It's Christmas time, and for a certain portion of the population, that means it's also Die Hard time. Yes, 'tis the season once again for the endless debates over whether or not John McTiernan's classic action film technically qualifies as a Christmas movie, and while I certainly dig into John McClane's adventure at least once a holiday season, I'm here to say enough is enough.
Yes, Die Hard is essential, but it's far from the only player in the game when it comes to films that blend the festive visual cheer of the holidays with gunfights, criminals, and quips. There's a whole host of other seasonal action films out there waiting for you to binge, so if you're looking to change up your Christmas action movie game this year, here are ten non-Die Hard flicks we think you'll dig.
10. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Unless you're a Bond completist, you might not have realized there is indeed a seasonal adventure out there from Agent 007. It's one of the less-watched Bonds in part because it's the only film in the series to star George Lazenby, who popped in when Sean Connery quit (the first time) and then promptly vanished from the franchise, but that doesn't mean you should leave On Her Majesty's Secret Service in the past. Lazenby is, despite his brief tenure, an underrated and charming Bond, Diana Rigg is one of the best Bond Girls ever cast, and the film's surprisingly romantic narrative is elevated by beautiful European snowscapes and Christmas celebrations. Plus, for No Time to Die fans, there are plenty of echoes of a key Bond narrative that comes later.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is streaming on Max.
9. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Sydney Pollack's legendary thriller about a CIA analyst (Robert Redford) who finds himself at the center of a massive conspiracy works in part because it's a study in contrast. The sense of dread and paranoia at the heart of the film is palpable throughout its runtime, something Redford is able to sell in scene after scene. But all around him, Pollack surrounds the story with reminders of the Christmas season, creating a strange tonal dissonance that only adds to the tension. It's definitely an unorthodox Christmas movie choice, but if you love thrillers, this one's got everything you need.
Three Days of the Condor is streaming on Paramount+
8. Rocky IV (1985)
You might not think of Sylvester Stallone as a Christmas movie star, but more than once he's surrounded himself with holiday trappings while in the midst of an action spectacle. In Rocky IV, arguably the most meme-able of the films in the Rocky Balboa series created by Stallone, he sets up an epic fight on Christmas Day between Balboa and Soviet Super-Boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). It's not the most Christmassy movie on this list by any means, but there's an extra weight to the fight that comes from the seasonal setting, which means that now it's not Christmas until Rocky Balboa defeats the Soviet Union with a single punch.
Rocky IV is streaming on Max.
7. Invasion U.S.A. (1985)
Some movies on this list are subtle, more understated action movie affairs, but let's face it: Sometimes you just want to see a power trip from an action star trying to look cool for two hours. For that, we turn to Invasion U.S.A., a Chuck Norris vehicle from the legendary Cannon Films about a CIA Agent trying to repel a covert Communist invasion. At one point, Norris has to save a whole bunch of mall shoppers just trying to buy Christmas gifts from a horde of guerilla fighters, and the film is packed with a certain kind of jingoistic, "Christmas is the American Way" vibe. It's a bit much, but it's also a lot of fun, and it's the kind of over-the-top spectacle that you can enjoy while stuffing yourself with sugar cookies.
Invasion USA is streaming on Tubi.
6. Cobra (1986)
Speaking of Stallone movies set at Christmas, there's this action film that casts the star as a kind of super cop taking on the toughest cases imaginable, dealing with a strange cult as Christmastime. Like Rocky IV, it's not the most Christmassy action movie you're likely to see, but the darkness of the plot coupled with the joys of the season makes for a nice contrast. Plus, this is the movie that features Stallone, in character as Cobra, cutting a slice of pizza up with a pair of scissors, and that's exactly the kind of weird stuff you need when you're looking for holiday distractions.
5. Lethal Weapon (1987)
If Die Hard is the first movie everyone mentions when you say the words "Christmas action movie," then Lethal Weapon isn't far behind. Written by Shane Black (who loves putting Christmas in his movies, so he's on this list more than once) and directed by the great Richard Donner, this story of two mismatched cops (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) running down a dangerous case around the holiday season is, for many fans, the ultimate buddy cop movie. It's got great, quotable dialogue, wonderful action sequences, wild performances, and of course, lots of holiday cheer around the edges.
Lethal Weapon is streaming to rent on Amazon.
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Another one of the more obvious choices on the list, Tim Burton's Batman Returns has become a seasonal favorite for many genre movie fans, and it's easy to see why. Transforming Gotham City into a winter wonderland adds a whole new flavor to the visual palette of the movie, setting it apart from Burton's previous Caped Crusader movie. It's just wonderful to look at in frame and after frame, and that's before you throw in the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in one of the great scene-stealing performances in superhero movie history. So, treat yourself to a Very Batman Christmas.
Batman Returns streams on Tubi.
3. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Our second appearance from screenwriter Shane Black on this list, The Long Kiss Goodnight is another expert thriller with festive trappings and lots of action movie fun to be had. This time around, Black's narrative follows Geena Davis as an amnesiac housewife who discovers she has some killer skills buried deep in her subconscious and the private investigator (Samuel L. Jackson) who gets roped into helping her unlock the mysteries of her past. While films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon definitely still come up first, The Long Kiss Goodnight has developed a stellar reputation as a kind of holiday movie hidden gem, the film cinephiles go to when they want a less-obvious but still deeply fulfilling seasonal action movie.
The Long Kiss Goodnight is streaming on Pluto.
2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Guess what? We're still not done talking about Shane Black Christmas movies, because he also gave us this neo-noir gem starring a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and a wonderfully fun Val Kilmer. Downey stars as Harry, a down-on-his-luck thief who accidentally talks his way into an acting role and heads out to Los Angeles, where he might find opportunity or he might just find plenty of darkly comic mishaps. Witty, unpredictable, and full of great performances from the entire ensemble, it's one of those films you'll get lost in, and not just because it's set at Christmas.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is streaming to rent on Amazon.
1. Violent Night (2022)
The only film on this list that's an outright Christmas movie, thanks to its Christmas Eve story of Santa Claus (David Harbour) taking on armed thugs, Violent Night at times feels like a very obvious concept that someone finally put on the big screen. You can sort of see where most of it's going from the beginning, but there's something in that familiarity that allows you to kick back and delight in the moments when it surprises you, from the way it uses Santa's skills for fight scenes to the way Harbour plays Kris Kringle as an aging warrior who's trying to get his Christmas spark back.