Some films are obviously Christmas movies, like Miracle on 34th Street and Elf. But that designation is not so clear cut for other films. They are at least partially set during the holiday season, they can even touch upon Christmas themes, but does that mean they truly qualify in the traditional sense? To find out, we’re putting them on trial and laying out all the evidence for and against them by asking a series of related questions. And there’s no better movie to put to the great Christmas movie debate test than one of the best action films ever made, Die Hard.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ask yourself…
How much of Die Hard takes place at Christmastime?
All of it takes place on Christmas Eve at Nakatomi Plaza during the company’s holiday party. Because apparently it never occurred to Mr. Takagi that people may have families they’d like to spend the night with instead. Seriously, is this a thing big-time corporations do? Do they throw their swanky end-of-the-year party on Christmas Eve like a bunch of goons? What? Was the room booked on Christmas morning?
The Christmas spirit is also present when we see Jon McClane carrying a giant teddy bear through the airport. Some whistle and sing Christmas carols to themselves as they walk around too. There’s also the briefest consideration of shutting down the power to ten blocks specifically because it’s Christmas Eve. (The world’s most cartoonish FBI agent dismisses that idea.)
Would Die Hard be fundamentally different if it were set at any other time of the year?
No, not really. At most, it would lead to some cosmetic changes. How much would change if you moved this story just one week ahead to New Year’s Eve? That would only require a couple of alterations. Cut out some Christmas songs (but not the decorations) and some references. It wouldn’t alter much of the plot.
In fact, the big moment when they open the vault is accompanied by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” instead of a Christmas song. You could easily replace Theo’s “Merry Christmas” at the end of the song with “Happy New Year” instead. On the other hand, you would lose the classic line, “Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho,” and the tension between Jon and Holly wouldn’t be quite the same.
Do any of the film’s major themes apply to Christmas?
Yeah, two of the biggies: family and greed. Jon and his wife are basically estranged and the future of their marriage is unclear at the start, but by the end, they realize jobs and money don’t mean as much as your loved ones. Since Hans Gruber and all the other terrorists end up dead, it’s safe to say the movie is a big “no” on killing innocent people for profit. You can even throw in the themes of redemption and friendship here, too. In fact, this is one of the strongest arguments for Die Hard being an honest-to-goodness Christmas movie, despite all the violence and bloodshed.
Does watching Die Hard at Christmas time enhance the experience?
It’s probably slightly more fun to watch this around Christmas time because it makes the little details of the setting pop more. Plus it’s always weird to hear Christmas music outside of its natural time period. But it’s not like you’re turning off Die Hard if you come across it on cable in April; it’s one of the best action movies ever. Let’s just say: if watching Die Hard in the springtime is a 99 on the experience chart, watching it in December is a crisp 100.
Has this film been accepted as a Christmas movie tradition?
Not only has it become a holiday staple for many, but there are also plenty who call Die Hard their favorite Christmas movie. No matter where you stand on that designation, you will definitely come across Die Hard on TV sometime after Thanksgiving every year, without fail, for the rest of your life. It’s definitely in the rotation.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Die Hard is not really a Christmas movie on its own. It would still be a phenomenal movie if you changed its setting just a little bit. But it does embrace the holiday and makes it a relevant part of its story. That story touches upon some major Christmas movie themes.
Ultimately the real deciding factor is that after nearly 30 years, the film has become a December tradition. That pushes it over the hump. So yes, Die Hard qualifies as an official Christmas movie.
Yippee ki yay and happy holidays!
Originally published December 12, 2017.
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