For many years in cinema we thought of movies in a very linear way. Action movies were action movies, comedies were comedies, romantic dramas were… you get the gist. Sure, a comedy might have action here and there, but by and large you were laughing not seeing some heavy getting his face blown to bits. Over time this medium has evolved and now we will often see all the aforementioned genres mixed together to make a film that literally doesn’t have a place. Is it action? Drama? Suspense? Romantic comedy?
This whole debate gets thrown into an even bigger tailspin when we start throwing holidays into the mix. And the one holiday that seems to have crossed more genres than any is that of Christmas. I’m not saying that you’ll have a heist movie and suddenly Santa shows up with his reindeer and a bunch of elves (although that can certain happen). I’m saying that you’ll have Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) in Cobra shooting people to death with a bunch of Christmas trees around him. Christmas, sometimes, may be tangential to the story, but it’s every bit a part of the film. In fact, without it the film would cease to be the same. Don’t think so? Read this list and imagine any film on it without “the most wonderful time of the year” happening in the background.
Die Hard 2
Set again during Christmas, the next installment in the action filled life of John McClane (Bruce Willis) sees our hero attempting to avert catastrophe when a group of terrorist-types (led by the always great William Sadler) set their sights on Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Okay, Christmas-time, the airport, is there any more fertile situation for which things could go horribly wrong for John McClane? With Christmas lights and other things to remind us what time of the year it is, McClane has this time of year dampened even more by the fact that his wife just happens to be on one of the planes that could be a casualty in our bad guy’s plot. Alright, Die Hard 2 is essentially Die Hard set in an airport and also every bit a Christmas film as its predecessor.
Death Wish 3
The late Charles Bronson, at one time the biggest and most bankable actor in America, also happened to serve up a Christmas Action film in the form of Death Wish 3. When Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to New York he is sought out by a not so honest Police Chief (Ed Lauter) to clean up its crime plagued neighborhoods. Christmas serves as the backdrop for this no-holds barred tale of street justice, but it also is a classic Bronson action film all the way. With his trusty 475 Magnum in hand, Bronson doles out his own brand of Christmas spirit and turns the holidays a little redder and stomachs a little greener with his methods. While not as well known a Christmas Action film as the others on this list, Death Wish 3 more than brings the Christmas cheer throughout its 92 minutes.
With Chuck Norris’s signature line in the film being, “It’s time to die,” this is a Christmas Action movie on steroids. In this 80s classic, Christmas is the backdrop for Matt Hunter’s (Norris) return to CIA operative status. Invasion USA pulls no punches in showing the many ways that somebody can be killed throughout the holiday season. Whether it’s having your neck snapped or being shot with a bazooka, this film (which also features a battle in the most Christmas place of all… a shopping mall!) might be the gold standard of the Christmas Action genre. That it was made by the folks at Cannon Films only bolsters its credibility in this category.
While ultimately a great propaganda film about the United States superiority over Russia during the Cold War, Rocky IV is also as uplifting a Christmas movie as It’s a Wonderful Life. After losing Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to Russian Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in an exhibition bout, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) against everybody’s wishes, heads to Russia to fight Drago in a grudge match on Christmas Day. Training in the mountains, snow, and the coziness of a log cabin, if Rocky IV had any more Christmas Spirt it might be Un-American. The fact that Rocky beats Drago on the most celebrated day of consumerism, only further bolsters the propaganda angle that Rocky IV puts out. Forgetting all of that, this is a great Christmas Action film, and Rocky beating Drago and getting the Russian crowd to chant his name is a Christmas Miracle like no other.
Christmas is all over this Richard Donner masterpiece. However, at the end, when Mel Gibson and Danny Glover finally corner a deranged and very fit Gary Busey, one can’t deny the Christmas spirit that abounds in the street fight between Gibson and Busey. Cementing this film in Christmas Action movie lore is the fact that red and green colors abound, and only moments before the aforementioned fight, Busey screamed and shot up a TV showing A Christmas Carol. The characters of Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover) are the stuff of action movie/buddy cop legend, however I defy anybody who sees this film on during Christmas Day to not stop and watch it. In fact, when we meet Riggs he actually introduces himself to us with a shootout in a parking lot selling Christmas Trees. Before that, the movie opens with holiday classic, “Jingle Bell Rock”!
On the face of it, Cobra is your garden-variety Sylvester Stallone action film. He plays Marion Cobretti. A tough as nails cop who has to protect a witness (wife at the time Brigitte Nielsen) from “The New World.” This is a group whose intention is to take over America (or some such thing where they go after the “weak”), and it is up to Stallone and his candy loving partner Gonzales (Reni Santoni) to stop them. This movie isn’t overflowing with Christmas feelings. If your expecting the milquetoast vibe of Love Actually then you’re going to be severely disappointed. However, if you want shoot-outs in supermarkets and other establishments in which there are Christmas items, Cobra is as solid a Christmas Action movie as you are likely to find.
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Renny Harlin, directing from a script by Shane Black (see his other Action Christmas opus above in Lethal Weapon), has made a well crafted Action Christmas thriller with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson being at their level best. Davis plays a teacher with amnesia who, in a previous life, was also a cold blooded, hired killer. Like a lot of the films on this list, Christmas isn’t the reason for the screenplay, but it is prominently featured throughout it. In fact, there’s also a seasonal parade in which Davis must try and stop some baddies from pulling off a truly horrible scenario. Again, this film is rich in Christmas colors and cheer, and it is certain to get a positive reaction as something to watch after the Christmas meal.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Writer/Director Shane Black must love Christmas because this is another film that the Christmas Action Auteur set during the holiday. In fact, this movie kicks off with Robert Downey Jr. stealing a from a toy store! This starts a litany of events which ultimately sees Downey (with assists from Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan) embroiled in a murder mystery with both Christmas and Hollywood serving as the backdrop. Aside from being one of the funnest, wildest, and most inventive Christmas Action movies ever made, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is also one helluva film. With its snappy Shane Black dialogue and action scenes, Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect actor for this film and the Christmas Season.
This oddball Christmas Action movie features Mel Gibson in a role that is both like and unlike anything Martin Riggs ever experienced. Gibson has apparently reached that point in his career where he can and can’t play Santa Claus. His take is a dark one and it makes sense as he has a business he’s trying protect… I mean, Gibson really is Santa Claus! Meanwhile, a young kid wants to see him dead because he doesn’t like the present he received from Ol Saint Nick. Add Walton Goggins as the person trying to kill him, the US Army also needing his services and Fatman is probably the ONLY Christmas Action film that could’ve (or should’ve) come out in 2020.
This sex-filled Christmas Action movie sees Ben Affleck take on the role of dead man simply so he can hook up with the deadman’s ex (Charlize Theron). All of this makes sense until a casino heist is thrown into the mix with Affleck as an unwilling participant. As you can imagine, having just left jail, he certainly doesn’t want to go back and, well, it IS the holidays, right? Reindeer Games certainly isn’t the gold standard of the Christmas Action movie genre. However, it is in the genre, it thwarts many Christmas conventions by giving viewers sex to watch AND it is directed by none other than the legendary John Frankenheimer. He made The Manchurian Candidate in case you want something else to watch on December 25th.