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. Some of these not-so-clear-cut titles include Gremlins (1984) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), but when it comes to the most widely debated earning of the “Christmas movie” title, the action-packed classic Die Hard (1988) takes the fruitcake.
In an attempt to put some of these arguments to rest, we are putting this so-called Christmas movie 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.
Yippee-ki-yay, Die Hard fans. For those who lean heavily towards their Christmas tradition of popping in the John McClane classic around the holiday season, and for those who take a hard stance against it, we have some compelling evidence for you. Not only does this action movie take place on Christmas Eve, but it is filled with classic Christmas music. Including “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow” and Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” the movie reminds us that (aside from excessive violence) there is a recurring theme.
Our next piece of evidence is supported by the repeated use of dialogue full of ironic Christmas references. Die Hard hammers this theme rather heavily, from Theo’s “Twas the night before Christmas” bit that he riffs smartly, to Hans Gruber’s line “It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time of miracles.” Though, the most notable line from the movie is when Hans dryly reads McClane’s taunt scrawled on the shirt of a dead henchman: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho,” a line that perfectly captures this clash of movie genres.
Finally, if this evidence hasn’t convinced you already, we call to the stand Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, who has admitted that the movie was intended to be a Christmas movie. He even explained to Washington Post journalist Alex Horton that the movie’s producer, Joel Silver, had predicted that Die Hard would get played at Christmas time for years. De Souza even went on to confirm this fact yet again to CNN reporter Jake Tapper via Twitter, including the hashtag #DieHardIsAChristmasMovie in his post.
John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Die Hard (1988)
While Die Hard may have some signs of being a Christmas movie, we cannot deny that it certainly breaks the mold of a traditional holiday classic. Packed with guns, violence, and explosions, we find a lack of the conventional Christmas imagery: no Santa, no Christmas tree decorating, and no overly-dramatic family dinner scene. One of the biggest arguments in opposition is that the movie could have been set at ANY other time of year, and the story would have still held up—which there is no denying. The holiday setting was actually pulled in as a later revision by the aforementioned writer, Steven E. de Souza.
Secondly, and possibly the strongest argument is that lead actor Bruce Willis does not think that Die Hard is a Christmas movie! However, his reasoning behind this statement is a bit shaky. In his own words: “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a [expletive] Bruce Willis movie.”
Richard Thornburg (William Atherton), Cameraman (Bob Jennings), and Thornburg's Assistant (Tracy Reiner) in Die Hard (1988)
As historian Greg Jenner wrote on Twitter, “Christmas is a liminal ritualized period of carnivalesque inversion during which underdogs and the powerless are briefly elevated above hierarchical structures. John McClane is a classic Christmas underdog triumphing over selfish venality.” Simply put, the machine gun-wielding John McClane may sound like an unconventional Christmas hero, but so does an overweight man piloting a team of flying reindeer in order to break into people’s homes.
Final verdict: Die Hard is a Christmas Movie!