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10 Best Christmas Action Movies, Ranked

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10 Best Christmas Action Movies, Ranked


Summary

  • Action movies and Christmas make a surprisingly good pair, with some films using the festive setting to add a comically ironic twist to their bloodletting and brutality.
  • Christmas horror movies and action movies that subvert the cozy image of the holiday season are worth exploring for those looking for a darker and bloodier take on Christmas entertainment.
  • Some of the best action movies set at Christmas include Violent Night, Batman Returns, and Die Hard, which offer enjoyable and unconventional holiday movie experiences with plenty of action and humor.


While the Christmas season and action movies might seem like an unlikely pairing, a look at some of the genre’s best festive offerings proves that they go together pretty well. The phrase “Christmas movie” typically conjures up images of family-friendly entertainment. From classic Christmas movies like It’s A Wonderful Life to more recent family comedies like Home Alone or Elf, Christmas movies are often thought to be life-affirming classics that are largely suitable for all ages. The Hallmark Channel has built an entire brand on tailoring rom-coms to the festive season, with sentimental stories of talking nutcrackers, magic Christmas trees, and innumerable princes falling in love over Christmas.

However, there are also plenty of movies that subvert this cozy image. Christmas horror movies are famous for making the season terrifying, since it is easy for filmmakers to twist the sweet family-friendly image of Christmas into something darker. However, some of the best action movies ever made are also set at Christmas, and many great entries in the genre use a festive setting to make their bloodletting and brutality comically ironic. From a pair of vengeance-fueled Santa Clauses to a criminally underrated Dolph Lundgren vehicle, there are a lot of classic Christmas action movies.


10 Violent Night (2022)

The killer Santa movie is a lot of bloody fun

Violent Night

Release Date
December 2, 2022

Cast
David Harbour , John Leguizamo , Beverly D’Angelo , Cam Gigandet , Brendan Fletcher , Edi Patterson , Alex Hassell

2022’s Violent Night sees David Harbour star as a muscled, irascible version of Santa Claus who saves a rich family from bloodthirsty mercenaries on Christmas Eve. Harbour is perfectly cast as this brooding take on Saint Nicholas, while John Leguizamo is in typically great scene-stealing form as the head of the opportunistic villains. However, Violent Night’s plot holes stop the movie from becoming an all-time Christmas action classic. Unfortunately, it is never really clear how Santa works or why he is willing to stick his neck out for a rich family while he never turned up during the villain’s impoverished childhood. Regardless, the action and humor make it an enjoyable, unconventional Christmas movie watch.

9 Fatman (2020)

This Santa action movie was darker and bloodier

Mel Gibson's Chris standing outside holding a gun in the action movie Fatman. 

If Violent Night spent too little of its plot expanding on its bitter, heavy-drinking Santa Claus lore, Fatman arguably devotes too much screen time to a similar take on the mythical figure. In this 2020 action thriller, Mel Gibson plays an atypically slim Chris Cringle who has been forced to work as a contractor for the US military to pay the bills. Fatman’s central storyline sees a spoiled child send an unhinged assassin, played by Walton Goggins, after Santa, resulting in plenty of memorably nasty gunplay. However, this plot is slightly too slow for its own good.

8 Die Hard 2 (1990)

John McClane’s return is an underrated festive sequel

Bruce Willis as John McClane looking sideways in Die Hard 2

While 1988’s original Die Hard is a classic, director Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 was unfairly underrated upon release. Admittedly, it does beggar belief that John McClane would end up involved in two separate incidents involving international criminals that both took place on Christmas Eve. However, the Die Hard franchise needed Christmas to make McClane’s everyman shtick work, and Die Hard 2 manages to get around its unlikely plot by leaning into tense action set-pieces, solid character work, and a reliably stellar central turn from Bruce Willis.

7 I Come In Peace (1990)

Dolph Lundgren’s Christmas horror sci-fi action thriller is a forgotten classic

Dolph Lundgren's Jack smirks in I Come In Peace

Also known as Dark Angel, 1990’s I Come in Peace is a Dolph Lundgren action/thriller/sci-fi/horror genre mashup about a loose cannon cop who must hunt an alien drug dealer committing a series of gruesome murders around Christmas. The festive elements are just window dressing in this darkly comic thriller, but the sight of I Come in Peace’s alien villain blowing up a rival criminal at a Christmas tree lot makes it easy to see why the movie opted for this setting. Surprisingly funny, this Dolph Lundgren horror movie proves the star had a sense of humor.

6 Enemy Of The State (1998)

Tony Scott’s NSA thriller is set during the holidays

Will Smith standing in the street in Enemy of the State.

The underrated 1998 film Enemy of the State sees Will Smith and Gene Hackman become one of the most unlikely pairings in action history as Smith’s beleaguered everyman accidentally uncovers a conspiracy involving the NSA. Remarkably prescient, director Tony Scott’s blockbuster predicted a lot of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA and its secret surveillance programs. In the process, Enemy of the State also provided snappy dialogue, inventive action sequences, and some fun performances from Hackman and Smith. The Christmas setting isn’t too important to Enemy of the State‘s plot, but gives the thriller an unexpectedly festive backdrop.

5 Batman Returns (1992)

This comic book sequel makes Christmas creepy

While Tim Burton’s first Batman movie was a huge success, 1992’s Batman Returns saw the director really hit his stride with the source material. This sequel follows Michael Keaton’s Batman as he takes on both Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck and Danny DeVito’s tragic Penguin, but neither of these Tim Burton monsters could compare to the movie’s secret weapon. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman made Batman Returns one of the decade’s best comic book movies, while its Christmas setting provided an ironic backdrop for the chaos and carnage, including some holiday-themed explosives and weaponry.

4 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

James Bond’s only Christmas movie is one of his best

George Lazenby as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the first official James Bond movie without Sean Connery, and a surprisingly dark one at that. While George Lazenby’s Bond may have only lasted one movie in the role, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains one of the franchise’s best balances of humor, action, and character work. That brutal final twist is its most memorable moment, but the Christmas setting of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service only makes this ending more devastating.

3 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Shane Black’s comeback utilized Christmas perfectly

Robert Downey Jr's Harry reading from a piece of paper in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proved that Hollywood veteran Shane Black was still as talented as ever after almost a decade out of the spotlight. Black’s directorial debut followed Robert Downey Jr’s unlikely amateur detective and Val Kilmer’s pithy private eye as the duo uncovered a vast, complex conspiracy in LA. One of Shane Black’s best Christmas movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang uses the time of goodwill and peace among men as a backdrop for black humor, bloody action, and some truly dark storytelling.

2 Lethal Weapon (1987)

Shane Black’s first big hit is one of the greatest Christmas action movies

Riggs and Murtaugh with guns in Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon

Release Date
March 6, 1987

Cast
Tom Atkins , Mitchell Ryan , Danny Glover , Mel Gibson , Gary Busey

Years before Kiss Kiss Bang Bang made him a major player again, the 1987 action classic Lethal Weapon made Black a star in the first place. This cop thriller mined endless comedy from the unlikely pairing of Danny Glover’s by-the-book veteran cop and Mel Gibson’s hot-headed rebel. Like many of Black’s movies, Lethal Weapon juxtaposed its Christmas setting with the violent action of the plot. However, this franchise-spawning hit took things a step further by using the family-oriented nature of Christmas to underline the tragedy of Gibson’s bereaved antihero.

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1 Die Hard (1988)

Few action movies have outdone John McClane’s terrible Christmas party

Die Hard

Release Date
July 20, 1988

Cast
Alan Rickman , Bruce Willis , Bonnie Bedelia , Hart Bochner , Reginald VelJohnson

Not only is Die Hard the best Christmas action movie, but it is also arguably the best action movie ever. Rewatching the Die Hard movies proves the franchise could never quite replicate the appeal of the original, but this is largely due to how perfect the Bruce Willis vehicle was. John McClane’s witty quips, Alan Rickman’s sneering villain, the rogue’s gallery of lesser villains, Reginald VelJohnson’s well-meaning Al, the surprising brutality of the violence, and the intense grittiness of the action all combined to make Die Hard feel more grounded, fun, and impactful than most action movies, and its Christmas setting was just icing on the cake.



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