Nothing marks December quite like Mariah Carey music blaring on the radio, white flurries falling from the sky, and — of course — arguments over Die Hard‘s status as a Christmas movie. It’s understandable how an action classic following a barefoot man gunning down terrorists with a machine gun might not immediately scream ‘Christmas movie,’ but I sit here today to make my case and answer the most pressing question of our times: Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and a darn good one, too.
It’s worth noting that — Christmas or not — I think Die Hard is nearly untouchable as a movie. There are few movies as endlessly quotable, structurally tight, or effortlessly entertaining as the 130 minutes of cinematic bliss otherwise known as Die Hard, but its legacy as an action classic doesn’t necessarily make it a Christmas movie. After all, I’m a devoted Eyes Wide Shut fan, and even I don’t consider that to be a Christmas movie despite it taking place during the holidays. So what’s different with Die Hard?
Die Hard checks the most obvious box by simply taking place in close to proximity to Christmas, as the movie occurs within the span of a holiday office party on Christmas Eve. There are other essential boxes checked such as the use of Christmas music (have you really heard Ode to Joy until you’ve heard it set to the criminal opening of a vault?), the use of Christmas decor (have you really seen a Santa hat until you’ve seen one put on a dead corpse?), and the prevalence of Christmas gifts (have you ever seen a Christmas present with as many unintended ramifications as that Rolex watch?) Perhaps my favorite bit of all is a wink-to-the-audience as simple as the female protagonist being named Holly, which is rather fitting for a movie filled with nothing other than mistletoe and holly.
All these things are Christmas elements within Die Hard, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a Christmas movie in its DNA; what truly distinguishes it as a Christmas movie is how it captures the spirit of the holidays. Strip away all the guns and explosions, and what you’re left with is a story about a man searching for redemption to win back the family that he has left behind. In other words: it’s about a guy who really, really wants to be home for the holidays, even if it mean killing a handful of terrorists along the way. But this isn’t any guy; this is John McClane, an every-man who is just as motivated by the fate of his marriage as he is reliant on his wits to stop a hostage takeover. McClane is constantly reminded of his vulnerability, dealing with problems as mundane as the physical danger of shards of broken glass on a floor, as well as the emotional difficulties of making amends with a wife he has left behind.
All of this sets the backdrop for a story that probably couldn’t take place during any holiday other than Christmas. Die Hard during the 4th of July? Sure, on a literal level the plot could still occur (and there are few things more American than a fist-pumping action movie), but it’s hard to imagine a holiday that would motivate John McClane to right his wrongs and unite with his family more than Christmas would. The average person is obviously not stopping terrorists on Christmas Eve, but McClane’s struggle is an extreme exaggeration of the loneliness and despair many feel around the pomp and circumstance of the holidays, as well as the subsequent attempt to reach out to distant loved ones.
If none of this has convinced you yet, allow me to rely on another quintessential Christmas movie: Home Alone. The similarities between it and Die Hard are endless, whether it be the core idea of separated families trying to reunite on the holidays, as well as the constant trickery of their respective protagonists as Kevin McCallister outsmarts the Wet Bandits and John McClane outsmarts Hans Gruber’s henchmen. Is Die Hard a lot more violent? Sure, but I would argue that Kevin McCallister’s actions make him far more primed to be a future psychopath than anything John McClane does throughout the night, but that’s a separate conversation.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a cup of hot chocolate, wrap yourself up in a blanket, and throw on Die Hard. The worst case-scenario is you think it’s not a Christmas movie, but, hey, you found an excuse to watch Die Hard. And if you finally think it is a Christmas movie? Yippie-ki-yay and ho ho ho — welcome to the club.