What makes a good Christmas movie? Well, I find good Christmas movies always seem to generate this magical aura of emotions, memorable moments, and love of some sort. Now, if Die Hard does not encapsulate all those things then well, I’m not sure what a Christmas movie is frankly.
Released on July 15th, 1988, for the last 30 years of its existence people continue to bring up the question, “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” It is one of the most divisive movies of all time for that specific reason (not so much in a critical filmmaking way). I doubt when director John McTiernan and star Bruce Willis signed up for this film, they thought one of the biggest takeaways would be whether it’s a Christmas movie.
Die Hard sees our hero John McClane (Bruce Willis), an NYPD detective, fly out to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve (yes that’s right Christmas Eve!) on a mission to reconcile with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). How adorable right? A man wanting to make amends with his wife. In the first few minutes, we learn that McClane hates to fly, showing us how much this truly means to him making the trip all the from New York to win back his wife’s heart. Now that on its own would make a pretty decent Christmas story, but it’s not over there. The Christmas party (wow a Christmas party, no way) which they are at is attacked by a terrorist group led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and it is up to McClane to defeat them as they stand in the way of his ultimate goal.
Sure, Die Hard is no sweet and innocent Christmas movie like Elf or The Polar Express, but who says Christmas movies have to be? Not only is the setting of the movie Christmas Eve, but the dialogue – which granted at times is also very ’80s in design – has many references to Christmas. Die Hard produces an incredible amount of emotions, as we are constantly on the edge of our seat rooting on McClane. Die Hard also contains some of the most memorable lines and moments in movie history. From the classic “Yippie-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!” to “Welcome to the party, pal!”, John jumping from the top of the Nakatomi building, and the intense air vent scene, many believe Die Hard to be the gold standard when it comes to action movies, and rightfully so.
I feel that is one of the biggest reasons why there is a push back to consider it a Christmas movie. It’s bloody, it’s littered with profanity, and offensive to some extent – things which aren’t synonymous with Christmas. No one said it was a Christmas movie for the whole family to enjoy, but it still contains those key ingredients of a good Christmas movie – just for adults.
Besides always coming up in conversations around the holidays, Die Hard did a lot of other things in the world of film as well. Mentioned previously, many consider Die Hard the gold standard when it comes to action movies. This means a lot of action movies have, in some way, been influenced by Die Hard since its release. It also spawned, at the time, a new star in Bruce Willis. Before being John McClane, Willis had only appeared in two other films, Blind Date in 1987 and Sunset which was released the same year as Die Hard. Following the success of the movie, Willis would go on to star in films like Pulp Fiction, Twelve Monkeys, and The Sixth Sense. Now his career has been on a downward trajectory (minus Looper), but at the time, his career was one of the best. We also gained one of the best villain roles of all time thanks to the late great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. Die Hard was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It grossed $140.7 million in it’s worldwide run in 1988 but has probably made a lot more since then with many theatres making it a tradition to screen the film around the holidays. It also led to four sequels and a rumoured prequel set to be released in the near future, but we don’t really talk about those.
Will the conversation of, is Die Hard a Christmas movie ever stop? My bet is probably not, but if it were up to Fox Studios, that answer would be a big fat yes, thanks to a new trailer recently released pretty much confirming the answer. A marketing stunt you say? More than likely, but still I’ll take any kind of affirmation at this point. Then again, film is subjective and there will always be a naysayer out there. The never-ending discussion has cemented itself with Die Hard’s legacy. Whether you choose to think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not (it is), watch it if you never have. You will experience one of the best overall action films ever made, and more than likely find yourself exclaiming Yippie-Ki-Yay as you open your Christmas presents.
Directed by: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson