The holidays are a time for peace on Earth and good will towards man. So movies set at that time often involve heartwarming and cute scenes like Tiny Tim saying, “God bless us everyone;” Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls wishing everybody a, “Merry Christmas;” and the guy from The Walking Dead telling Kiera Knightly that she’s perfect. That’s fine, and those are some scenes from good movies, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a good action sequence at Christmas time. In fact, it can be a lot of fun to watch brave heroes and heroines battle to preserve the spirit of the season. So, if you’re in the mood for some mayhem to go along with your cheer, here are several exciting holiday classics to consider:
Die Hard (1988) & Die Hard 2 (1990)
These are the two films that probably come to mind when most people think about Christmas action movies, and for good reason, too. Watching a lone everyman (granted, his everyman quality tended to diminish as the film franchise went on), John McClane, try to save Christmas from an army of bad guys is a lot of fun, especially when their leader is Alan Rickman. The tension, humor, and Rickman’s villainy make the first film one of the greatest action movies of all time, but the sequel where McClane tries to liberate a busy holiday airport from the grip of William Sadler’s rogue military unit is a lot of fun, too.
If the first Die Hard is already a regularly part of your holiday viewing, you might want to try reading the novel it's based on, Roderick Thorp's Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a much darker and grittier story. It features an older protagonist named Joe Leland, but it's still fantastic. I'm currently reading 58 Minutes by Walter Wager, which was the inspiration for Die Hard 2.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Now we come to the first film in this list by the man who’s the King of Christmas Action Movies: writer and later director Shane Black. Black's script, which pits Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s pair of mismatched cops against a Special Forces unit out to take over the Los Angeles criminal underworld, is a great blend of grit, excitement, and humor. It's also full of interesting and amusing holiday touches like the opening credits sequence scored with Jingle Bell Rock, a shoot-out at a tree lot, and a finale that takes place inside and on the front lawn of suburban LA home that's decked out for Christmas.
Batman Returns (1992)
Because Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy revolutionized what a Batman film can be, many people have forgotten about the earlier cinematic adventures of Gotham City's defender. If you're one of them, go back and take a look at this fun and beautiful-looking film from director Tim Burton, written by Daniel Waters. In the movie, which is set at Christmas time, Michael Keaton's Batman takes on a triumvirate of villains: Danny Devito's grotesque Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer's vengeful Catwoman, and Christopher Walken's greedy businessmen that are wreaking havoc on the city. The festive holiday elements and the gothic facets of Batman's world are juxtaposed in a way that makes the film hauntingly beautiful.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Shane Black's second entry on this list, which he both wrote and directed, is a hilarious and fun buddy action comedy that team's Robert Downey Jr's inept thief with Val Kilmer's private eye to the stars. In the film Downey's Harry Lockhart stumbles into an audition for a Hollywood action film and is flown to LA at Christmas time to receive “Detective Lessons” from Kilmer's Perry Van Shreck. Together the duo uncover a deadly conspiracy involving one Harry's old flames. Downey, whose character serves as the film's first person narrator is hilarious and Kilmer's cynical P.I is even funnier. Plus you get some cool action sequences set against the seedy and over glamorized world that is Los Angeles during Christmas.
The Last Boy Scout (1991) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
In addition to the two films I discussed earlier, Shane Black also penned these slam-bang action movies set at Christmas. The first must make Bruce Willis at the least the prince of the Christmas action movie stars.
While both of these have their fun moments, I didn't care for them as much as Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or Black's latest film…
Iron Man 3 (2013)
… which he directed and co-wrote, and is also set during the Holiday Season. In Iron Man 3, Downey delivers the funny quippy dialogue that fans have come to expect, but there's also a sort of A Christmas Carol vibe to the film. That's because Tony Stark, who is suffering from PTSD after almost dying in The Avengers feature film, has begun to take a long of things for granted. It takes an almost Ghost of Christmas Past-style encounter with a young Kid named Harley (with whom he has some hilarious dialogue) to wake him up to realize he needs to take the battle to his enemies. Then, when he does, you get some really cool action sequences.
I think you'll agree things like Batman wishing Alfred a, “Merry Christmas and good will towards men. . . and women” is just as legitimate a Christmas sentiment as Hugh Grant and his bodyguard singing carols to little girls. So try the movies I listed here if you're looking for a way to liven up your holiday film fest with some fun, excitement, and explosions!