Every December for the past decade or so, I’ve read, overheard, and even argued in debates about the greatest non-Christmas movies set during Christmas. A few challengers are tossed around, like Gremlins, Harry Potter, and Trading Places. Almost always everyone zeroes-in on Die Hard.
It’s hard to disagree. Die Hard is a badass movie. It’s fun to watch, alone or with friends. But you can’t watch it, or rather shouldn’t watch it, every night this holiday season. Instead, watch one of my Top Five Movies Set During Christmas That Aren’t Die Hard. The movie that tops this list is better than than the 1988 action classic, even though it premiered a quarter century before Bruce Willis was born.
5. Grumpy Old Men
You may have forgotten, but Grumpy Old Men is hilarious. Old curmudgeons Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were once friends, until Lemon married Matthau’s high school sweetheart. Their cold war raged for decades, even after both men became single again thanks to death and divorce. Then Ann-Margaret rolls into town. The rivalry heats up as they vie for her attention. Eventually the two men rekindle their friendship. It doesn’t hit with a skyscraper-rattling fireball of heat like Die Hard, but Grumpy Old Men hits you with enough charm to thaw out the frostiest of hearts.
4. Stalag 17
Nothing says Christmas like Nazis and prison camps. Despite the setting, this is a story of friendship and triumph over evil. A tight group of servicemen captured during World War 2 are plotting their escape. However, one of the prisoners is a mole, helping the Nazis thwart any plans to break free. Eventually, the men turn on one of their own, who then sets out to prove he’s not the rat. The movie received three Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Billy Wilder and Best Actor for William Holden–who won the award. The action is not as explosive as Die Hard and the laughs are not as goofy as Gremlins, but Stalag 17’s holiday spirit is sure to bring an egg-noggy-grin to your face.
3. In Bruges
Christmas is a time for redemption. And if you’re spending it with a fellow hitman after a recent job, a great time for self-reflection. In Bruges is a brilliant action comedy starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The two hitmen need to lay low in Bruges, Belgium as they await instructions from their boss. The holiday cheer that surrounds them offers a bright contrast to their dark lives. Despite the movie’s grim story, it’s still fun and surprisingly uplifting. If you loved Die Hard’s foreign accents and gun-play, you’ll love In Bruges. More importantly, if you’re into clever dialogue delivered by first-rate actors who are playing multi-dimensional characters during the holiday, then this movie is for you.
2. Better Off Dead
Better Off Dead is a quintessential 80’s teen comedy, but it differs from Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. Those movies never step too far outside the bounds of reality. Better Off Dead dabbles with the surreal to inject some levity and hilarity into its coming-of-age story. The scenes are fantastically absurd but John Cusack is still relatable in those moments, especially during the Christmas scene. Go ahead and try relating to John McClane as he leaps ten stories from an exploding building.
1. The Thin Man
I will tell you straight-faced, without an ounce of gin that this 1934 murder mystery is better than Die Hard. Incidentally, I will also tell you that after a gin-soaked night. I find it incredible that an 84-year-old movie is so witty, fun, and drenched in booze. The Thin Man is about a retired detective and his rich wife, who get caught up in a murder investigation. The stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy, drip charm and the celluloid soaks it up. The Thin Man is a badass movie. It’s fun to watch alone or with friends. You should watch it every night this holiday season. I’d stock up on gin first.
If you have some favorites, let me know. Be sure to follow my blog for email updates. You can also follow me on Twitter.
Let’s have the favorite 80s movies next because I need to get through January and February with some entertainment!! The Burbs should be at the top of the list btw.