LETHAL WEAPON—Christmas Movie or Not?

Roger Murtaugh (played by Danny Glover) stands behind Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson), both wearing protective eye wear and over-the-ear headphones, as Riggs aims a handgun at an indoor firing range in Lethal Weapon (1987)

Around the holidays we can expect to get a healthy dose of classic Christmas movies, from A Christmas Story (1983) to Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and many more that make the list. However, there has been much debate circling this list of holiday movies, and many have argued that it contains a few more out-of-the-ordinary titles. Last week, we settled the exhausted debate over Die Hard (1988), confirming that it is in fact a Christmas movie, but it isn’t the only 80’s action thriller that has caused a murmur around its standing as a holiday classic.

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In an attempt to put some of these arguments to rest, we are putting Lethal Weapon (1987) on trial and laying out our evidence to prove once and for all if this title has earned its place in the holiday movie canon. 

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Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) in Lethal Weapon (1987)

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Evidence For

While we have taken a firm stance on the validity of Die Hard as a Christmas movie, we have dug up the next 80’s action-thriller to consider: Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s Lethal Weapon (1987). The movie certainly starts out on a strong foot, opening with a classic Christmas soundtrack featuring songs like “Jingle Bell Rock,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and “The First Noel”—already a handful above the number of Christmas songs found in Die Hard

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Shortly into the movie, we meet our main hero, recently widowed officer Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson), who’s journey of self-discovery exhibits the Christmas Spirit. We find him at a low, dealing with thoughts of suicide and acting without caution throughout his life. This display is highly typical in a Christmas movie: finding the protagonist hitting rock bottom before discovering his true purpose (or, the true meaning of Christmas). Isn’t it George Bailey who toils with thoughts of suicide before having his revelation in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)? This theme, like in many movies, may simply be another device to show the grief and struggle that many of us may deal with during the holidays. 

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The biggest debate around this 1987 buddy cop classic is that it isn’t just a story about two undercover cops at odds with their approach to their job, but that it's actually a story about two undercover cops at odds with their approach to the job during Christmas time. To speak on this subject, we call our surprise witness, Lethal Weapon star Mel Gibson, to the stand. In an interview with E! News, Gibson joked about “how big it was in the '80s to set films with a Christmas backdrop.” He went on to mention that all directors at the time would say, "Set it at Christmas! Lots of snow, funny little songs, music to kill by, you know?"

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Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) in Lethal Weapon (1987)

Evidence Against

While Lethal Weapon may have some indicators of being a Christmas movie, it’s certainly hard to ignore that it steers pretty wide of the traditional Christmas elements. Similar to Die Hard, the movie is packed with lots of guns and gratuitous violence, not typically things you would picture when curling up for some holiday cheer. 

Although many scenes in the movie may take place in a holiday setting, the overall tone and message doesn’t typically fall under that of a holiday movie. However, it may not be the usual story of “saving Christmas” or gathering the family for the holidays that we have come to expect. The symbolism of bringing these partners together through the hardships of the holiday season is something that cannot be overlooked.

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Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) in Lethal Weapon (1987)


Does Lethal Weapon contain all of the snow, gift-giving, turkey-eating, and mall Santas that we’re used to seeing in a Christmas movie? No. But that’s what makes this movie so special! It’s the journey of two (now) friends facing the challenges of the holidays together. Sure, there are explosions and shoot-outs, but they’re set to some of our favorite Christmas tunes, aren’t they? For the sake of argument, just think of Riggs as George Bailey, and Murtaugh and Clarence the angel. Case closed.

Final Verdict: Lethal Weapon IS a Christmas movie.