It’s a Wonderful Life.
Miracle on 34th Street.
They’re all classic Christmas flicks, but that last one seems to give some people trouble. Not everyone recognises Die Hard as an actual Christmas film. If you Google the phrase “Christmas movies” you’ll see Die Hard on pretty much any list that comes up. But that’s not enough for some people.
Welcome to the party pal. It’s a Christmas party.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re not convinced by Google or by Die Hard’s countless Christmas fans. And let’s further suppose that you’re the type of person who might offer a counter-argument, along the lines of:
“Just because a movie is set at Christmas, doesn’t make it a Christmas movie.”
Fair enough. You also might try something like this:
“Christmas movies are about the wonder of Christmas and about family and appreciating what you have.”
And finally, your voice dripping with condescension, you might throw one more point into the mix:
“Die Hard is an action film, not a Christmas film. Everybody knows that. “
These all seem like good points, at first glance. But you’re wrong. You’re worse than wrong. You’re being a grinch. No, you’re worse than that even.
You’re being a total Hans Gruber – a villain – and I want to set finally set things straight.
What is a Christmas film anyway?
I’m sure that you would agree that, at the bare minimum, the following statement would have to apply to any motion picture that would consider itself to be part of the genre in question
1. A Christmas film has to take place around Christmas time, or feature pivotal scenes that take place on or around Christmas.
For chrissake’s most Christmas films actually only have a little bit of Christmas in them. It’s a Wonderful Life goes through George Bailey’s entire life before getting around to being Christmasy only in the final 20 minutes and that’s considered a Christmas classic.
All of Die Hard takes place at Christmas. It opens with a Christmas party and ends with a Christmas song (Let it Snow). It’s an entirely Christmas-based movie!
2. Christmas films have spiritual themes, around family, faith or redemption
Die Hard fulfills the second requirement as well. It has the structure and pacing of an action film, but underneath it’s a story about Christmas-related personal growth that mirrors Xmas classics like “A Christmas Carol”.
Bruce Willis’ character comes out to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children. It’s clear early on that he doesn’t think there’s going to be a reconciliation. He’s mad that his wife has taken up a new career and reclaimed her maiden name.
But by the end of the film, he’s a changed man, giving a tearful speech meant to be delivered to his wife about how sorry he is.
Although prompted by terrorists rather than by Christmas ghosts or guardian angels, John McClain’s Christmas transformation is no less a tale of holiday-inspired redemption than George Bailey’s or Ebenezer Scrooge’s.
3. Christmas films are, you know, Christmas-y
The reason people don’t appreciate Die Hard as a Christmas film is that when you watch it, you get so caught up in the story and the action, that you don’t really stop to notice all of the Christmas references sprinkled throughout the film.
Very early in the film, Bruce Willis’ character is being driven around LA, and his limo driver puts on a Run DMC song. Bruce Willis asks: “You got any Christmas music?” What the driver says in response pretty much encapsulates everything that people miss about Die Hard:
“This IS Christmas music”
He might as well have been announcing “This IS a Christmas movie!”
Just because Die Hard doesn’t conform to an old-fashioned, cliched vision of Christmas, doesn’t mean it’s not “Christmas-y.” Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” sets the tone with its rap about Santa and collard greens, but the moments just keep coming. Whether it’s Hans Gruber proclaiming “It’s Christmas, it’s the time of miracles” or the funny shot near the end of the film, where the office Christmas tree unceremoniously topples over amidst all the carnage – Christmas permeates virtually every scene in Die Hard.
There’s even snow, despite the film being set in Los Angeles. At the end of the film, debris and paper from the wreckage of Nakatomi Plaza drift down from the skies – the white sheets clearly meant to evoke a white Christmas.
I don’t know if you are convinced yet. You should be. The evidence is all there and the film clearly fulfills the three well-established criteria for a film to be considered Christmas movie.
But just in case you still haven’t been converted to the cause, let me point out just one more thing that might change your mind. Something I just noticed this year, in my 19th (or maybe 20th) viewing of Die Hard. Something that should settle any question of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie once and for all…
John McLane might just be Santa Claus.
You’re probably thinking I’ve taken my argument too far. That I’m just another American who saw too many movies as a child – another orphan of a bankrupt culture. But hear me out.
John McClane is meant to represent Santa Claus throughout the film. An unconventional, ass-kicking Santa.
Once you start thinking about it, the references are impossible not to notice.
The movie’s very first scene is McClane flying through the skies on Christmas Eve, coming down from the cold North (New York) to the warm south (LA).
He’s bearing presents, including a giant stuffed bear. He wants nothing more than to deliver those presents, which he leaves in his
sleigh limo with his helper, Argyle, who is sort of his Christmas elf/Rudolph.
But there are obstacles in the way of John McClane delivering his Christmas gifts. He must stop a bunch of terrorists intent on ruining Christmas. He then spends much of the film scurrying around through chimney-like ventilation ducts to get to where he needs to go. Does that remind you of anybody?
Still not convinced?
He sends messages reading “ho ho ho” to the terrorists, who he watches from above. Like Santa, he literally keeps a list of their names. When he meets Hans Gruber in person, pretending to be a hostage, he knows instinctively that he’s actually naughty and not nice. You can’t fool Father Christmas.
And to top it all off, the film ends on Christmas Day.
The terrorists have been defeated and Christmas has been saved. McClane has reunited with his wife. He gets back in his
sleigh limo with his gifts.
Meanwhile, snow gently falls around him and the lights from emergency service vehicles twinkle in the background.
The very last line of the film goes to
the elf Argyle: “If this is your idea of Christmas, I got to be here for New Year’s.”
Makes me cry every time.
Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The best one.