Is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie? The answer is a resounding yes. You can watch “Die Hard” all holiday season long while remaining safe in the knowledge that you have, in fact, enjoyed a well-crafted Christmas film. This flick is a fine substitute for “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Elf,” or even “Scrooged.” Now there are many vocal opponents of this relatively new theory of a “Die Hard” Christmas and they often point to the fact that the film was originally released in the middle of July 1988 to capture the summer blockbuster market. These people have long memories indeed. Others point to the obvious unconventionality that a bloody “shoot-em up” has the ability to capture the spirit of the Christmas. But when you take a closer look, you will see that “Die Hard” is, in fact, the most Christmas of any Christmas movie. Let’s take a look at some key facts and assumptions one at a time.
Christmas is firmly in the DNA of the entire concept. Author and former professional gumshoe Roderick Thorp’s first novel “The Detective” was published in 1966 and soon became a film of the same name starring Frank Sinatra in 1968. Some ten years later in 1979, after perhaps a screening of the “Towering Inferno,” Thorp wrote a sequel to “The Detective” called “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Thorp’s book starts on Christmas Eve and makes the whole idea of the office Christmas Party central to the plot. When the movie “Die Hard” went into production, Sinatra (as well as a bunch of A-list actors) was offered the role but turned it down. Everyman Bruce Willis, fresh off his stint from playing Cowboy star Tom Mix in the mostly forgettable “Sunset,” shines in the role of New York City Detective John McClane. McClane is a cop who doesn’t care about the book and has a backlog of six months worth of scumbags that need to be dealt with. Yet here he is on Christmas Eve, having just flown across the country to try and reconcile with his corporate high flying wife Holly Gennaro at her company Christmas Party at Nakatomi Plaza. John hopes to achieve some sort “Christmas Miracle” reconciliation but is thwarted when his Christmas spirit fails him and he winds up arguing with Holly only then to have Super Grinch Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman’s first feature film, by the way) and his Universal colors of Benetton Baader-Meinhoff gang show up and present a serious complication for McClane, Holly, and all the party-goers from having a Merry Christmas ever again.
The film’s first twenty-five minutes present the perfect set-up for any number of variations of one man trying to overcome insurmountable odds to unite his family for Christmas. We’ve seen it in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Jingle All the Way.” Only in the case of “Die Hard,” the conflict arises when the robbery begins. All through the film, Christmas is often played for gallows humor as McClane kills his way through a dozen or so smug mercenary types pausing only to put Santa hats on dead bodies and write Christmas theme messages to the easily incensed Gruber. Now, instead of the usual Christmas tale about elves or redemption, you get over 100 minutes of pulse-pounding action from what just might be one of the greatest action movies of all time. McClane’s escape and rescue of his wife is nothing short of a bona fide Christmas Miracle and, much like all stock Christmas films, McClane and Holly are re-united and able to enjoy the spirit of Christmas together reunited with their family!
McClane even gets to play a little ghost of Christmas past with fellow “good cop plagued by the system” Sgt. Al Powell. Powell still can’t get past the fact he shot a kid by accident. By the end of the movie, he’s found his Christmas spirit in the form of blowing away mega-baddie Karl and saving the life of his new-found friend.
Lastly consider the film is packed with Christmas Music like “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and “Christmas in Hollis” by RUN DM. Beethoven’s 9th pops up in key scenes. I’m not even counting the use of jingling bells throughout the film as a well placed sound effect.
In summation, I believe that Die Hard is an excellent synthesis of Action Movie AND Christmas Movie which makes it suitable for viewing with your friends over cold beers or your action-hungry family with egg nog. In my mind, it pairs well as a double feature with “Love Actually” or “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” Next Christmas, I’ll explain how another unlikely film is, in fact, full of the Christmas Spirit!