In the cinema we thought about films in a very linear way for many years. Action films were action films, comedies were comedies, romantic dramas were … You get the point. Sure, a comedy might have some action here and there, but by and large you laughed when you didn’t see a heavy guy tear his face to pieces. Over time this medium has evolved and now we will often see all of the above genres mixed together to make a movie that literally has no place. Is it action? Theatre? Tension? Romantic comedy?
This whole debate becomes even more conflicted when we start throwing holidays into the mix. And the only holiday that seems to have crossed more genres than anyone is that of Christmas. I’m not saying you are going to have a robbery movie and suddenly Santa Claus shows up with his reindeer and a bunch of elves (although that is sure to happen). I say Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) in Cobra shoots people with a pile of Christmas trees around him. Christmas may be tangent to the story at times, but it’s part of the movie in every way. In fact, without him the movie would cease to be the same. Do not you think? Read this list and imagine a movie on it without “the best time of the year” happening in the background.
Die hard 2
In the next episode of the action-packed life of John McClane (Bruce Willis), our hero tries again to avert disaster when a group of terrorist guys (led by the always great William Sadler) targets Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC Okay, at Christmas time, at the airport, is there a more fertile situation in which John McClane could go horribly wrong? With Christmas lights and other things to remind us of what time it is, McClane has made this time of the year even more muted by the fact that his wife happens to be on one of the planes that could be a victim in our evil act. Okay, Die Hard 2 is essentially Die Hard at an airport and in every way a Christmas movie as a predecessor.
Death wish 3
The late Charles Bronson, once the greatest and most bankable actor in America, also happened to make a Christmas action movie in the form of Death Wish 3. When Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to New York, he is wanted by a not-so-honest police chief (Ed Lauter) who is cleaning up his crime-ridden neighborhoods. Christmas serves as the backdrop for this street justice story, but it’s also a classic Bronson action film. With his trusty 475 Magnum in hand, Bronson is spreading his own Christmas cheer and using his methods to make the holidays a little redder and the stomach a little greener. Death Wish 3 may not be as famous a Christmas action film as the others on this list, but it brings more than just the Christmas cheer in its 92 minutes.
With Chuck Norris’ signature on “It’s Time to Die”, this is a Christmas action movie about steroids. Christmas sets the scene for Matt Hunter (Norris) return to CIA status in this’ 80s classic. Invasion USA tirelessly shows how many people can be killed during the holiday season. Whether you’re getting your neck torn or shot with a bazooka, this movie (which also features a battle in the most Christmassy place ever … in a mall!) Could be the gold standard of the Christmas action genre. That it was done by the folks at Cannon Films only adds to its credibility in that category.
While Rocky IV is ultimately a great propaganda film about the superiority of the United States over Russia during the Cold War, it raises a Christmas film as well as It’s a Wonderful Life. After Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) lost Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in an exhibition match against Russian Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), he travels to Russia against all wishes to fight Drago in a grudge game on Christmas Day. Training in the mountains, snow and the coziness of a log cabin, if Rocky IV had even more Christmas spirit it could be un-American. The fact that Rocky Drago hits on the most famous day of consumption only further strengthens the angle of propaganda that Rocky IV highlights. Forgetting all of that is a great Christmas action movie, and Rocky beating Drago and getting the Russian crowd to sing his name is a Christmas miracle like no other.
Christmas is everywhere in this masterpiece by Richard Donner. In the end, when Mel Gibson and Danny Glover finally corner a crazy and very fit Gary Busey, there is no denying the Christmas spirit that abounds in the street fight between Gibson and Busey. The cementing of this film in the action film’s Christmas story is the fact that there are lots of red and green colors, and just moments before the aforementioned fight, Busey yelled and turned a TV with A Christmas Carol. The characters of Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover) are the stuff of the action movie / buddy cop legend, but I won’t brave anyone who sees this movie on Christmas Day from stopping and watching. When we meet Riggs, he actually introduces himself to us with a gunfight in a parking lot selling Christmas trees. Before that, the film begins with the Christmas classic “Jingle Bell Rock”!
At first glance, Cobra is your Sylvester Stallone action film. He plays Marion Cobretti. A tough policeman who has to protect a witness (Brigitte Nielsen’s wife at the time) from “The New World”. This is a group whose intent is to take over America (or something like that where they chase after the “weak”) and it’s up to Stallone and his candy-loving partner Gonzales (Reni Santoni) to stop them. This film is not overflowing with Christmas feelings. If you are expecting the milquetoast mood of love then you will be severely disappointed. However, if you’re looking to go shooting in supermarkets and other establishments selling Christmas items, Cobra is as solid a Christmas action film as you are likely to find it.
The long kiss good night
Renny Harlin has made a well-made Action Christmas thriller from a script by Shane Black (see his other Action Christmas opus above in Lethal Weapon) with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson at their best. Davis plays a teacher with amnesia who was also a cold-blooded hired killer in a previous life. Like many of the films on this list, Christmas isn’t the reason for the script, but it is highlighted everywhere. In fact, there’s also a seasonal parade where Davis has to try to stop some bad guys from pulling off a really terrifying scenario. This movie is also full of Christmas colors and cheers and is sure to generate a positive response after the Christmas dinner.
Kiss kiss bang bang
Writer / director Shane Black has to love Christmas because this is another movie the Christmas action author made over the holidays. In fact, this movie starts with Robert Downey Jr. stealing one from a toy store! This begins a litany of events in which Downey (with the assistance of Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan) is ultimately embroiled in a crime thriller, with both Christmas and Hollywood as the backdrop. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is not only one of the funniest, wildest and most imaginative Christmas action films of all time, it’s also a movie from hell. Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect actor for this movie and the holiday season with his snappy Shane Black dialogue and action scenes.
In this weird Christmas action film, Mel Gibson stars in a role similar to Martin Riggs and everything he’s ever seen. Gibson has apparently reached the point in his career where he can and cannot play Santa Claus. His attitude is dark and it makes sense since he has a business that he wants to protect … I mean, Gibson really is Santa! Meanwhile, a young child wants to see him dead because he doesn’t like the gift he received from Ol Saint Nick. Add Walton Goggins as the person trying to kill him, the US Army needs his services too, and Fatman is probably the ONLY Christmas action film that could (or should) have come out in 2020.
In this sex-laden Christmas action film, Ben Affleck takes on the role of the dead so he can meet up with the dead man’s ex (Charlize Theron). All of this makes sense until a casino heist with Affleck as an unwilling participant is thrown into the mix. As you can imagine, having just left prison there is no way he wants to go back and it’s the holidays, right? Reindeer games are certainly not the gold standard of the Christmas promotion genre. It’s in the genre, however, it thwarts a lot of Christmas conventions by giving viewers sex to watch AND it’s staged by none other than the legendary John Frankenheimer. He made The Manchurian Candidate in case you want to see something else on December 25th.
Longtime Movieweb contributor who uploaded 1-minute movie reviews to the internet via AOL before Youtube or social media. I make tons of direct movies that you can find on Amazon & Vimeo. DVDs are back and I like it!