The Great Debate: Is Die Hard A Christmas Movie?
We settle the debate once and for all
In this new column, we present a case that’s up for debate. And then we settle it. Welcome to The Great Debate.
If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen Die Hard, or doesn’t know what Die Hard is about, here is a brief synopsis.
New York City Police Department detective John McClane flies to Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife from who he is separated. He goes to join her at her company Christmas party, the Nakatomi Corporation, at their building the Nakatomi Plaza.
While McClane is in his wife Holly’s office changing for the party, the party is interrupted by a team of German terrorists, led by Hans Gruber. Everyone at the party is taken hostage, but McClane sneaks away.
And thus begins a cat and mouse, shoot-em-up, action-packed classic movie of the good guy versus lots of bad buys. Guns, explosions, quippy one-liners, and a high-stakes finale — it is a cinematic classic and set a standard for action movies going forward.
- Bruce Willis as John McClane, a New York City police detective
- Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, the ruthless leader of the terrorists
- Alexander Godunov as Karl, Gruber’s second-in-command
- Bonnie Bedelia as Holly Gennero-McClane, a high-ranking Nakatomi executive and John’s estranged wife
- Reginald VelJohnson as Al Powell, an LAPD sergeant
- Paul Gleason as Dwayne T. Robinson, the LAPD Deputy Chief
- De’voreaux White as Argyle, John’s limousine driver
- William Atherton as Richard Thornburg, an unscrupulous TV reporter
- Clarence Gilyard as Theo, Gruber’s tech specialist
- Hart Bochner as Harry Ellis, a sleazy Nakatomi executive
- James Shigeta as Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi, Nakatomi’s head executive
The Great Debate
So, is Die Hard a Christmas movie or is it a movie that’s set during the Christmas season?
As the title of the trailer above would suggest, it is hyped and marketed as a Christmas movie by the studio that made it. But, does that qualify it as a Christmas movie?
There’s a strong argument to be made that what defines a Christmas movie can be boiled down to a few criteria.
- Is set during the Christmas season. This can begin immediately after Thanksgiving, and the season or holiday is usually integral to the plot.
- Usually involves an existential or personal crisis for the main character, ending up with a redemptive story arc.
- Holiday music is a big part of the soundtrack and can be integrated into the plot.
- Love is in the air.
- Not always, but Santa is probably in it.
Examples that fit these criteria: A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Elf, A Boy Called Christmas
Christmas movie purists stick to the classics, a few of which were mentioned above. They also will make the argument that a Christmas movie is not inherently violent. It may have comical violence in it (Home Alone, Christmas Vacation), but it is not in of itself — violent. Die Hard is absolutely violent.
Christmas is not integral to the plot of Die Hard. There are Christmas related motifs, (The Christmas party as the setting, “Now I’ve got a machine gun — ho ho ho”, or the gun taped to McClane’s back with Christmas packaging tape). If you were to remove Christmas as the timeframe, would the movie still work? The argument is yes, all elements of the movie work. McClane could be visiting for a birthday instead of Christmas. Gruber and crew could still break in and steal the bonds. McClane could still battle through the building and save the day.
Unlike most Christmas-themed movies, Die Hard was not released during the holiday season. In fact, was released in July 1988, it’s poster has no element of Christmas on it, and it wasn’t marketed as a Christmas movie.
So, based on the criteria we set above, how does Die Hard stack up?
- Set at Christmas? Yes, but being at Christmas doesn’t impact the plot.
- A redemptive character arc? Yes! John McClane and Holly both have a redemptive arc. Hans Gruber, not so much.
- Holiday music? Yes, it’s got an almost exclusively Christmas soundtrack.
- Love? You bet, and in a classic “let’s get these two back together” storyline.
- Is Santa in it? No.
Yes. Die Hard is a Christmas movie! Like it or not, Die Hard hits most of the criteria listed, and though it may not have any real snow — it is in Los Angeles after all, it feels like Christmas.
And finally, the criteria fit soooo many movies that really feel so similar that it’s fun to step outside the norm and embrace a movie that isn’t a typical type of Christmas movie. And Die Hard absolutely is not your typical Christmas movie.