As we head towards the festive season the annual debate over which is the greatest Christmas movie of all time begins anew.
For many years the contenders had been much the same. Clark Griswold hilariously trying to cling to his sanity in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Kevin Webster mauling hapless home invaders in Home Alone. George Bailey deciding maybe not to kill himself after all in It’s a Wonderful Life (although we never quite got that one).
But recently another film has begun topping peoples lists, amid contention over whether it is in fact even a Christmas movie at all.
1988’s Bruce Willis action classic Die Hard is now almost as synonymous with the festive season as The Grinch, Elf and other such festive fare, and the season is all the richer for it. And for those of you who’ll argue that Die Hard is not in fact a Christmas movie: You lost, get over it.
But could there be another classic eighties action flick that deserves the crown of ‘Best Christmas Movie’ even more than John McClane and his tower full of bullet-sponge bad guys?
Watch out Nakatomi Plaza, because Riggs and Murtaugh are about to stake their claim to the title...
Released a year before Die Hard in 1987, Lethal Weapon could be the best Christmas movie you never thought of.
Both movies are set during the festive season which in a sense means they are therefore both Christmas movies, but what is it that actually makes a film feel ‘Christmassy’? We reckon it’s a combination of the music, imagery and storytelling found in the film. So without further ado, let’s pit these 80's juggernauts against each other in a Streetfighter-style best-of-three match...
DH: On his way to his fateful night in the Nakatomi tower, John McClane asks his driver Argyle to play some Christmas music, who tells him that the song playing (“Christmas Time In Hollis” by Run DMC) is in fact a Christmas song. Not only that, but “Jingle Bells” can be heard briefly in the movie. Powell sings along to “Winter Wonderland” at one point and the film closes with “Let it Snow”, neither of which are technically Christmas songs but both are heavily associated with the season. Finally, “Ode to Joy” can be heard in various forms throughout the film (but this one is ruled inadmissible as it seems its association with Christmas actually began with it being in this movie).
LW: The film sets out its stall early, opening with “Jingle Bell Rock” for the first sequence of the film which sees a woman plummet to her death, crashing through the roof of a parked car. During the course of the film you will hear snippets of “Silent Night”, “The First Noel”, “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells”. Even in the film’s more serious moments, such as Riggs contemplating suicide, Bugs Bunny can be heard singing a Christmas tune in the background. The movie then closes with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.
Round 1 Winner: Lethal Weapon clearly edges this round, with more songs in the soundtrack that actually reference Christmas, and the fact that it’s bookended with very prominent Christmas tunes. So that’s One-Nil to Riggs and Murtaugh.
DH: The Christmas motifs are mostly just set dressing, such as the Christmas tree seen in the lobby where the hostages are held throughout the movie. John carries a large bear with a ribbon around it at the beginning (obviously a gift), decorations can be seen in various offices and (tenuously) even his wife is named Holly; but there’s a couple of big points that Die Hard scores in this round. In one of the most iconic moments in the film, John tapes a gun to his back using – you guessed it – Christmas tape (you can see “Season’s Greetings” and some holly printed on it). But the biggest plus here has to be the moment when John kills a goon and writes “Now I have a machine gun – Ho ho ho” on his sweatshirt, adding a Santa hat for maximum impact.
LW: Again, there is an awful lot of set dressing here (both movies are set at Christmas time after all), but the Christmas imagery really permeates the entire film in this case, with virtually every location decorated in tinsel and lights. It’s not all background stuff however, there are many moments where those elements become a part of the action. The bullet that pierces the carton of eggnog. The car bursting through Murtaugh’s wall and knocking down the Christmas tree. Not to mention an entire shoot out scene set in a Christmas Tree lot.
Round 2 Winner: We’re going to have to call this round a draw. While there’s more Christmas decorations and such on show in Lethal Weapon, we just can’t overlook that “Now I Have a Machine Gun” scene. Nothing says Christmas like a graffitied corpse in a Santa hat, after all. So overall, Lethal Weapon still just has its (red) nose in front, with the score at 2-1 going into the last round.
DH: The movie sees John McClane attending his estranged wife’s office Christmas party, which is hijacked by ‘terrorists’. What choice does he have but to kill his way through their ranks? This culminates in the iconic moment where he helps Hans Gruber reach the ground floor the fastest way possible. But let’s be honest, nothing much about the plot screams Christmas. Admittedly, there are numerous references to the festive season – from Gruber’s line “It’s Christmas Theo. It’s the time of miracles” to Theo wishing everyone a Merry Christmas when he manages to open the vault. But nothing about the story itself feels particularly Christmassy, the movie just happens to be set at that time of year.
LW: Here’s where Lethal Weapon hits it outta the park. It tells the story of a man who is alone and struggling with suicidal thoughts at Christmas time who gradually finds a friend in his new partner Roger, ending with his realisation that he does indeed have something to live for and being invited in to share a (badly cooked) Christmas dinner with the Murtaughs – his new surrogate family. It’s basically “It’s a Wonderful Life” with guns and an awesome mullet. Riggs even gives the hollow point bullet he was going to use to commit suicide to Rog as a Christmas present at the end of the film. A Christmas miracle if ever there was one.
Round 3 Winner: If this were a boxing match, it would be stopped in this round to stop any serious injury to Die Hard.
With a 3-1 victory over Die Hard, Lethal Weapon proves itself to be the superior Christmas movie. Maybe even the best Christmas movie of all time! If you’re looking for an action movie to give you the Christmas feels, then look no further.
Or you know what? Watch both! There's a reason these films are considered classics. And now, in the words of Martin Riggs: “What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let's get the flock outta here!”