The Best of the Season to you and yours! What better way to enjoy the festive festivities than to plow through yet another hastily compiled and awkward list of Christmas movies on the Interwebnets! I just want to start out by saying that this list is not going to be ranked in any way. Well, except for the last movie I use, because it is simply the best Christmas movie ever, regardless of how wrong you may be in your contrarian thinking. But I’m getting ahead of myself, projecting on how theoretically you might be incorrect in the future. Besides, during this wild and wooly wintertime, I wish to bring about only wondrous warm feelings of love and go into some of the films that bring me that kind of joy this time of year.
Oh, I should also state that this haphazard list will not contain It’s a Wonderful Life. Because…if you really think about it…is it really a Christmas movie? Now here me out: only a little bit of the movie concerns itself with actual Christmas. I believe that the only reason It’s a Wonderful Life became a holiday classic is back when it fell into the public domain, it was rebroadcast continuously during Christmas. Was this out of love for the film? Nope, the movie was a safe and free choice for network broadcast during the holidays.
This meant that thousands of network employees would have decades of mind-blowingly kickin’ holiday parties without a single worry about what was on the air. Think of the hundreds of thousands of reams of paper that were used up in making rather salacious copies during those parties! Consider the immeasurable amounts of high-grade booze imbibed whilst the nation was getting weepy watching George find Zuzu’s petals.
Gallons of guzzled Jim Beam and copies of Christmas cleavage aside, the main reason why It’s a Wonderful Life fails for me is that it is dramatically unsatisfying. Old Man Potter ultimately never gets his comeuppance. He scampers off scot free with his shenanigans. In movies like this, the big bad guy should lose. And this is why It’s a Wonderful Life fails and Lethal Weapon succeeds.
Yeah, that’s right, Lethal Weapon! I’ll bet you completely forgot that the first one takes place during Christmas. Now, I know what you’re saying, “But that’s not a real Christmas movie! I watch Hallmark Christmas movies and they are all filled with Canadian love and unrealistic happiness for your fellow man!” Oh, you naïve sap, you! There’s some real holiday darkness out there in the land of Christmas cinema. How about Black Christmas or Gremlins? Doesn’t get much darker than that. How about Silent Night, Deadly Night or Christmas Evil? Hm, given your Hallmark watch list, odds are you haven’t watched these little violent holiday nuggets but trust me, they’re plenty dark.
And what about Jingle All the Way? Oooooh, that one’s dark and scary, kids! I’m even more frightened than I was at the beginning of this paragraph just thinking about Sinbad and Jake Lloyd scampering about.
Anyway, getting back to Lethal Weapon: there’s plenty of evidence of Christmas holiday fun within the runtime. There’s a drug bust in a Christmas tree lot. A car gets smashed into a decorated house where a Christmas tree is proudly displayed. You see some of the Bugs Bunny Christmas Carol on a TV. The phrase “Merry Christmas!” gets used quite a bit. The movie has “Jingle Bell Rock” over the opening credits and ends with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” for crying out loud!
And who’s to say that Christmas movies can’t have car chases, gun fights, explosions, great stunt work, and copious amounts of horrible language? Not me!
Lethal Weapon is the movie that made Mel Gibson a titanic star. While the Mad Maxes opened the door a crack in the United States, his role as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon sent Gibson right to the top. And rightfully so. He’s a handsome and charismatic fellow, his take on the material is spot on, he’s believable in the action, and he has a delightful sense of humor. The subsequent entries in the Lethal Weapon series would contain a bit more comedy moments for Gibson. Yet here at the beginning, you have every reason to believe that Gibson is a burnt-out cop, fully prepared to go right over the edge.
And who to pair up with Gibson? None other than Danny Glover, fresh from Witness, who simply shines in the role of the older cop Roger Murtaugh. Glover portrays a convincing family man as well as a veteran officer, and he has a way with funny lines as well. Glover and Gibson have a terrific chemistry and relationship that only grew with each sequel. Even during the moments in the series where credulity was stretched somewhat, the friendship between the two leads was always believable, keeping the proceedings grounded.
Of course, director Richard Donner was no stranger to blockbusters by the time he helmed Lethal Weapon. After all, this was the man that brought the world The Goonies! Oh, and he also directed The Omen and Superman, so he knew a bit about larger than life movies with action. Lethal Weapon and the subsequent sequels cemented his career as a topflight director. And yes, Lethal Weapon was so good; I can completely ignore the fact that Donner made Ladyhawke.
The score from the late Michael Kamen stands out as well. That he brought Eric Clapton and David Sanborn along for the ride was just icing on the cake. Kamen’s resume still stands as being quite impressive. Aside from the Lethal Weapon series, Kamen lent his talents to Brazil, Highlander, License to Kill, the first three Die Hards, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Road House among others (Yes, that Road House!)
And I would be completely beyond the limits of remiss if I didn’t mention Gary Busey as the lead henchman. While Busey has become somewhat of a punch line in recent times, back in 1987, he was in his element as a psychopathic bastard that it would be a pleasure to see Mel Gibson beat the bejeezus out of. Soon after finishing his work on Lethal Weapon, Busey would be in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Still, the man has kept on working and has quite the career indeed. At this point, Busey is a delightful national treasure.
Mitchell Ryan plays our main bad guy and he was in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. Tom Atkins plays a friend of Danny Glover’s and he was Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Tom Atkins was in Escape from New York, which also starred Donald Pleasance, who was also in Halloween 6 with Mitchell Ryan. I don’t know what to do with this information beyond awkwardly sharing it. Enjoy.
For being over 30 years old, Lethal Weapon still holds up as a fun actioner, the kind of which they don’t make any more. It has a sense of humor about itself and the characters aren’t just stereotypes. Now is this typical family-friendly seasonal fare? Maybe not for your family, but that’s not my problem. Sure, your parents might have shoved saccharine seasonal muck like Prancer or The Santa Clause down your throats, but my dad always had time for a house exploding if it helped him get through the holidays. I feel the same way. Both Riggs and Murtaugh will always have a space at my holiday table if for no other reason than Murtaugh’s wife is a horrible cook.
Oh, by the way, I know you’re probably thinking that I’ll pull out Die Hard or Die Hard 2: Die Harder as Christmas movies on this list. Well, I might, I might not, Mr. and Ms. Smartyfartypants! By the way, as far as Christmas action movies go, Lethal Weapon came out a full year before Die Hard did. Now, is Die Hard better? I think they’re two different animals. One’s a buddy cop movie, perhaps the buddy cop movie of all time and the other one laid the foundation for all future “one man against an entire army of terrorists” genre. After all, what is Cliffhanger but Die Hard with mountaineering? What is Sudden Death but the hockey Die Hard? Isn’t Under Siege 2: Dark Territory just Die Hard on a train? What about the first Under Siege? Die Hard on a ship with…Gary Busey! It all comes together, doesn’t it?
So, when the typical holiday blandness is trudged out yet again and you’re threatened with having to watch a nauseating Christmas movie involving Uncle Billy and his damn forgetfulness, always remember that you can dig out Lethal Weapon to escape the monotony of Bedford Falls. Go and watch Mel kill that one dude that Bruce Willis would kill again in Die Hard, even though he was already killed in Big Trouble in Little China. See Gary Busey before he became Gary Busey. Witness houses and cars blow up while many rounds are fired at bad guys. Now we’ve finally got a Christmas that can be registered as a Lethal Weapon! (Nope, no regrets: I’m glad I said it!)