To many, the holidays mean cuddling up around the fireplace with friends and family, snacking on eggnog and delicious cookies, and watching total carnage unfold. This December saw the long-awaited release of director John Woo’s new film, Silent Night. The Joel Kinnaman-led, dialogue-free thriller is a gnarly slice of vengeance cinema, and a bright and shiny new addition to the canon of unlikely Christmas movies.
Silent Night is far from the first film to throw bullets and knives into the usual Christmas movie formula, so if you’re in the mood for a bloodier-than-usual holiday season, these are your 10 best options.
10. Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
Anna and the Apocalypse is both a Scottish Christmas musical about high school kids dealing with personal struggles and a rip-roaring, gloriously gruesome zombie thriller. As unlikely a combination as that may be, the John McPhail-directed crowdpleaser mostly pulls it off. It’s an endearing and endlessly charming genre gem that’s worth seeking out this holiday season solely for a bowling alley sequence that’s hilarious and horrifying in equal measure. Beyond that, the film packs enough of a punch into its 98-minute runtime to leave action fans satisfied and singing its praises.
9. Violent Night (2022)
There’s nothing subtle about Violent Night. The film follows a drunken, cynical Santa Claus (played as messily as possible by Stranger Things star David Harbour) who’s forced to take up some of his old warrior ways to save a family taken hostage on Christmas Eve. Its jokes are obvious, and its hits frequently come with the literal force of a sledgehammer, but the cheesiness isn’t so much a bug as a feature. It’s a modern-day B-movie classic worth seeking out for anyone who prefers their Christmas movies with extra blood.
8. Die Hard 2 (1990)
The Die Hard franchise has delivered two bona fide action movie classics: 1988’s Die Hard (more on that later, obviously) and 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance. The series’ second installment, 1990’s Die Hard 2, isn’t as good as either of those films, but it is far more enjoyable than its reputation might suggest. It has even more holiday spirit than its predecessor (not to mention actual snow), and enough memorable action set pieces to make it a worthwhile addition to anyone’s annual holiday movie rotation.
7. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Six years after he made Die Hard 2, director Renny Harlin returned to the Christmas action movie subgenre with The Long Kiss Goodnight. Penned by the king of holiday thrillers, Shane Black, the 1996 film is zanier, funnier, and more entertaining than it has any right to be, and it features two unforgettable star performances from Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s not quite as well-made as some of the titles coming up, but it is one of the breeziest Christmas action movies ever made. If you want something that will simply keep you entertained for two hours this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with The Long Kiss Goodnight.
6. Batman Returns (1992)
The snowiest superhero movie in history, 1992’s Batman Returns is both a dark, gothic comic book nightmare and a beautifully photographed, winter-set blockbuster. It’s a defiantly odd Christmas-adjacent film, and may not scratch the holiday itch quite as well as some other options. However, anyone who’s in the mood for something that plays with the Christmas aesthetic without overdosing on holiday cheer will likely be delighted by Batman Returns. It’s a film that has been growing in many viewers’ estimations for years now, and for good reason.
5. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
An anime reimagining of John Ford’s 3 Godfathers set in an early 2000s Japan, Tokyo Godfathers is one of the most unique holiday movies ever made. Like all of director Satoshi Kon’s movies, it’s an odd and surreal adventure, one that follows a trio of homeless misfits who take it upon themselves to rescue and care for an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. It’s a thrilling and surprisingly sweet film that packs several unforgettable set pieces between moments of friendship that might seem ham-fisted were it not for the fact Tokyo Godfathers is very knowingly set during the most sentimental time of the year.
4. Lethal Weapon (1987)
1987’s Lethal Weapon is the platonic ideal of a Christmas action movie. Set in Los Angeles, the Richard Donner-directed, Shane Black-penned thriller uses the constant presence of Christmas lights and decorations to add an atmospheric, visually pleasing layer to an otherwise straightforward buddy cop story about corruption and the pursuit of justice. It’s a film that has been ripped off and poorly imitated more times than anyone can count, which means its chances of surprising you are low. Once you it turn it on, though, you’ll find yourself overtaken by the same warm feeling you get whenever you watch a film that manages to do just about everything right.
3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
The zippiest Christmas crime comedy that’s ever been made, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is Shane Black’s ultimate artistic statement. The filmmaker has had a recurring presence on this list because he’s repeatedly returned to both the crime movie genre and the end-of-the-year holiday season, and no movie that he’s been involved with combines those two elements as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s an outrageously funny crime caper that delivers an overwhelming number of violent, laugh-out-loud moments in a seedy Los Angeles Christmas playground where sex, death, and crime lurk around every corner. Whether you’ve never seen it before or simply haven’t rewatched it in a while, there’s no better time of year to press play on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
2. Home Alone (1990)
Here’s a genuine question: is Home Alone the greatest siege movie ever? It might very well be. Either way, this Christmas classic hasn’t lost an ounce of its effectiveness in the 33 years since it was released. It’s just as funny as ever, and it features more memorable visual gags and minor set pieces than most of the action comedies that have followed it. Like many beloved Christmas movies, it manages to blend different genres and tones so effortlessly that it can stand up to as many repeat viewings as you throw at it. It’s a slice of fun for the whole family, and it’s jam-packed with so many silent-film-esque action beats that it’s easy to understand why it’s emerged as such a staple of the holiday movie season.
1. Die Hard (1988)
We said we’d look beyond Die Hard, not ignore it entirely. It may be the most obvious choice for the number one spot, but there’s simply no better holiday action movie than Die Hard. It created the template almost every other title on this list has followed, and yet very few movies have ever come close to matching its chaotic, explosive brilliance. Anchored by an all-time great movie star performance from Bruce Willis and a villainous turn for the ages from Alan Rickman, it’s a perfect action movie that’s overflowing with immaculately well-executed set pieces and iconic dialogue.
In fact, no film has ever captured the spirit of the holiday action movie subgenre in a single moment better than when Willis’ John McClane leaves a message for Rickman’s Hans Gruber: “I have a machine gun now. Ho-ho-ho.” Enough said.