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Murder By Mistletoe: 10 Christmas Crime Movies for Hardboiled Audiences

Tis the season for mirth, for merriment, and yes, a little bit of murder. Crime doesn’t stop just because it’s December, and filmmakers have been taking advantage of the weird contrast between season’s greetings and hardboiled hardboiled homicide for many, many years.

So if you’ve had enough holiday treacle, or even if you just prefer your Christmas wardrobe to emphasize your collection of overcoats and fedoras, you’re going to want to check out some of these great, or at least noteworthy Christmas crime movies. They take the something beautiful and make it dark and compelling, and they might just make you realize that your own troubles aren’t nearly as bad as folks who just ripped off the mob, or recently ran afoul of sinister cabals of sex addicts.

Happy holidays! Or, to quote the greatest holiday gangster of them all…

Christmas Crime Movies for Hardboiled Audiences:

Someone's gotta work at Christmastime. In Allen Baron's Blast of Silence, a hitman goes about his business during the holidays, preparing to kill a mobster, but his job gets complicated when a person from his past recognizes him.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Don't let the title fool you. Christmas Holiday isn't another family favorite in the vein of White Christmas, it's a noir about a woman who marries a murderer, telling her sad story in a church at Christmastime. 

Photo: Universal Pictures

Stanley Kubrick's final motion picture is a dark and chilling tale of jealousy, with Tom Cruise playing a doctor whose ego is dashed, wanders into an illicit sex party, and gets in way over his head with the wrong crowd of people. Disturbing in all the most fascinating ways.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Martin McDonagh's bittersweet comedy In Bruges takes place in Bruges, one of the most beautiful places in the world, where two hitmen have gone to hide after a job gone bad. Along the way they tackle various yuletide concerns, like guilt and friendship and shootouts.

Photo: Focus Features

John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton have stolen millions of dollars, but dang it, the roads are too icy, and they have to hang out and get in a series of noirish adventures. The Ice Harvest is atypically dark for a Harold Ramis comedy, but that only makes this Christmas caper more noteworthy.

Photo: Focus Features

Lots of Shane Black's movies take place at Christmastime, but none are sharper or funnier than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Robert Downey Jr. plays a lowly thief who accidentally becomes the toast of Hollywood, Val Kilmer plays a private detective who's stuck with him, and together they tackle an improbably complicated (but extremely entertaining) mystery.

Photo: Warner Bros.

A horrifying case of police brutality, at Christmastime no less, sends Curtis Hansen's Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential in motion. The sprawling motion picture implicates every institution, and practically every person in Los Angeles.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Raymond Chandler's detective story gets a bold and unusual treatment: it's filmed entirely in first person, with the audience in the role of Phillip Marlowe (with a little help from Robert Montgomery, who also directed). It's a strange experiment, but a fascinating one, and yes... it all takes place at Christmas.

Photo: MGM

William Powell and Myrna Loy play alcoholic socialite sleuths Nick and Nora Charles in this, the first in a long line of The Thin Man movies. This yuletide murder mystery is still the best of the lot, and features the lovable duo opening presents when they're not cracking the case.

Photo: MGM

John le Carré's impossibly complicated spy story, about a retired agent called back into action to conduct a mole hunt, is one of the best motion pictures of its kind. And somehow it all revolves around one Christmas party, where all the players were present, and nobody knew what was really going on.

Photo: Focus Features
 Top Photo: Focus Features

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.