Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?
This is an argument that has cavitated through every holiday season since 1988. I am hoping to put it to rest here, although obviously I realize there are always those out there who will continue to hold out and deny reality. After all, the film was a summer release, but then again, so was Miracle on 34th Street. The below evidentiary list is pretty thorough, however, and even the director, John McTiernan, has recently said that he and the filmmakers, during filming, realized the movie’s holiday potential and were working to create Christmas magic during production. His comments alone should put the debate to rest. But, I present to you a collection of proof as to why I believe Die Hard is not only a Christmas movie, but is the best Christmas movie. I’ve organized over twenty pieces of evidence by theme. I hope you enjoy!
Theme: Ordinary Working-Class Man vs. Corporate Greed
This is a major theme in Christmas movies, most obvious in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. In that 1946 film, George Bailey represents the regular folk of Bedford Falls while he fights Mr. Potter, a man who treasures money over people.
The theme also appears in a number of other Christmas films, notably A Christmas Carol (based on the book by Charles Dickens) and Christmas Vacation, starring Chevy Chase. In Die Hard, everyday blue collar worker John McClane battles corporate greed in order to save his wife, and therefore Christmas. He has to battle not only Hans Gruber, but also the Nakatomi corporation and even the building itself, which actually becomes a major character (and obstacle) in the film.
Not only that, but Hans Gruber is also fighting corporate greed in the film. His goal is to subvert the power and wealth of the corporation and put it in his own pockets. McClane simply becomes a “fly in the ointment” and makes things more difficult for Hans and his crew. You could make the argument, therefore, that Hans is the star of his own Christmas story … one that McClane ends up spoiling.
The theme of ‘Everyday Man’ vs. Corporate Wealth is best symbolized by the Rolex watch Ellis gifts to Holly. “Tell him about the watch,” he says with a swagger that instantly alienates the audience. It’s a gift for Holly’s hard work with Nakatomi, but McClane knows it’s also a sign of Ellis’s affection for her.
At the film’s finale, however, the viewer realizes it’s really a symbol for the corporation’s wealth and for Holly’s original decision to move to Los Angeles. Hans clings to the watch in a desperate bid to survive as he dangles over the edge …
… and John McClane undoes the clasp and Hans falls to his death. It is a dramatic end to the film, and represents a decision by McClane and Holly to avoid the wealth and attraction of Nakatomi. To give up the ‘watch’ and hold to family instead. (This being said, Holly still works for Nakatomi in Die Hard 2: Die Harder.)
The Working-Class Man vs. Corporate Wealth Christmas theme is clear in Die Hard.
Theme: The Christmas Setting
The events of the film take place on Christmas Eve, during a Christmas party, and if it wasn’t for this fact, the story would not even have taken place. The theft occurs during the party because security is lax and the company CEO is present. Let me say that again:
If it wasn’t for Christmas, the movie could not have happened.
There are also other numerous holiday elements here, making this a Christmas movie, from the carols and music (including Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis) to the wrapping tape McClane uses at the end, the Christmas fairy tale Theo quotes (“‘Twas the night before Christmas …“) and the appearance (of sorts) of Santa Claus! Christmas is mentioned over twenty times in the movie, there is a large Christmas tree, McClane shows up to the party with a gift, his wife’s name is Holly, and there is even a pregnant woman. It also “snows” at the end of the film. How much more proof do you need???
- There are five Christmas trees in the film: Two in the lobby, one on the 30th floor, one at the police dispatcher’s desk, and one in the computer lab. There are also Christmas lights strung on the bushes surrounding the building’s circular driveway.
- Multiple people mention or say, “Merry Christmas.”
- On the machinery just below the roof, where the bombs are planted, someone has scrawled “Merry Christmas.”
- Hans says, “It’s Christmas Theo,” when discussing the dismantling of the vault’s security.
- Ode to Joy booms out as the vault opens. This is a common Japanese Christmas carol, notable in the movie because of the company’s Japanese ownership.
Theme: Importance of Family
A large number of character arcs in Christmas movies feature characters attempting to bring their families together. In this case, McClane is trying to save his faltering marriage after his wife left the family behind in New York to relocate (for a corporation, again a Christmas Theme!) to Los Angeles. McClane has to battle Hans to save Holly, and also Dick Thornburg, who threatens his family, including the live-in/hired help. He wants to sabotage the McClanes — tearing them apart — just to get his story for the nightly news. At the conclusion, all seems right with the world — and with the family — and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, as happens in every good Christmas story.
Theme: Healing a Broken Heart
The theme of reuniting for love during the holidays permeates the film. McClane and Holly survive, literally and metaphorically, to heal the family. McClane battles incredible odds, alone and scared, to save his wife and marriage.
But Sergeant Al Powell is also dealing with his own inner demons, which is a notable subplot of the film! On desk duty because of a tragic mistake he made years earlier, guilt and self-doubt have plagued Powell ever since. At the end of Die Hard, however, Powell achieves ultimate redemption. In fact, one could make the argument that Powell actually saves Christmas for everyone in Die Hard. He puts the final terrorist down, ending the ordeal, saving McClane and Holly, and keeping not only McClane’s family intact, but also his own emotional well-being. (One side note: Powell ends up part of this story while purchasing Twinkies for his pregnant wife … the second example of a pregnancy in the film.)
Corporate Hollywood Speaks
If you don’t believe me, perhaps the people who made the film might convince you.
As mentioned above, director John McTiernan has recently weighed in on this, saying that although they didn’t orignally intend it to be a Christmas movie, the people on the set realized during production that this was actually what they were making. He says (quote from Screenrant):
“Everybody, as they came to work on the movie, began to get that, as I said, this movie is an escape [from the Hollywood machine], and there was a joy in it. We hadn’t intended it to be a Christmas movie but the joy that came from it is what turned it into a Christmas movie.”
Moreover, screenwriter Steven E. de Souza has said, “The Christmas setting is in the source novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp.” He goes on to say (at Men’s Journal) that producer Joel Silver, who made Lethal Weapon the year before, wanted the film set at Christmas in order to attract a Christmas audience — and therefore residual checks. Maybe on their own these two facts don’t mean much, but taken with the previous evidence, I rest my case.
Yippee-Ki-Yay everybody, and have a Merry Christmas!
Check out my Christmas viewing list here.
Timothy S. Johnston, 21 December 2020
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