It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually, and Home Alone remain a few of the most popular Christmas movies. We may have nothing against any of those films of course, yet the fact remains once you (spoilers) know that Clarence gets his wings, love conquers all, and that Kevin somehow didn’t kill anyone while defending his home, we’re left wanting more. In fact, the latter entry only serves to bridge to the “harder stuff” — as in the two Die Hard Christmas action movies.
In recent years, there has been a serious debate as to whether Die Hard and its sequel Die Hard 2 should even be seen as Christmas films, but the fact remains there are plenty of reasons that the case could be made in their favor. There is holiday cheer in each, and both take place on Christmas Eve. While the wife is named Holly, it is truly a Christmas miracle that John McClane manages to survive each ordeal.
So, starting with the Die Hard movies here’s a round-up of Christmas action movie classics to enjoy.
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard isn’t the only action-packed film to be set during the Christmas holidays, but it remains among the very best. It also launched a genre of action films where a lone protagonist must defeat a cadre of bad guys in an isolated environment. In this case, it was a newly constructed office building.
However, what is often forgotten about Die Hard is that McClane could have been played by Frank Sinatra! That’s because the film was an adaptation of Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which was a sequel to his book The Detective. That latter book was made into the 1969 film starring Old Blue Eyes.
The setting of Nothing Lasts Forever further reaffirms that this is a Christmas story, as the novel was also set on Christmas Eve with retired NYPD Joe Leland visiting his daughter Stephanie Leland Gennaro at her office in the 40-story HQ of Klaxon Oil Corporation in Los Angeles. The book has a far less jolly conclusion, but many of the other details remain the same.
Finally, while Die Hard was released more than a decade earlier, seeing Alan Rickman get shot out of Nakatomi Tower is fitting punishment for his character’s infidelity in Love Actually.
Die Hard 2 (1990)
After the original proved to be such a success that it resulted in a sequel, Die Hard 2, which was actually adapted from an unrelated yet similar detective story. In this case, it was Walter Wager’s 1987 novel 58 Minutes, in which a police officer must stop terrorists who took over an airport while his daughter’s plane circles overhead. Once again the source material had a Christmas setting — but the film’s location was changed from New York’s JFK to Washington Dulles.
Die Hard 2 also has the distinction of largely introducing the world to the “Glock 7,” which is described as a porcelain gun made in Germany. It apparently doesn’t show up on airport X-ray machines and it would cost more than what the Washington D.C. Airport’s chief of security makes in a month. To most gun experts it appears to be a polymer-framed Glock 17, suggesting that McClane isn’t exactly the most reliable expert on firearms.
As for the Christmas connection, it features no shortage of insanity and hysteria at an airport — something most of us can relate to, especially during the holidays.
And if after a duo of Die Hard outings, you’re still up for some holiday mayhem, there are a few other action-packed holiday films to choose from.
The Long Kiss Good Night (1996)
Geena Davis might not seem like an action star, but that’s part of the appeal of 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight, directed by Renny Harlin (who was married to Davis at the time). The film follows a seemingly mild-mannered school teacher. Discovered eight years earlier by the locals of a picturesque Upstate New York town (where it is probably always Christmas), she was pregnant and suffering from amnesia.
Apparently, no one suspected she was faking, and this was before everything was online and her presence would have been all over Facebook. Yet, after a car accident that left her with a brief concussion, she finds she has skills she can’t remember — cool, seemingly deadly skills!
Eventually, her past catches up with her and it is discovered that Davis’ character was really (plot twist) a former CIA assassin. So, along with a lowlife private detective, she takes part in a somewhat confusing, yet still rewarding holiday-themed adventure. The film offers plenty of witty dialog and a fair amount of action, and by the end, The Long Kiss Goodnight helps deliver a rousing action-filled Christmas story of redemption. Davis even appears at one point as Mrs. Santa, so clearly it must be a Christmas film.
Even hardcore fans of this one may be forgiven for missing initially that it is an action Christmas film, but this 1998 film from director John Frankenheimer, features French carols and even offers the joke, “What do you want for Christmas?”
More importantly, it has the feelings of what the holidays have all too often become for many.
A group of former intelligence operatives turned mercenaries (aka Ronin) are on the hunt for what could be the perfect gift (or perhaps suitcase nuke, we’re not sure), and they’ll stop at literally nothing to get it, and that includes a wild car chase through the streets of Paris, and a few double-crosses along the way. By the end, everyone goes their separate ways but it was a holiday like no other. The Arnold Schwarzenegger film Jingle All the Way has a plot that wasn’t that different, but Ronin is so much better at capturing the Christmas spirit!
Reindeer Games (2000)
This one was originally going to be released as Deception, but Reindeer Games is a bit more to the point. While it was initially a box office failure — being released in late February 2000 probably didn’t help — it has become a cult holiday classic, even if it takes a bit too long to get to the payoff.
Ben Affleck stars as paroled car thief Nick Cassidy, who pretends to be his deceased cellmate Rudy Duncan so that he can get it on with Duncan’s pen-pal girlfriend Ashley (Charlize Theron), who in turn seems to be working with wannabe gangster “Monster” (Gary Sinise). At one point Ashley and Monster are supposed to be siblings, but then they’re lovers. This is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so it could be both (Writers comment: I have family from there so I can make that joke).
Reindeer Games is largely a middling story of deception (hence the alternate title) as Monster and his crew are planning to rob a casino and need Rudy’s insight to pull it off. If it sounds confusing, even after repeated viewings it never makes a ton of sense, but it does feature an action-packed casino heist on Christmas Eve — involving multiple Santas. This is one of those films where you can skip ahead to the climax, as it really delivers the goods in the end.
The Wild Geese (1978)
It has been argued that it was Die Hard that was the first action Christmas film, but that’s not quite correct. While this list includes many of the films that came after the release of Die Hard, there is another action film that was released a decade earlier: The Wild Geese.
Based loosely on a rumored, not to mention bungled 1968 raid by the late “Gentleman Mercenary” Mad Mike Hoare of Five Commando, the film starred Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, and Hardy Krüger as a highly trained and financed team of soldiers of fortune who are charged with rescuing a deposed African leader from prison. Things don’t go exactly as planned — like many Christmas gatherings.
The 1978 film, which was shot on location in South Africa, is pure nonsense from beginning to end, yet it is a delightfully over-the-top romp that would totally upset today’s “woke” youth. It is filled with dated stereotypes, needless violence and has a plot that at times makes little sense in repeated viewings. The main “mission” takes place on Christmas Day, and that’s enough to make it the original Christmas action film in our book. The fact that today’s PC crowd would hate every second of it, well, that just makes it all the better.
Honorable Mention: Joyeux Noël (2005)
There is no denying that this war drama is a Christmas film. Set during the First World War, it even opens with a failed Allied assault across no man’s land and into the German trenches. Yet instead of highlighting the horrors of trench warfare, it is actually a fictionalized telling of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
After a day of watching Christmas action movies, perhaps it wouldn’t be bad to settle in for a film that highlights how on the day that marks the birth of Christ, even the most hardened of enemies could put down their weapons for a few hours and be civil to one another. Perhaps in our divided nation, where we can barely agree on anything, that might not be the worst thing to enjoy.
Additionally, history buffs can still delight at the attention to detail. The uniforms, equipment, and small arms are spot on. Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) indeed!