By Noah Mintie, Current Staff
As the Christmas season rolls around once again, many bust out the DVDs to watch all of their favorite movies again. However, as they sift through the shelf, their hands rest on one case in hesitation. Does John McTiernan’s 1988 hit “Die Hard” count as a Christmas movie?
For a little over 30 years this debate has raged on. “Die Hard” is a movie about a thief attack on the newly built Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. The film stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, as he tries to free a group of hostages including his wife from the clutches of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. It certainly seems to have no connection to the holiday of giving, but many have pointed out the movie’s frequent reference to the holiday and the use of Christmas music as a sign that it is, in fact, a Christmas movie at its center. After all, why set the movie during the season if doing so serves no thematic purpose?
So to settle such a debate, let us look at the defining traits of a Christmas movie, its definition and common traits across acknowledged holiday classics to determine whether or not “Die Hard” shall be taken from that shelf.
Defining Trait #1: Taking Place During the Christmas Season
Before diving into themes and values, it must be confirmed that yes, “Die Hard” does take place on Christmas Eve. The film is set during a decked-out Christmas party in Nakatomi Plaza, and characters frequently mention the holiday because of it. Not to mention that many objects of significance in the movie are specifically holiday-themed. The tape John uses in the end of the movie could have been any plain duct tape, but they specifically chose Christmas tape. These details are sprinkled all throughout the movie. To put it bluntly, there is no doubt that “Die Hard” makes it known that it takes place on Christmas Eve.
Defining Trait #2: Encompassing Christmas Values
Christmas values are widely known to be several things, including the importance of family, giving, and often religious significance. A movie does not need all of these values to be expressed, but at least one must be the central focus of the theme. In the case of “Die Hard,” the central drive of the story relies on John McClane being motivated to save his ex-wife from a group of terrorists. Throughout the film, John shows the wish to reconnect with his family, and he does not stop crawling through vents and mowing down terrorists until his wife is safe, even resulting in several of his own injuries. This mentality of “family first” is a clear demonstration that the movie takes the core values of loving one’s family to heart. It even takes it as a central theme. For that reason, “Die Hard” does encompass Christmas values.
Defining Trait #3: Acknowledged & Marketed as a Christmas Movie
For a while, “Die Hard” wasn’t quite confirmed or denied as a Christmas movie. It wasn’t especially marketed that way for a while either, until finally in 2018, 20th Century Studios launched a marketing campaign and new trailer for Die Hard, dubbing it “the greatest Christmas story ever told.” While it could be debated whether the plot of “Die Hard” could trump the timeless “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss, the campaign clearly shows that the studio is marketing the movie in a very holiday-focused way.
These three traits are clearly visible in “Die Hard,” and go to show that it is, in fact, a Christmas movie. Perhaps this holiday season it’s worth revisiting the classic among the other greats, because while he may not look much like Santa Claus, John McClane still packs some holiday cheer.
(Top image credit: Noah Mintie, Current Staff.)