Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?

It’s gotten cold up here in the northern hemisphere, and lots of people are starting to put random pine trees into their homes. So that means it’s time to bring up the age-old holiday discussion:

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

There’s a lot of opinions when it comes to this one. While writing this piece, I took a second to Google “defining characteristics of a Christmas movie”, and hits 1, 4 and 7 were articles dedicated to this very question. Even within my own family, opinions vary wildly.

So I decided to take the time and try to clear this up from an objective standpoint.

I’m not a huge fan of older movies, though if you live in my house and spend time with my family, both immediate and extended, there’s virtually no way to have avoided multiple viewings of the following: It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, The Christmas Carol (multiple versions, both film and stage) and White Christmas. I grew up with Peanuts and the Grinch animated films. My personal favorites today include A Christmas Story, The Family Man, The Ref, The Holiday, Love Actually and of course, Christmas Vacation.

Side note: If you’re looking for some new Christmas films, have a look at the top 100 Christmas movies of all time.

Considering all of the films listed above, there’s a handful of recurring themes and threads throughout most of them that we can use as a litmus test for whether or not a film is a “Christmas” film”.

Christmas Setting – does the film actually occur at Christmas?

The Importance of Family. This one’s blatantly obvious – which of these films doesn’t end with the main characters celebrating the holiday with their family? Okay, The Ref, but that scene was worked into the climax.

Making Others Happy and/or Importance of Charity. This often ties directly into the family aspect, but not always. For instance, charity is emphasized directly in Miracle on 34th Street, especially at the film’s climax, and Holiday Inn, which is largely about helping out the General dude. This is also big in The Holiday, The Ref and Christmas Carol, and is a strong sub-theme in other films.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and enjoy the holiday). Big in Christmas Vacation where Clark learns to reject unattainable perfection, but also when the Parkers go out for Chinese after the turkey is eaten by the dogs (Christmas Story), George Bailey gets past his failures (It’s a Wonderful Life), Jack Campbell getting over living in New Jersey (The Family Man), half the characters of Love Actually, and more.

A Christmas Miracle. This may involve a touch of the supernatural (Family Man, Wonderful Life, 34th Street), or something that seemed otherwise unattainable that happens (Christmas Story, Holiday Inn, The Holiday).

Finally, bonus points for the appearance of snow (but this is very much optional).

So now we have our litmus test. Let’s run Die Hard through the ringer and see what comes out the other end, shall we?

Christmas setting. 100%. The entire film takes place on Christmas Eve as John McClane heads to Los Angeles to reunite with his estranged wife and children for the holiday. Multiple Christmas tunes make their appearance throughout, and one of the essential points of the film is that Hans Gruber and crew are robbing the building on December 24 due to the expectation of less people on site.

Importance of Family. Oh yeah, Die Hard’s got this in spades. The only reason that John’s in the building in the first place is to try to make up with his wife Holly. This doubles down as his motivation throughout the entire film to try to single-handedly save her from the terrorists – otherwise, John could have just split and let the LAPD handle it…

…which brings us to making people happy. Because John’s secondary goal throughout the film is to also save his wife’s co-workers, whom he doesn’t really care about personally, nor has he even met most of them. Though John is mostly putting his life on the line for Holly, he’s fixing to save the rest of the folks as well. So maybe not the biggest argument, but still a solid one.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Throughout most of the film, John doesn’t have shoes. His feet are constantly getting cut up and bloody. He doesn’t have weapons at the beginning, and when the police finally show up, he gets no support from them, either (outside of Al). John keeps his eyes on the prize throughout, not worrying much about anything else.

Christmas miracle. YUP. One unarmed, unshoed man takes out an entire group of terrorists and saves the day. That’s as good as Ralphie getting his Red Ryder Rifle or Clark not getting arrested for kidnapping any day.

Bonus points for snow? Eh, kinda sorta. Since the film was in Los Angeles, snow might have seemed disingenuous. So the creators of Die Hard came up with their own solution: millions of tiny fragments of shredded and burned paper falling down from the Nakatomi Plaza explosions stood in for snow, and was a nice, snarky, Die Hard-style nod towards this Christmas film tradition.

So is Die Hard a Christmas film?

From this writer, an emphatic YES.

If you agree and are looking for a few additional Christmas action films, try any of these titles:

  • Die Hard 2 (obviously)
  • Iron Man 3
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  • Lethal Weapon
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight
  • (Really, almost anything written by Shane Black)

Finally, before I sign off for the season, I’m going to debut a trivia question feature to my blog. Die Hard was based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever. Nothing Lasts Forever was a sequel to a book called The Detective, which was made into a film in 1968 featuring a pretty famous actor. The main character was the same for both books, though he was “reimagined” in the intervening 20 years between the two films. But because the book as a sequel, the studio was contractually obligated to offer the initial actor the role of John McClain before it was offered to Bruce Willis. Can you name that actor?

The blog will be off until January 9th, when I’ll come back with my 4th quarter Twitter reviews (and the answer to the above trivia question), and back with more writing on January 16. Have a very happy and safe holiday, and see you back here next year!

And to my family – you, me, Christmas Eve and John McClain. Book it.