When it comes to pop culture opinions that will elicit either a dramatic eye-roll or complete disinterest from everyone who hears them, “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” sits near the top of the list (and both sides of the “Martin Scorsese/superhero movie” debate are rocketing up the charts, by the way). Yes, Die Hard takes place during Christmas, it’s about family, and the villain is a classic greedy Christmas archetype. It’s not worth litigating that ever again.
Thankfully, in a welcome and most likely unintentional development, Hollywood has spent the last couple of years rendering the whole “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” thing irrelevant by making action movies that are explicitly about Christmas. John Woo’s new Silent Night and last year’s Violent Night pick up where Die Hard leaves off, giving you more excuses to watch action-packed holiday-themed counter-programming to the more traditional seasonal movies about family and learning and the old Building And Loan.
Violent Night is the more overt homage to the Die Hard debate, since it’s about a guy in one location on Christmas killing a bunch of terrorists. But the guy this time around just happens to be Santa Claus (David Harbour)—who in this world is an ancient Viking warrior with magical powers who delivers presents to every boy and girl once a year. There is also, cleverly, a pretty explicit Home Alone tribute where a kid sets up a series of familiar traps (nails, glue, broken ornaments) that a pair of evil goons keep stumbling into.
That bit might be a nod to another classic Christmas pop culture talking point, specifically “the guys in Home Alone should’ve died,” which brings up the arguable downside to Violent Night vs. Die Hard: The former is very, very, violent. John McTiernan directed Die Hard as a little more of a general good time that most people can comfortably enjoy, which adds to the “it’s a Christmas movie!” nonsense. But Violent Night is gleefully, unapologetically brutal. There’s a scene where Santa puts an ice skate on each hand and rips through a bunch of guys like he’s spamming Mortal Kombat moves. Your family might be able to tolerate “yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” but a guy getting decapitated by a skate as his body limply slumps to the ground might be a tougher sell where the stockings are hung with care.
Silent Night (in theaters this week) is less obvious, but it is closer to the “actually, this is a Christmas movie” spirit of the Die Hard debate. It’s about a man (Joel Kinnaman) whose family is killed in the crossfire of some kind of gang battle on Christmas day, so he turns himself into a John Wick-style murder machine and embarks on a quest for vengeance. So, like Die Hard, it’s set at Christmas and it’s about a man who … loves his family? He’s not being reunited with his family the way John McClane is, and there’s less of an arguable theme about materialism, but this is definitely a Christmas movie.
How can you tell? Well, Kinnaman’s character is wearing a Christmas sweater and it’s called Silent Night, which is a Christmas thing. That’s at least as deep as the Die Hard stuff, and since it has that title you won’t have to justify its Christmas-ness to any non-believers. Better yet, it operates on the central gimmick of having no spoken dialogue, which means you and your family can still gab while watching Kinnaman mow down villains with a shotgun and you won’t miss any exposition (once it’s released on home video, at least).
The lack of dialogue also sends a positive message about unity and putting aside your differences, which is the kind of reminder we could all use during the holidays. It’s not about the things that separate us, like language, it’s about the things that unite us, like watching a John Woo’s first American movie in 20 years, in which Joel Kinnaman writes a “Kill Them All” reminder on his calendar and the proceeds to, you know, kill them all. Another positive message! Getting things done. Accomplishing your goals for the year. Finding ways to better yourself. This is a nice movie about a nice man doing nice things that the whole family can enjoy, making it a perfectly appropriate addition to the “this is actually about Christmas” canon—though it’s also very violent.
So, this year and every year, feel free to skip Die Hard and the whole debate surrounding it. Hollywood has spent the last two years giving you other, more appropriate options for Christmas action movies. Besides, Die Hard is actually a Halloween movie—it’s about people lying about their identity in order to get treats (bearer bonds), there’s a scene where someone eats candy, and one of the bad guys seemingly comes back to life at the end before being killed for real (like Jason or Michael might).