Image: Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988). 20TH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT
You’re damn right it is, and you’d have to be some sort of Scrooge/Grinch hybrid not to think so.
Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman’s unforgettable face-off is what most people think of when they remember Die Hard. But there’s a darned good reason to give it another re-watch this holiday season: It might be the best Christmas movie ever made.
Allow me to explain.
Within the first two minutes of the movie, it touches on three important themes in late ‘80s/early ‘90s holiday movies: Air travel, a giant stuffed animal as a present, and an office holiday party. As soon as John McClane stands up and gets ready to depart the plane, the captain even announces over the plane’s speakers that it’s Christmas Eve.
All of that is enough for a good start to a Christmas movie. But the evidence keeps mounting that this isn’t just a movie set on the day of Christmas Eve—it’s one that’s deeply entwined with the storylines that define holiday classics like A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life.
More on that in a moment. But first, a few more bits of evidence to support the Christmas setting: One of the main character’s names is Holly, for goodness sake. As in, “mistletoe and holly.” The entire soundtrack is studded with Christmas songs like “Ode to Joy” and “Winter Wonderland,” and both the heroes and villains find themselves humming and singing along to classic Christmas tunes. If that’s not enough, just take a look at the constant presence of Christmas decorations as McClane and Gruber are making their way through the upper floors of the Nakatomi building.
Non-believers in the “Die Hard as a Christmas movie” theory level just one main accusation: How can such an intensely violent movie really qualify as a holiday favorite? Even the film’s musical director, Michael Kamen, made sure to place his use of sleigh bells and festive stringed instruments during the most menacing moments in the movie.
So I’ll ask you this. What are the themes that make your favorite Christmas movies stand out in your mind? For me, it comes down to three main categories: Reconciliation, redemption, and Christmas miracles.
Many great Christmas movies have been built on the foundation of reconciling family issues. Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, even National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation have pitted family members’ problems against each other as the main driver of the movie. In Die Hard, John and Holly’s problems aren’t precisely described—but through the course of the hard-fighting plot, they learn to reconcile their differences and come back together as a couple.
Redemption is the primary theme of A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and It’s A Wonderful Life. Through the magic of the Christmas season, seemingly unredeemable characters are given a new chance at living a more generous and meaningful life. In Die Hard, this role falls to Al Powell, an LAPD sergeant wracked with guilt over having accidentally shot a teenager years ago. After vowing never to point his gun at someone again, he does so anyway in one of the movie’s last scenes—saving the day and finding his own way of relating to life again.
Christmas miracles are judiciously spiced throughout the entire movie, too. In the early parts of the movie, McClane narrowly escapes death in an empty air shaft after his gun’s strap gives way just in time to save himself. Al’s escape from the criminals is nothing short of miraculous, leaving him with only a few small scratches despite a hail of gunfire. Hell, even Hans Gruber mentions Christmas miracles!
And if that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: The most infamous scene in the movie has to be the gun-taped-to-the-back move that McClane pulls off to kill Gruber and save Holly. But look closely, and you’ll see a “Seasons Greetings” message on that packing tape. What better gift to give than the gift of saving the day, right?
I hope by now that I’ve convinced you that Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie. Because I have an attachment to it in this regard: It was actually my grandmother’s favorite Christmas movie, and I first watched it at 8 years old with her on a Christmas Eve while the rest of my family was away.
So we’ll finish this essay out the same way the movie ends, with Argyle’s quote. “If this is your idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s!”, followed by this classic Christmas song: