Top 10 Best Christmas Action Movies
Christmas means a lot of things, to a lot of people, from open gifts with loved ones, chestnuts roasting over open fires, to a veritable host of Christmas movies that range from classics to crap. They cross a host of genres, but few have proven more fertile than the action genre, and the veritable host of Christmas action movies, whose heroes look to deck the halls with bullet holes, and put folks in the naughty list in their graves.
It may seem odd that the holiday celebrating peace and goodwill toward men has become a magnet for movies featuring explosions and violence, but Christmas action movies have become a holiday staple just as much as Christmas punch. So this Christmas, join me in counting down ten of the best.
I had a few rules making this list. First off, one entry per franchise, otherwise, this list could be filled with half the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon franchises. Second, while the entries cover a range of sub-genres, they have to have action scenes in them. Lastly, the bigger role that Christmas plays into the movie, the higher it will place on this list.
With that in mind, hang your stockings, deck your halls, and load your rifles, it’s time to countdown the Top 10 Best Christmas Action Movies of All Time:
10) The Long Kiss Goodnight
Nearly a decade before Matt Damon played Jason Bourne, Geena Davis played a single mother who, courtesy of a bad case of amnesia, forgot she was a world-class assassin for the CIA. Luckily, with the help of a private investigator played by Samuel L. Jackson, she rediscovers her past, and a very dangerous set of skills just in time for a group of baddies from her past to bum rush her before Christmas.
All in all, The Long Kiss Goodnight delivered one of the 90s most solid espionage thrillers, one that also gives us one of the great female action heroes to boot. As for why this overlooked gem should be a Christmas standby, take your pick, from a soundtrack that pits carols like ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ as the backdrop to action scenes, to a bad guy literally meeting his end by getting hung by Christmas lights.
9) Joyeux Noel
You can’t have a list of action movies without including one of several great war movies centered on Christmas, but few get into the Christmas Spirit quite as effectively as Joyeux Noel.
Focused on the few days when the guns fell silent in World War I, and the men on both sides celebrated Christmas in the trenches, Joyeux Noel tells the tale of the all too brief Christmas Truce. It opens with scenes of some of the gruesome combat of the Western Front, while the second act centers on the men coming together to celebrate Christmas, before the finale sees that peace brutally snuffed out.
It’s not a perfect film, but it is a moving one, and one that tells in equal parts triumph and tragedy, of the brief time when the Christmas spirit managed to burn brighter than the flames of war.
8) Iron Man 3
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is almost 20 movies long at this point, crossing any number of genres at this point, so we shouldn’t be all too shocked that it already has it’s very own Christmas movie, courtesy of Tony Stark and Iron Man 3.
While it’s contentious twist divides the fanboys to this day – I for one loved it – Iron Man 3 more than delivers everything we’ve come to expect from Iron Man, from explosive action scenes with mecha flying about to Tony dealing with lingering PTSD and trust issues. They both play into the movie’s Christmas setting too, meaning we get a Christmas movie that actually touches on things like being lonely during the Holidays. Also, we get to see Iron Man blow up people with Christmas decorations.
That said, I’d love to see some of the other Avengers get in on the Christmas action. Anyone up for a Thor Yuletide carol?
7) Batman Returns
The Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t get all the fun on this list, as Batman Returns delivers the Caped Crusader’s first – and to date only – Christmas movie.
Though it took fire at the time for Tim Burton taking it in a dark direction, Batman Returns delivered a thrilling Batman sequel, one that literally has Batman saving Christmas from the Penguin, Catwoman and Max Shreck’s wicked machinations. It’s not the instant classic that Batman was, and indeed, many of Tim Burton’s worst traits began to blossom here, but Batman Returns still delivers a solid superhero flick.
Better yet, there is little debate that it doubles as a Christmas movie, from an attack on the dedication of the Gotham Christmas tree, to Alfred Pennyworth decorating a tree in Wayne Manor, while Bruce thinks about the parents he lost before another Christmas all those years ago. For a superhero so often tied to Halloween, it’s kind of cool to see Christmas help play a part in one of the most unique Batman movies yet.
6) Home Alone
Don’t let the PG rating fool you – at the end of the day, Home Alone is still a movie about a kid who, using his wits and lots of improvised weaponry, brutally beats down two home invaders.
While it clearly veers more to the side of slapstick, and we don’t see much action until the third act, when it starts it throws everything it can, including the kitchen sink, into the mix. Turning toys and household items into a range of Rube Goldberg booby traps and weapons, and watching them maim, bonk, stab and burn the Wet Bandits is an utter joy. It was no picnic for the cast either – according to director Chris Columbus, half the time they had to check between takes if the stuntmen survived the antics, so how’s that for authenticity?
That said, what Home Alone lacks in action, it more than makes up for in Christmas spirit. This is still a movie where Macaulay Culkin, after a few days of me time, and one wild night of putting the beat down on some burglars, discovers that the true meaning of Christmas is sharing it with your loved ones.
5) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Superheroes aren’t the only ones who get to get into the Christmas spirit, with James Bond saving literally saving Christmas, and by extention the world, in George Lazenby’s sole outing as 007 also doubling as the James Bond Christmas Special.
Though it was widely loathed by fans of the franchise early on, for reasons ranging from it’s campiness to Lazenby’s performance, time has been kind to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which has with age, been re-appraised as one of the strongest James Bond films. It has some of the best action scenes in the first half of the Bond series, taking us from beneath the waves to the Swiss Alps, is stunningly shot, and delivers some of the most iconic visuals in the entire series.
Toss in the Christmas setting – which impacts everything from the Alpine setting, to Blofeld’s villainous plot to use a dozen brainwashed international supermodels to spread a deadly virus via Christmas presents, and even an original Christmas song, “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown” – and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the most utterly unique entries in the superspy franchise.
4) First Blood
That’s right folks – the first Rambo movie doubles as a Christmas movie, albeit a subtle one. Well, as subtle as a Rambo movie can be anyway.
I hardly need to extol about the action pedigree of First Blood or Rambo, but I do want to go into how it ties into Christmas. While later Rambo movies have Sly Stallone gunning down waves of bad guys, First Blood is much more subdued. It has vagabond Vietnam veteran John Rambo, looking for a bite to eat, only to get violently chased out of town by the local sheriff. Things escalate from there, but one of the dozens of ways to watch the film is to view it as a parable for how we treated our homecoming veterans.
This is where that Christmas spirit – or utter lack thereof – comes into play. The movie takes place in December, just before Christmas, and you can see Christmas decorations scattered around town of Hope, including a prominent Christmas tree in the police station seen during several of the movie’s key moments. It adds another gut punch to the movie’s withering critique. Not only is this a movie where a bunch of Keystone cops harass and hunt down a decorated military veteran like a wild animal, they’re doing this DURING CHRISTMAS.
Not every Christmas movie gets an uplifting message, nor a happy ending.
3) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
It seems like the only American filmmaker who loves making Christmas movies more than Frank Capra is Shane Black, who is responsible for writing about half the entries on this list. This clever little cult Christmas action movie was his directorial debut however, and it is a gem.
Opening with Robert Downey Jr. breaking into a toy store, looking for some cash and the season’s hit toy, before he gets roped into a Hollywood mystery by a private detective played by Val Kilmer. Equal parts zany madcap antics, black comedy, and neo noir private detective story, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of the more unique thrillers of the past 20 years.
It’s also unabashedly a Christmas movie, from the opening toy store break in to Michelle Monaghan dressing up in a “sexy” Santa suit for most of the third act. So if you’re looking for a Christmas murder mystery that offers up equal parts laughs and thrills, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang delivers.
2) Die Hard
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Die Hard only at number 2 on a list of Christmas action movies? Korsgaard, you absolute madman!’ Hear me out.
There is no debate that Die Hard isn’t just one of the most perfect action movies ever made, it’s one of the most perfect movies ever made, PERIOD. By this point, even if you’ve never seen Die Hard, you should have absorbed it’s highlights by osmosis. John McClane plays a cop traveling to his estranged wife’s office Christmas party, which has the awful luck to become the target of a gang of German terrorists. With a bloody tank top and a stolen machine gun in hand, he wages a one man war to stop the terrorists, save his wife and his marriage, and change the action genre forever in the process.
As an action movie, there is so much to love, from the breakout performances of Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman to the rock solid direction of John McTiernan, to some of the most famous one liners in all of cinema. As a Christmas movie, it as everything from the Christmas party gone sour, using gift wrapping tape as bandages, to the best use of “Ode to Joy” since Beethoven.
There is little debate that Die Hard is one of the all time great action movies, maybe even THE all time great action movie. So when it comes to Christmas action movies, just what movie manages to beat Die Hard for the top slot?
1) Lethal Weapon
Die Hard may be the better action movie, but Lethal Weapon is the better Christmas action movie, and it’s certainly no slouch in the action department either, delivering perhaps the greatest buddy cop movie ever made.
Sergeant Martin Riggs is a US Army veteran and hotheaded beat cop bordering on suicide since the death of his wife. Sergeant Roger Murtaugh is a family man who, nearing retirement, is all too happy to point out that he’s “getting too old for this shit”. Together, they will be pulled into one of the biggest drug busts in LA history, form a brotherly bond together, and in the end, discover the meaning for the season.
Putting aside the fact that Lethal Weapon redefined the buddy cop movie, and is an action masterpiece in its own right, it works on so many levels as a Christmas film, from it’s opening shots set to “Jingle Bell Rock” to it’s famous cocaine fueled chase through a Christmas tree lot, but where it goes further than the other movies on this list is really digging into what makes Christmas special.
The first time we meet our heroes, Murtaugh is an exhausted family man who just wants to spend more time with his family, while Riggs is suicidal, only saved from pulling the trigger by a Bugs Bunny holiday special coming on the television. Watching the two connect and learn from each other, and doing so through the lens of the Christmas season adds some holiday spirit to Lethal Weapon that so many of the others lack.
That, is ultimately why Lethal Weapon manages to beat out even Die Hard as the best Christmas action movie of all time. Die Hard and so many others wear it’s Christmas setting on its sleeve, but for Lethal Weapon, Christmas, and all that it means, for good and for bad, is the beating heart of the movie.
Merry Christmas all you action junkies!