved when handing out the title of Christmas Action movie. This would include but not be limited to, Christmas music, Santas, Snow, phrases like “Ho, ho, ho" “Merry Christmas” “Bah Humbug” etc, and of course Christmas puns like “Santa doesn’t have to put up with this shit.” or “Let it snow,” (has to be in reference to a bad guy talking about cocaine).
Condition #4 - The last condition is the most important. It has to be an action movie first, Christmas movie second. This would in theory eliminate Christmas movies that involve action like Home Alone (though I’m open to the argument) and The Grinch (which involves more violence than you remember).
Top 5 Action Christmas Films of All-Time
Gremlins: Although maybe more of a horror film than action, there is a lot of action in the movie I once hailed as The Scariest Movie I’d ever seen (I was young). The best part about Gremlins is mostly the fact that is is a Christmas movie! There are songs, hats, and the spirit of Christmas is alive and well, until the murdering and whatnot. Great film and definitely worth your time this Christmas.
Batman Returns: A top 5 Batman movie… OK top 7 minimum, Batman Returns features the best Catwoman, Pfeiff dog, and one of our best Batmen, Michael Keaton, in a BATMAN MOVIE SET AT CHRISTMAS! What more could you want? Perhaps a better plot and it being less weird, but telling Tim Burton to be less weird is like telling Denzel Washington to be less The Man. This Batman feature grows better with age and who knows, if Keaton had been able to actually move his head in this movie maybe it would be even better, but as far act Action and Christmas goes, this movie is the hot coco with a little Schnapps that you crave.
Rocky IV: This is the most iffy on the list. Rocky IV has action, montages, death, and more montages, but what is so Christmas about it? There are three factors to consider. The fight with Drago is on Christmas day, Rocky frolicking through the snow for 1.5 montages, and Rocky tells his kid Merry Christmas after he wins the fight. I get the Christmas spirit just thinking about it. If you want to quibble over the “details” fine I get it, but I would rather live in a world where Rocky IV is an Action Christmas movie.
The Long Kiss Goodnight: Haven’t seen it, but it has Samuel L. Jackson and Geena Davis so 4/4 stars.
Harry Potter Series: Happy Christmas, Ron. Happy Christmas, Harry. Are there any two more iconic Merry Christmases since the words have ever been uttered. Truly not, and just one game of quidditch will qualify it as action, why not!
#1 (under 25%) Reindeer Games (2000) - 25% Rotten
It’s all fun and games until you add a reindeer, nudity, Ben Affleck and Gary Sinise with legs. What may be the sexiest Christmas movie of all time is #10 on our Action Christmas movies list. It meet all the requirements and then some. It’s also the only movie on the list that we did an entire podcast on. So listen to that!
The biggest question about Reindeer Games is what went wrong? It is directed by one of the best action directors of all time, starring legitimate stars of that time, involved santas robbing a casino, and had boobs. This should’ve been the type of movie that a group of young men would gather around with a couple of 40s taped to each of their hands and celebrate Christmas together. The good news though, is that this movie is still ridiculous enough to enjoy at all times, the bad news is that it doesn’t make any sense.
Even though Reindeer Games isn’t even close to being the best action movie or Christmas movie it has oddly cemented itself as one of the best Action Christmas movies of all time. In this film Christmas flows through the film like blood flows out of the bullet holes from just about every character. Though this movie is last on the list it’s the only film that is undeniably an Action Christmas movie. You haven’t seen and will never see another movie like this, and remember it is the sexiest Chistmas movie of all time… probably.
#5 - Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) - 85%
Action: Yes | Christmas: Yes | Christmas cue: Party/Music | Action> Xmas: Yes
It’s not often that a movie can be a renaissance for it’s two main stars and a return to form for one of the greatest Action Christmas writers of all time, but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is just that. Featuring RDJ on his way to Iron Man and Val Kilmer’s return to glory this Shane Black feature is actually one of the best crime thrillers made in the 2000s. Smart, funny, and sexy (Michelle Monaghan) Kiss Kiss may actually be Shane Blacks best written movie of his career. Don’t tell anyone I said that.
This film may be less action than crime, but as Val Kilmer would say, fuck it. There’s violence, chase scenes, bad guys, good guys, funny guys, wise guys, and murder. That qualifies. It’s an LA Christmas movie so all of our holiday cues are from parties, music, and the very nice Christmas skirt Michelle’s employers make her wear. If you don’t think that is enough then we fundamentally agree on the Christmas spirit and can’t be friends. Honestly, while we’re disagreeing, I’ll go ahead and say this movie actually may (subjectively) be the best film on this list. Watch it.
#4 - Enemy of the State (1998) - 71% Fresh
Action: Yes | Christmas: Yes | Christmas cue: Presents/Music | Action> Xmas: Yes
Some may say this is the last great pre smartphone film, those people are me and I haven’t done any research but I stand by my claim. Many people think this movie is about Big Brother government and conspiracy theories, etc, when in reality this movie is about a man trying to buy his wife a Christmas present, in the snow. That’s Christmas in a nutshell. If that nutshell also involves murdered senators, early government surveillance, and Will Smith. Who would object to that Christmas?
Enemy of the State was made in 1998 and holds up 20 years later. It came about at the perfect time, right before smartphones became too smart but right after technology played a role in movies. Taught, fraught, and full of tension this film is more relevant today than it was even 20 years ago, and while Will Smith has a penchant for low key Christmas movies (Pursuit of Happyness, Collateral Beauty) this may be the best Christmas movie he never knew he made. The action is there, and the Christmas of it all plays just enough of a role for it to count as one of the best Action Christmas movies of all time.
Will Smith ever make a good Christmas movie again?
#3 - Die Hard 2 (1990) - 68% Fresh
Action: Yes | Christmas: Yes | Christmas cue: traveling | Action> Xmas: Yes
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and what could possibly be more Christmas themed than traveling on Christmas Eve. Sure, it takes a certain type of sociopath to brave the holidays at an airport but then again you’ve met Bonnie Bedilia the queen of last minute Christmas planning. The fact that this movie takes place in an airport is automatically qualifying it as a Christmas movie. What else does the sequel provide in the way of Christmastime, actual snow! Too much snow. It’s a blizzard which tends to be much more conducive to the Christmas spirit than a balmy December in Los Angeles.
There are a lot of things that don’t add up in this movie, like the physics of planes or like terrorists thinking they can stop one plane and fly out on another unscathed. Has this plan ever worked in the history of plans? In the end who cares because if you’re the type of person that needs an action film to make sense you’re doing it wrong. The fact that an action sequel is still well regarded to this day is perhaps its most impressive feat.
Props to the studio executives for not naming this movie Die Harder.
#2 - Lethal Weapon (1987) - 83% Fresh
Action: Yes | Christmas: Yes | Christmas cue: Family/Weapons/trees | Action> Xmas: Yes
The rumors are true, Lethal Weapon is actually the original Action Christmas film laying the groundwork Bruce and the Die Hard team. Some may argue that Lethal Weapon is actually the best Action Christmas movie and I’m not ready to go that far, but it does meet the conditions. Action, fuck yeah. Takes place on or around Christmas, Santa says yes, the movie ends with Christmas dinner. Christmas cues… there are 5 different Christmas tracks listed on the movie soundtracks and a scene featuring guns at a Christmas tree farm, so yes. Is it more action than Christmas… are you a little more country and I’m a little more Rock n Roll, that’s a yes.
Lethal Weapon has not aged as well as Die Hard and that’s mostly because Mel Gibson is just the worst, but any movie with Danny Glover can’t be that bad. It may not have the Christmas puns but it does have the true meaning of Christmas; weaponry, and in a close second, family. Though I fundamentally disagree with referring to a person as a “lethal weapon” I do fundamentally agree that even Lethal Weapons need family during the holidays. Lastly, another shout out to Shane Black the writer for figuring out that Christmas is a motif and exploiting it in damn near every movie he can.
I look forward to getting into debates about Lethal Weapon being a Christmas movie in the future and welcome all comers.
#1 - Die Hard (1988) - 93% Fresh
Action: Yes | Christmas: Yes | Christmas cue: Party | Action> Xmas: Yes
If you’re reading this then you automatically agree Die Hard is the best Action Christmas movie of all time. What hasn’t been said about this John McTiernan masterpiece? Blending eccentric and realistic action seamlessly with rated R fun and games. Featuring Bruce Willis at his most likable and Alan Rickman in one of his best career roles making a guy named Hans Gruber not a total joke of a villain.
Rather than regurgitating everything you’ve already heard, I want to focus on one specific thing… the party. By all means this looked like one of the worst office Christmas parties you’ve ever seen. Did anyone seem to be having a good time, except for the cokehead. No, and in the long standing tradition of Christmas parties it was ruined and made by people that weren’t specifically invited to the party. Hans makes the party exciting, aside from Takagi who died real quick, and it was given a happy ending by Bruce albeit with much more killing involved. That is the most Christmas thing about this movie, well that and Hans saying “Ho. Ho. Hooo.”
Go watch Die Hard right now.