It wouldn’t be Christmas without listicles about Christmas movies. So while there are many like it, this military and first responder edition is ours. All of these films have a tie (some stronger than others) to the military and first responder communities, which we’re big fans of at Coffee or Die Magazine.
Some of these picks are well-known classics. Some are less so. But all are highly entertaining and, we think, should be watched at least once every holiday season. Welcome to the party, pal.
Irving Berlin’s 1954 Christmas classic tells the story of Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), a couple of World War II veterans who form a successful musical duo after serving together in the war. They become romantically involved with a sister act and team up to save their former commanding general’s failing Vermont inn at Christmas. This old-school musical is full of wonderful characters; feel-good song-and-dance numbers; classic themes of love, family, and community; and nostalgia for the Greatest Generation. You can stream it on Netflix now.
This 1983 John Landis-directed comedy stars Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in their heyday. Murphy plays Billy Ray Valentine, a poor street hustler whose fortune turns around instantly when two brothers who own a stock brokerage firm explore the classic nature-versus-nurture debate by ruining one of their high-ranking employees — a snobbish investor named Louis Winthorpe (Aykroyd) — and replacing him with Valentine. Trading Places isn’t exactly a cop movie, but some of the principal characters’ run-ins with police are comedic gold, which is enough to justify its spot on this list. If you’re a Gen X-er, Trading Places is sure to make you nostalgic for the ’80s and all the great comedic actors whose stars rose in that decade. You can rent/stream it on Amazon Prime.
At this point, there probably shouldn’t be much debate when it comes to the question of whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. There seems to be a strong consensus these days that the story of New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) battling German terrorists barefoot in Nakatomi Plaza after flying to Los Angeles to try and patch things up with his estranged wife is in fact a Christmas movie. Die Hard director John McTiernan says it is, and so does Jeb Stuart, the film’s screenwriter. But if you’re still not convinced, check out our highly scientific analysis from 2019. Die Hard is definitely a Christmas movie — an awesome Christmas movie that should be watched at least once every season. Ho, ho, ho, and yippee-ki-yay. Die Hard is available to stream on HBO, or you can rent it on Amazon Prime.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic for the ages. George Bailey is “the richest man in Bedford Falls,” but he doesn’t realize it until God sends a guardian angel to show him what life would have been like in his community if he had never existed. Jimmy Stewart, who plays George Bailey, served as an Army pilot in real life and was suffering with post-traumatic stress from his service in World War II when he made the film. While a childhood injury prevents George Bailey from serving in the military, his friends and family all go off to serve in World War II, including his brother Harry, who becomes a Navy pilot and earns the Medal of Honor. It’s a Wonderful Life is a masterpiece of a film that offers inspiring lessons in humanity and the importance of family, community, and a life of purpose. You can stream It’s a Wonderful Life on Amazon Prime.
The Family Stone
If you’ve never seen this 2005 dramedy from writer/director Thomas Bezucha, I encourage you to put this underrated film at the top of your list for Christmas viewing. Bezucha brought together an all-star ensemble cast for this hilarious and heartwarming tale about an uptight, conservative businesswoman (Sarah Jessica Parker) who has a hard time fitting in when she spends Christmas with her boyfriend’s (Dermot Mulroney) eccentric, progressive family. Paul Schneider plays a paramedic in the film, which is enough to justify its inclusion here. More importantly, it’s a beautiful movie about family that will make you laugh and cry and hold your loved ones tight at Christmas. The Family Stone is available to stream on HBO, or you can rent it on Amazon Prime.
Shane Black’s 1987 classic buddy-cop movie tells the story of two newly paired cops — a suicidal loose-cannon played by Mel Gibson and a soon-to-retire, straight-laced family man played by Danny Glover. In the beginning of the film, Gibson’s character, Martin Riggs, is alone and suicidal during the holiday season after losing his wife. As Riggs and Glover’s Roger Murtaugh uncover a massive conspiracy while investigating a prostitute’s murder, they learn to trust each other, and Riggs learns the true meaning of family, which definitely makes it a Christmas movie. You can rent Lethal Weapon on Amazon Prime.
Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.