by Preston Tolliver
“Die Hard” is a movie about a New York cop named John McClane who flies to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife, Holly, and their two children, but instead finds himself having to rescue said wife and all her coworkers from a group of terrorists. On its surface, it seems like your run-of-the-mill action movie, but its setting and certain plot points beg the question: Is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie?
The most thorough way to determine this is to figure out exactly what elements make a film a “Christmas movie,” and whether or not – and to what degree – “Die Hard” possesses these elements. The first and most obvious – and the one central to most arguments that the movie does qualify as a Christmas film – is that the movie must be set around Christmas time. But not only should the movie take place somewhere in the vicinity of Dec. 23-26, but it should also be visually clear that the holiday is being celebrated in the movie. We do see this throughout “Die Hard” in a variety of scenes – the Nakatomi Christmas party, of course; the multiple scenes of Argyle chilling in the back of his limousine with the giant teddy bear gift; and on a grimmer side, McClane’s dress-up of Tony in a Santa hat, with the words “Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho” written on his sweatshirt. So, while an argument might be made that being set on Christmas Eve doesn’t alone make “Die Hard” a Christmas movie, the film’s producers do constantly remind its viewers that the plot is occurring during Christmas.
However, that still doesn’t justify calling “Die Hard” a Christmas movie, because as a rule, Christmas movies have much more to do with plot than a setting. So, while that timeframe is almost mandatory, any Christmas movie should possess one or both of the following elements:
A strained family relationship becomes healed: The best Christmas movies really hone in on the whole “family bonding” part of the holidays. “The Santa Clause” wasn’t just a movie about Tim Allen gaining weight and unpaid overtime. It was about him reconnecting with his son. We saw a similar plot in “Jingle All the Way,” an upper-echelon Christmas film that showed Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) fight with a postman (Sinbad) to not just save Christmas for his annoying turd of a son, Jamie, but to also save his marriage. By mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, Ted had his hand’s in Howard’s wife, Liz’s, cookie jar. Where do you think it would have been by Christmas morning had Howard not gotten (and then turned into) Turboman?
In “Die Hard,” you don’t have to pay attention to see that John McClane’s marriage is on the rocks. He lives in New York, working as a beat cop, and she works for a corporation in Los Angeles. She doesn’t even use his last name anymore and turns their family photo away in her office. It’s a foregone conclusion that had John not come home for the holidays, Ellis would have had his hands in Holly’s cookie jar by New Year’s Eve.
But by the end of the movie, John had won Holly back. She took his last name again, and he was returning her home to their kids (which is a way better gift than some crappy Turboman doll, Jamie). Sure, John and Holly were divorced by like the second or third movie, but Christmas was saved.
Because of the holidays, a central character learns selflessness, and/or a lesson that stays with them forever: This is where “Die Hard” falls short in the Christmas argument. By the end of the movie, John McClane is basically the same person he was at the beginning of the movie, only with more scars on his feet. He’s not a changed man. He didn’t learn what’s central to many Christmas movies, and that’s a sense of selflessness. In “Elf,” buddy’s father, Walter, is a Scrooge. By the end of the movie, he’s come around, and is like 1,000 times better for it. In “A Christmas Carol” (or for people who prefer better storytelling, “A Muppets Christmas Carol”), the protagonist is THE Scrooge. By the end, he sees the error of his ways, and his life takes a complete 180. Sure, John McClane risked his life like 80 times in that movie to save people, but he would have done that anyway. And as we saw by ‘Die Hards 2-5,’ his marriage still failed, and his kids ended up in the same crap situations their dad did.
Based on this, I would argue that “Die Hard” isn’t your “typical” Christmas movie, but it does fall within those lines. However, to further solidify this argument, let’s make a comparison:
We have a movie about a male protagonist, who has a specific set of skills equipped to take down physical threats. At the beginning of the movie, it’s clear that his family’s love for him is suspect at best. Unwillingly, he gets thrown into a situation on Christmas Eve in which he becomes embattled with multiple criminals so that he can see his family again. In doing so, by the end of the movie, he’s earned his family’s respect and saved Christmas.
“Die Hard”? Nope. That’s “Home Alone.” In it, an industrious little psychopath named Kevin finds himself having to protect his home and himself from two robbers, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. For fairness, let’s run it through the three criteria above.
Set during the holidays? Check.
A strained family relationship becomes healed: Yes. Absolutely. But I’m not talking about Kevin’s family getting back home to him. He had crap parents in the beginning of the movie, and he had crap parents at the end. He also had crap parents at the beginning of “Home Alone 2,” and at the end of “Home Alone 2.” But the most important part of the movie wasn’t that Kevin was left home alone, or that he employed some near-psychotic means to punish his intruders, or even that his family came home and was suddenly nicer to him than they were in the beginning of the film. The most important part of “Home Alone” is when in the end, after helping Kevin, Old Man Marley calls his daughter and mends their relationship. That’s a lasting fix to a strained relationship. Further, sure, the McCallisters are reconnected for what, one year? Then Kevin’s lost in New York? Which leads me to:
Because of the holidays, a central character learns selflessness, and/or a lesson that stays with them forever: A year later, Kevin’s family lost him again. Gtfo.
So, if “Home Alone” is going to be considered an all-time Christmas movie, based on these criteria, it’s evident that “Die Hard” must be in that discussion as well. Because while it may lack some of the themes that are central to some Christmas movies, other commonly-recognized Christmas films lack some of those same things, if not more. Sure, “Die Hard” may lack some of the inspiration that you get from watching other holiday films, but that doesn’t discount what it is: “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.