Is Die hard a Christmas movie? We do not know. But let̵
If so, it’s time to retire your yippee-ki-yays and expand your action movie playlist for the holidays. All of these movies are a lot of fun – well, maybe not ‘fun’ in the holiday fun sense, but solid movies in and of themselves whether you care about the Christmas corner or not.
Deadly weapon, 1987
As a film series Deadly weapon has always played second fiddle Die hard, but the original entry is still a minor classic. The story of police versus drug dealers hits many of the same beats – LA police, psychological trauma, and of course, Christmas – but it’s a little more willing to investigate the protagonists and make them do more than a lot of real estate. It also has some heartfelt laughs in its script. Say what you want about their later work, but there has never been a better buddy cop duo than Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and those core dynamics influence action movies more than 30 years later.
Deadly weapon is rated R. It streams on HBO Max.
Maybe Bruce Willis isn’t doing his best as an actor as he did long ago in 1988. But the ensemble cast of REDincluding Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban and Mary Louise-Parker, pulls extra weight. When a retired CIA agent flirts with his retirement account manager, he unwittingly discovers a conspiracy … leading him to kidnap her (in a really nice way). They took a road trip across the country to reunite his old spy friends and get to the bottom of it. Does it have a Christmas theme? Only in the most supportive way possible. Is it fun? Ho-ho-hell yeah.
RED is rated PG-13. It streams on Fubo and Showtime.
Kiss kiss bang bang, 2005
One of my personal favorites, Kiss kiss bang bang is the sleeping action movie Robert Downey Jr. back on the map as a protagonist. The story has many parallels Die hard, also: New Yorker comes to LA for Christmas, lots of people get shot, et cetera. Kiss kiss bang bang isn’t quite a spectacle alongside other movies on this list, but the razor-sharp dialogue between burglar-turned-actor Harry (Downey), hard-boiled and very gay detective Perry (Val Kilmer), and Midwest transplant Harmony keeps you coming back. The film is also a love letter to the classic detective noir directed and written by Shane Black of Deadly weapon fame. He’s also bonded at Christmas, so this isn’t the last time he’s featured on this list.
Kiss kiss bang bang is rated R. It streams on Hoopla and can be rented everywhere.
Eyes wide closed, 1999
This thriller is actually the very last movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, or 2001, The Shining, and Dr. Strangelove fame. Eyes wide closed is more contemplative and sensual than any of the other movies on this list – people die, but no one gets shot – and the New York City setting at Christmas is insignificant. But seeing Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman on their top of the top, in a movie beautifully shot by a Hollywood master, is worth at least one viewing. Just prepare to be disturbed on a more fundamental level than any other Nightmare before Christmas rerun – this movie had to be cut down quite a bit to get its R rating.
Eyes Wide Shut has an R. It streams on Hulu.
The long kiss good night, 1996
Hey look, another “Christmas movie” written by Shane Black! This one has a lot in common with The Bourne Identity and other spy thrillers, with Geena Davis’ refreshing spin as the female protagonist. When a car accident destroys her suburban fantasy life with recovered memories of general badassery, she leaves with private eye Samuel L. Jackson to discover more about her secret past. The film received lukewarm reviews in 1996, but it has since recovered somewhat: Sam Jackson says it is one of his favorites in its absolutely gigantic filmography.
The long kiss good night is rated R. It does not currently stream via a subscription service, but it is available for rent.
The ice harvest, 2005
A rare and refreshing example of Midwest noir, taking place on a freezing Christmas Eve in Kansas. Two thieves (John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton) have just finished the take of their lives, but their escape is spoiled by frozen Wichita roads. What follows is a crazy escape through the city, where you’ll encounter interesting characters, including comics club owner Connie Nielsen and an amusingly drunken Oliver Platt. Not a particularly memorable movie in itself, I’m including it in this list because we need ‘Christmas stories’ that aren’t set in New York or Los Angeles.
The ice harvest is rated R. It streams on Peacock.
Iron Man 3, 2013
The only superhero movie on this list is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a reunion between writer and director Shane Black (who once again indulges in his love for the holidays) and Robert Downey “I am Iron Man” Jr. This third installment in the series is the most divisive: some fans of the comics don’t like the way the classic villain treats The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), but I like the twisty story and exploration of Tony Stark’s post-Avengers traumatic stress. The finale is without a doubt the most interesting action set of the solo Iron Man movies.
Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13. It streams on Disney +.
The last Boy Scout, 1991
This underrated ’91 action flick hits the hat-trick of this list: Bruce Willis starring (alongside Damon Wayans, yet another buddy
agent private investigator), the writing of Shane Black and a story set in Los Angeles. Oh, and fuzzy at Christmas time, but it really doesn’t matter. The hook is interesting: a soccer player gets a threatening call to win the game or be killed, which leads to a shooting on national TV. But the meat of the film is the tension between the protagonists, who uncover each other’s past as they investigate a conspiracy between professional athletes and government officials. Okay, not exactly happy, but the pace is great and the finale is pure Hollywood.
The last Boy Scout is rated R. It streams on Hulu.
Behind enemy lines, 2001
There are quite a few unrelated movies called “Behind Enemy Lines” – this one is from 2001, starring Owen Wilson in a brief attempt to jump into action. An American fighter pilot is gunned down over Bosnia, uncovering a local genocide and gunned down by rogue states. No less on Christmas Day. Once his co-pilot is killed, Wilson must make his way through icy European forests full of enemies to escape and uncover the plot. The movie is decent, but mostly forgettable, apart from Gene Hackman playing his typical authority figure. Skip the sequels – they’re related in name only to the original Behind Enemy Lines.
Behind enemy lines is rated PG-13 and is streamed on Starz and DirectTV.
In Bruges, 2008
It’s hard to identify assassins, but in a very low-key and very European ‘Christmas story’, Colin Farrell manages it. After a hit goes awry, his Irish mob boss (Ralph Fiennes) tells him to stay low in Bruges (roll credits!), Belgium, where he and his biting partner (Brendan Gleeson) take in the provincial landmarks as they contemplate his depression. In Bruges is not really a Christmas movie or a gangster movie, but the small moments of character in the short run make it memorable, and the gothic, tinsel-speckled scenery is fresh and interesting.
In Bruges has the classification R. It can be rented almost everywhere.
Keep in mind that the streaming services listed above are based in the United States, and since streaming is what it is, they can change based on the time or where you are reading this. If you want something that’s a little deeper, a more definitive Christmas theme, and a lot more unhinged, check out Happy! on Netflix.