20 Christmas Movies for Badasses

Best Christmas bit: “Why, it’s Christmas Day, sir.”

Monty Python’s Life Of Brian

Why it qualifies: Graham Chapman gives it the full monty at one point, and it’s a film that offended many.

For a British comedy fan, this is perhaps the most quotable movie of all time. As well being a comedy masterpiece, it is a film that has been dogged by controversy. For anyone objective, it’s difficult to see why, as it doesn’t say anything bad about Jesus or Christianity. Some people turn “a little illogical” when when religious mania takes hold and that is what the Pythons were riffing on.

John Cleese admitted that the previous feature film effort of the Pythons, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, had ended up feeling more like a series of sketches than a conventional film. That’s being too hard on it, but this one does hold up better in that regard. The film begins with the birth of Christ, and the setting, ancient Jeruselem, is one that most us of are familiar with through the customs and lore of Christmas. These familiar images sail past us as a backdrop for the irreverent craziness that you’d expect from a Monty Python movie. In terms of observations about religion, society, and politics, it’s spot on.

Best Christmas bit: You can’t get much more Christmassy than seeing Jesus Christ being born.

Trading Places

Why it qualifies: It’s funny and it exhibits a sneering attitude to Christmas.

As a 1983 film, this John Landis comedy might be a bit older that you think, and the exact period that it was made is all-important. Both of the leads, Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, are alumni of that talent factory of American comedy, Saturday Night Live. At that point, Murphy had acquitted himself well on SNL and followed up with an acclaimed performance in 48 Hrs. Aykroyd had knocked about in a few films, and finally broken through in The Blues Brothers (also with Landis).

That’s why we say that the period that this was produced is crucial. The fact that both actors were desperate to prove themselves on film probably counts for a lot. Aykroyd is perfect as the snobbish, privileged Louis Winthorpe III, and Murphy is sublime as streetwise hussler Billy Ray Valentine. Four years later, after films like Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy and Aykroyd would have seemed like a dream team. Four years after that, renting one of their films was a gamble. It’s also one of Jamie Lee Curtis’s best roles, and it was her vehicle to break free from her typecasting as a virginal ‘scream queen’ in slasher films.

The Christmas setting of the film is used to good effect by emphasising the inherent contrasts of the season. That couldn’t be a more appropriate backdrop for this film as it’s about the gulf between the highest and the lowest on the social ladder. Christmas can can be a mixed experience, or it can be rock bottom. The latter is where we find Winthorpe by the middle of the film. Disgruntled, he attempts to carry out a crazy plan while dressed as Santa. Simultaneously, at a lavish Christmas party, Billy Ray realizes that his new friends just want to be around him because he’s a sudden success.

Best Christmas bit: Winthorpe as Santa.

Lethal Weapon

Why it qualifies: Christmas can be tough, particularly when you’re Martin Riggs.

Hard-bitten buddy cop movies don’t come much better than Lethal Weapon. The film balances serious themes with exciting action and humorous moments. Like most of the action movies of the ’80s that are remembered as classics, it’s a film with a lot of heart and emotion in amongst the violence and machismo.

Richard Donner kicks things off to the accompaniment of “Jingle Bell Rock,” with a nighttime helicopter ride over the glitz of LA skyscrapers. We’re soon confronted with the seedy underside of the story when a drugged up working girl takes a jump out of the top floor. For most of the audience, it’s funny seeing the California version of Christmas with no snow or cloudy days. Christmas is rock-bottom for an embittered, bereaved Vietnam vet like Riggs. It’s hardly a surprise that Riggs was traumatized by his Vietnam experiences, as he must have been about 12 when the war was going on. For his reluctant partner, Murtaugh, Christmas is the culmination of another year of close-knit family life.

The film is redemptive. By the end, Murtaugh has decided that he’s still got what it takes to kick some ass. Riggs has killed all the bad guys and has a family to spend Christmas with. If there hadn’t been other films in the series, you’d still have been left feeling that this was his stepping off point to start building a new life for himself.

Best Christmas bit: Riggs showing how crazy he is while he infiltrates the drug dealers working out of a Christmas tree lot.

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Why it qualifies: We get to see the wicked Mr. Blackadder at his snarky best.

Okay, technically, you could argue that this is a special of a TV show rather than a film per-se. Well, mainly because it is. But hey, it’s Christmas!

The main story, an homage to A Christmas Carol, serves as a framing device around segments that are a recreation of Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, and a hypothetical Blackadder set in the far future. It’s badass because it reverses the moral of A Christmas Carol. Instead of being a selfish, mean-spirited character at the beginning of the story, this incarnation of Blackadder, Ebenezer Blackadder, starts off as a man of kindly renown.

When a ghost, played by Robbie Coltrane, inadvertently reveals that the other Blackadders of the past and the future did a lot better by being mean and sneaky, that is the path that this new Blackadder decides to take in life. The results are hilarious. It holds up as an excellent Blackadder episode and a cheeky poke at Christmas values. For extra geek value, see if you can spot Nicola Bryant (Peri in Doctor Who) in a small, crazy role.

Best Christmas bit: Blackadder’s present for Baldrick.

Die Hard

Why it qualifies: Trapped in a hostile environment with a band of completely lethal nutjobs who hate him. It’s a fairly standard Christmas for most of us.

Bruce Willis was far from the first choice for lead in Die Hard, as he was, at that time, primarily known as a comedic actor. Funnily enough, because the film is based on a follow-up to an earlier novel that had been made into a film, Frank Sinatra was contractually guaranteed first refusal. Now, that would have been weird. Given a chance, Willis delivered one of the most iconic action hero performances in cinema history.

Willis does inject wise-cracking humor into the film wherever he can, and that’s part of what makes it a classic. To get an idea of what it might have been like with different casting and a more serious tone, compare it to other action thrillers like The Terminator or The Poseidon Adventure. That’s what we might have got if Arnie, Sly, or even Harrison Ford had taken the job when they were offered it.

A lot of the featured supporting roles are played with a light touch as well. Talk about value for money, William Atherton and Hart Bochner both turn up in unconnected roles as two of the greatest 80s-style sleazebag characters in cinema history. Alan Rickman is on extremely fine form as a baddie. Did he, we wonder, muse about the fate of his character in this film when delivering his famous “…and cancel Christmas!” line in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?

So, how does Christmas come into play in this one? We learn, near the beginning of the film that McClane is travelling to LA attempt a reconciliation with his estranged family. Reunions complete with family confrontations are, after all, a typical part of Christmas. Even the geography hints of a Christmas subverted as LA is orange-skied and reasonably warm, unlike the snowy, chilly New York streets that McClane must have left behind. As well as being set at Christmas, it’s a surprisingly Christmas themed movie given the subject matter. A lot of the characters are introduced during the Christmas party at the beginning. Even Christmas wrapping tape comes in handy towards the end of the film. At all times, we’re left in no doubt that it’s Christmas.

Let’s just hope that McClane never has another Christmas like that one though, eh?

Best Christmas bit: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”

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