Move over, Miracle on 34th Street. Sorry, It's a Wonderful Life. It's become a tradition among movie fans as common as eggnog and mistletoe. Every year, more and more people choose Die Hard as their favorite Christmas film. Is it really a holiday film? Wherever you fall on the spectrum with this debate, one thing is certain: Die Hard is certainly set during Christmas, with plenty of Christmas related moments. Why stop there? Suddenly a whole library of cinema classics opens up like the wallet of a post-ghost visit Ebenezer Scrooge, from Kubrick to a stocking full of Robert Downey Jr. Here we'll look at 12 Christmas classics that aren't about Christmas.
Let's start here, as the rightly revered action masterpiece tends to kick off this conversation every December. Die Hard, of course, takes place in an L.A. high rise under siege by a group of thieves masquerading as politically motivated terrorists, with only a single off-duty New York City cop standing in their way. John McClane came to town hoping to reconcile with his estranged wife, never expecting her office Christmas party to be crashed by Hans Gruber and his pals. From the message he sends after defeating his first bad guy to the song that plays over the closing credits, Die Hard is packed with more subversive Christmas cheer than Santa Claus packing a fistful of mistletoe.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
In many ways, Die Hard 2: Die Harder was a retread of the original, switching the setting from a high-rise building to an airport. In fairness, the Die Hard franchise had every right to rip off itself, as opposed to the copycat movies, like Die Hard on a bus (Speed), Die Hard on a boat (Speed 2: Cruise Control), Die Hard on a Navy ship (Under Siege), Die Hard on a train (Under Siege 2: Dark Territory), and one of our favorites at MovieWeb, Die Hard in a hockey rink (Sudden Death). Like its predecessor, Die Hard 2 takes place on Christmas Eve, one of the roughest times to be stuck at an airport.
Die Hard gets all of the Christmastime action movie glory, but Lethal Weapon actually hit theaters the year before. Both films kicked off what became long-running and lucrative franchises. Lethal Weapon opens to the sounds of "Jingle Bell Rock," staged a shootout in a Christmas tree lot, and ended with Danny Glover's character inviting his crazy partner, played by Mel Gibson, to his family Christmas.
In a 2017 editorial, The Guardian noted that plenty of festive classics "contain more than their fair share of murder, suicide, and doomed relationships," with Trading Places toward the top of the list of movies that combine merriment and mayhem. The mix of social commentary and comedy helped cement the movie stardom of Eddie Murphy, released a year after the buddy cop comedy 48 Hours and a year before Beverly Hills Cop. One of the movie's best sequences features Dan Akroyd in a dirty Santa suit, stuffing assorted meats into his pockets and waving a gun around.
There'd have been no reason to worry about bright light, water or late night feedings if Billy's dad wasn't out Christmas shopping in the first place. All of the action in the brilliant horror-comedy kicks off with Gizmo, the cute little mogwai Christmas present who inadvertently sends a whole town into Christmastime chaos. The Gremlins Christmas Eve reign of terror ends, naturally, in a department store.
The fourth installment of the underdog pugilist franchise is best remembered for death of Rocky rival turned BFF Apollo Creed and the introduction of titular villain Ivan Drago. Rocky IV was released over the holidays in 1985 and the Cold War climax, where Rocky faces Drago in the Soviet Union, takes place on Christmas Day.
Less than Zero
There's certainly a "snow" pun to be made about Less Than Zero, the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation starring Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz, a movie that pit Robert Downey Jr. against James Spader more than 25 years before Avengers: Age of Ultron. The troubled college aged kids of Less Than Zero come together during Christmas vacation, with plenty of Christmas parties on-hand to tempt them onto the naughty list.
Kiss Kiss Big Bang
After Robert Downey Jr.'s real-life troubles threatened to completely derail his career, his star went back on the rise thanks to the dark comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, written and directed by Shane Black. Did we mention he wrote Lethal Weapon?
The Nice Guys
Shane Black loves Christmas! Like Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys is another buddy cop type action movie set at Christmastime, this one starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. In a 2016 interview with EW, the celebrated filmmaker recalled the first time he noticed Christmas as a backdrop was in Three Days of the Condor, the 1975 Robert Redford spy drama directed by Sydney Pollack.
Iron Man 3
To quote another Marvel Comics hero: Sweet Christmas! Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. certainly love an unconventional Christmas! Struggling with PTSD after the Battle of New York depicted in The Avengers, Tony Stark is in contemplation mode in Iron Man 3, like many of us during the seasonal Yuletide slowdown. There's even a great scene in Tony's lab where he tinkers to the sounds of "Jingle Bells."
Why should the Marvel Universe have all of the fun? Twenty years earlier, Gotham City's Caped Crusader got in on the Christmastime comic book movie action in Batman Returns, the second and last of the Batman movies from the Dynamic Duo of Michael Keaton and director Tim Burton. Batman Returns is filled with Christmas trees, Christmas presents (big and small), and some sexy Bat/Cat mistletoe action.
Eyes Wide Shut
Did we say sexy action? Stanley Kubrick's final film is filled with sexual tension, sexual innuendo, and of course, actual sex. It's also filled with holiday lights, lots of them. Kubrick's obsession with lighting is well documented, from the candlelight of Barry Lyndon to the big bright lights that burned down The Shining sets. Furthermore Eyes Wide Shut starts at a Christmas party and finishes in a toy store.