Day Two of our month-long quest to determine the “Ultimate Christmas Movie” dawns with two new head-to-head battles: Die Hard versus Lethal Weapon and A Christmas Story versus National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And yes, the first two are both holiday flicks—though they may feature a combined body count that far exceeds any festive family fight or Boxing Day shopping stampede. So jingle your bells, turn on your ludicrously large light displays, and get out your festive leg lamps and vote for your top picks in Rounds 3 and 4 below.
Die Hard (1988)
Yes. Die Hard is a Christmas movie. As much as It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, or Home Alone are. And no, the limited characters remaining in this blurb will not be spent trying to make that argument yet again.
But what is there to say about Die Hard, really? I’d be content to state that it remains one of the greatest action movies ever made. However, as a snapshot in time—as a film object—Die Hard is a fascinating piece of work. Consider that in the course of its runtime, a TV star becomes a movie star, an action auteur fully comes into his own, a little known British actor makes one of the all-time feature film debuts, and a cavalcade of actors and stuntmen turn in incredibly memorable performances as henchmen, conmen, and sidekicks. Family Matters owes its existence to the sweetness of Reginald Vel-Johnson’s performance here. No Die Hard, no Urkel, is all I’m saying. And don’t think I’m not greatly enjoying the fact that RVJ is the only actor being mentioned by name here.
Bringing it back to the holidays: Ultimately Die Hard is a movie about a fuck-up of a guy trying to make amends with his family at a time of year that’s supposed to be all about family. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? He just has to work a little bit harder for it than most. – Will Perkins
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Critics of the “Die Hard as a Christmas movie” movement would be hard pressed to consider 1987’s buddy cop bromance in the same supposed yuletide canon as the former. But there are many who consider the Richard Donner-directed actioner at least as Christmas-y as John McClane’s storied evening at Nakatomi Plaza—and I’m inclined to agree.
Like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon’s sunny Los Angeles setting might not make it immediately identifiable as a Christmas movie, but the sound of “Jingle Bell Rock” over the film’s opening credits definitely will. Once the merry music stops, you might lose that cozy Christmas feeling after a series of scenes featuring the drug-addled death of a sex worker, Danny Glover casually naked in front of his family, and an antisemite strutting around au naturel in his mobile home. It’s gruesome stuff. Speaking of gruesome, the movie’s extremely high body count (Riggs and Murtagh kill more than 20 people combined) and repeated scenes of attempted self-harm are not exactly festive either.
Perhaps the most nonsensical and roundabout case I could make that Lethal Weapon is a Christmas movie is the figurative death and resurrection of the film’s baddie, Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). During the film’s climax, Riggs nearly kills Joshua with a chokehold only to have him rise up moments later—gun in hand—just in time to be shot by both cops. As anyone who even casually studies the Bible knows, the biblical Joshua is considered by theologians to be a precursor to Jesus Christ himself. Being initially spared by Riggs sees Joshua finally teach the mad cop the very Christian quality of grace, so I, uh, rest my case or something.
Sacrilege and foolishness aside, if you view Lethal Weapon as a Christmas movie, Rigg’s suicidal depression makes a lot more sense as a serious bout of seasonal affective disorder. So too does his intense loneliness and need for something resembling the family he eventually finds in Murtagh. It’s the story about the very real holiday blues that many people experience couched in an action classic. It’s appropriate then that the movie ends on a happy note, with Riggs being invited to the Murtagh family’s Christmas dinner. As it turns out, the real spirit of Christmas was all the hired goons they killed along the way! – WP
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Voting ends December 3 at 11:59 EST.
A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story gleefully spins nostalgia into hilarity. Based on humourist Jean Shepherd’s writings, and set in the 1940’s, the past gets an edgy revamp courtesy of director Bob Clark (Porky’s). This is the Christmas film that dared to finally expose the holiday season for what it really is: a hectic and materialistic time where dreams do not easily come true, and cooking failures are more the norm.
Narrated by the adult looking back, the film recalls the year that 9-year-old Ralphie dodged bullies and dreamed of owning “an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle”. Things don’t look promising on either front when you consider Ralphie’s ragtag group of friends and the fact that practically every adult, even the mall Santa, warns: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
The genius of A Christmas Story lies in the fact that, despite the voice over, the film shows the child’s perspective, slightly askew, with the right amount of exaggeration. A misfit among misfits, Ralphie’s oh-so-fallible family try to make the best out of every crazy (and highly relatable) mishap that befalls them. Turns out to be quite the memory after all. – Barbara Goslawski
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
You know that episode of Friends where the gang is playing a trivia game, and Joey says that Rachel tells people her favourite movie is Dangerous Liaisons when it’s really Weekend at Bernie’s? I feel like people do something similar when it comes to Christmas movies. We all say It’s a Wonderful Life is our favourite holiday flick (because “an angel gets its wings” and blah blah blah) when it’s actually Christmas Vacation.
The crass and laugh-out-loud funny Griswold family Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving. Chevy Chase’s well-intentioned doofus is a modern-day George Bailey who just wants the best for his family. Sometimes this holiday cheer takes the form of a ludicrously overcompensating Christmas tree, an electricity-bill draining excess of outdoor lights, or a slightly over-greased sliding saucer. But every all-too-relatable gaffe amid Clark’s behaviour highlights the true holiday spirit: no matter how much our family members embarrass us, we happily return to them year after year. -Pat Mullen
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
Voting ends December 3 at 11:59 EST.
The elimination showdown runs from December 1 until the 23, with the Ultimate Christmas Movie being unveiled on Christmas Eve! You can vote here, on Twitter, or on Instagram. Find out if your favourites are in the running below, then tune in tomorrow for two new face offs…