ComicsVerse is here to answer the question that has been burning in everyone’s minds since 1988: Is DIE HARD really a Christmas movie? For this first installment of ComicsVerse Debates, we brought in two (pardon the pun) die-hard film fans to argue their very strong opinions on the matter.

Not a Christmas Movie by Sarah Hartzell

Die Hard
My face when people try to tell me DIE HARD is a Christmas movie

DIE HARD is a Christmas movie…for about fifteen minutes. The first act of the movie sets up a Christmas movie I would happily watch: A hardened New Yorker reunites with his estranged wife and children, and they learn to be a family again through a shared near-death experience and some Bing Crosby tunes. But any semblance of Christmas-ness is abandoned the second Hans Gruber and Co. arrive. It becomes a straightforward action movie, albeit one of the best action movies of all-time and one I gladly watch year-round. But an action movie first and foremost, not a Christmas movie.

I’m not saying there can’t be genre Christmas movies — titles like KRAMPUS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS prove that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But for a movie to be a Christmas movie it must meet one of two criteria: it must necessarily take place at Christmastime (through imagery or plot), or it must espouse Christmasy values, like selflessness and family. DIE HARD does neither of these things.

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Just Another Day at the Office

To the former, DIE HARD does not have to take place at Christmas. While it might be the initiating event for the film, it could as easily be any other holiday or life event that brings John McClane to LA and Nakatomi Plaza — New Years, a promotion for Holly, etc. And the importance of it being Christmas is null throughout the rest of the movie. Notable Christmas imagery is sparse, and the fact that it’s Christmas plays little role in the plot. It’s not like John is “saving Christmas” by stopping the bad guys, as it easily could have been. None of the decisions made intend or reflect it as a Christmas movie. Hell, it was originally released in July.

Dwight Schrute Christmas
How I should feel while watching a Christmas movie

Lack of Christmas Spirit

Second, there is nothing Christmasy about the spirit of DIE HARD. Neither we nor John learn a lesson or improve as people by the end of the movie. John starts off as an ass and he stays an ass — it’s why we love him. He reunites with his wife but it is not through any kind of change or sacrifice on John’s part. He never addresses his issue with his wife having a successful career or his inability to be flexible. There’s no IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE moment where he learns his importance as a person or his effect on others or whatever. He doesn’t learn to be a better man or father. He just kicks ass and takes names. Which is great! But it does not a Christmas movie make.

Think about the experience you desire when you sit down to watch a Christmas movie: you want to get into that spirit, that ineffable Christmas mindset where everything just feels better surrounded by people you love and with a cup of hot chocolate in hand and the jingle of sleigh bells rings in your ears (either hauntingly or pleasantly, your choice). DIE HARD does not do that. Watch it in December because it’s a damn good movie, but not because it’s a Christmas movie.

Definitely a Christmas Movie by Brian Long

Die Hard

DIE HARD is a Christmas movie. I know that it’s become “hip” or “ironic” to say that now. “Oh ha ha this ’80’s action movie is a representative of a major religious celebration.” However, I say this with total and complete sincerity. I believe that DIE HARD is not only a Christmas movie, but one of the best Christmas movies. 

Before I state my case, I think it’s important to address how we define a Christmas movie. The first and most obvious rule is that the majority of its action must take place during the Christmas season. Second, Christmas must play a significant role in the plot of the film. It should be so significant that the film’s plot would not work or require severe reworking to function. Finally, the film must use the Christmas season to examine the major themes of Christmas. I’m not talking about pausing for a monologue about Jesus, looking at you Peanuts Christmas special. From a purely secular standpoint, it should be about family, giving, community, love for your fellow man, all that jazz. Y’know, the kind of stuff that was actually important to Jesus, not making sure a Starbucks cup said Merry Christmas on it. But I digress.

Reviewing the Christmas Canon

This seems like a low bar, but there are some major holiday classics out there that don’t really fit with these basic criteria. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a great, classic American film (I’m usually crying like 15 minutes in), but is it really a Christmas movie? Sure, the major moment of the film takes place on Christmas, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is about the entire life of one man that happens to culminate on a Christmas Eve. The people of Bedford Falls could have given George Bailey his missing money during a July 4th BBQ.

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Films like MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET are presented as Christmas films, but barely address the important themes of the season. MIRACLE plays like an extended commercial for Macy’s rather than act as a proper film. It’s considered a Christmas movie just because it takes place on Christmas. In reality, it’s about a lawyer who’s trying to prove that a guy claiming to be Santa Claus is actually Santa Claus.

At best, the movie has a huge plot hole because if the guy really is Santa Claus, then how does he function in a world that doesn’t think he’s real? At worst, it’s a movie about a lawyer enabling a man who is mentally ill and thinks he’s Santa, so he can get into the pants of a woman he’s interested in. Merry Christmas, everyone!

If MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, the capitalist’s platonic ideal of a Christmas movie, can be part of the canon of holiday classics, why can’t DIE HARD?

He’ll Be Home for Christmas

Let’s begin by looking at how Christmas functions within the plot. Our hero, New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis), is visiting California to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) for the holidays. Immediately, we are beginning to see both how this film uses the holiday for plot and thematic reasons. John and Holly are undergoing a trial separation while Holly takes on a new job for the Nakatomi Corporation. John has not seen Holly since she moved out there. What is the inciting incident bringing them back together? Christmas.

This might seem negligible, but there are arguably few other events that would make John travel across the country. The time of puts John into Holly’s place of work for the company Christmas party. Again, it also justifies why the employees of the Nakatomi would be in the office late into the evening.

From a thematic standpoint, DIE HARD uses Christmas in a similar fashion as A CHRISTMAS CAROL. We have one man, a curmudgeon of sorts, being forced to face the mistakes of his past. Ultimately, he must choose if he will change his ways for the better or continue to act selfishly. Christmas is a holiday centered around family reunion. As such, McClane’s reunion with his estranged wife forces him to reflect on just how he treated her. DIE HARD is a Christmas movie because of the holiday setting and its thematic exploration of family, empathy, and self-sacrifice.

Not Christmasy Enough 

Sarah Hartzell (SH): A Christmas party is certainly the easiest way to get John and Holly in Nakatomi Plaza at the same time. But after that point, it really doesn’t matter that it’s Christmas in terms of plot or theme. Even something as minor as John incorporating a Christmas tree or a Toys for Tots bin into his ass-kicking would be seasonal enough to deem DIE HARD a Christmas movie. But we don’t get that. Instead, Christmas is nothing more than the setting.

I know I tend to play devil’s advocate when it comes to men in movies — it’s how I wrote most of my college papers — but I stand by my claim that John does not embody any Family Values™ that one expects from Christmas movies. His reasons for separating from Holly are extremely selfish: “You thought she wasn’t gonna make it out here, and she’d come crawling back to you, so why bother to pack?” as Argyle puts it.

The forgotten hero of DIE HARD

John is definitely a potential Scrooge in this story, but without the redemption. Holly bends by letting him stay at her house, but John makes no such sacrifices. She even has a moment of vulnerability by saying she missed him, and he responds with some crack about using her maiden name and taking his money. John’s relationship with Officer Powell is far more well-rounded and respectful than with his wife — the emotional backbone of the movie is how they improved each other. John’s even honest with Powell about his broken marriage in a way he isn’t with Holly.

The only sacrifice or empathy John shows is by fighting terrorists and saving innocent people. If that’s enough to qualify as a Christmas movie then every action movie would be a Christmas movie.

Classic Christmas, Plus Explosives

Brian Long (BH): I would say that John’s experience fighting the terrorists is his own variation Scrooge’s visit with the three ghosts. John McClane’s journey is less about changing and more about realizing how he had taken his family for granted all this time.

Let’s even consider Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who fits beautifully into the archetypal Christmas story antagonist. Gruber, like Scrooge, the Grinch, and Potter before him, is an agent of pure avarice. Gruber’s entire plot revolves around posing as a terrorist in order to manipulate the police force.

Disney's Scrooge
I can see the resemblance

Gruber masks his desire for capital gain behind a veneer of ideology. He is a personification of Christmas commercialism. McClane has to stand against an avatar of selfishness in order to purge himself of his own self-centered behaviors. It’s a classic Christmas character arc. Only by going through the Gruber gauntlet can John prove that he truly loves his family. All of this is brought on by the spirit of Christmas. Like Scrooge or the Grinch, he sees the error in his ways and realizes he must become a more loving, caring person.

Beyond that, Christmas also plays an important role in how John fights the terrorists. True, the film doesn’t indulge in Christmas-themed carnage as inventively as Sarah describes above. However, let’s not forget the iconic “Now I have a machine gun; ho-ho-ho” sweatshirt. Let’s also not forget McClane’s final confrontation. What does he use to hide his gun in order to get the drop on Gruber and his Huey Lewis-resembling goon? None other than Christmas wrapping paper. McClane literally wins the day because of Christmas wrapping paper. What could make it more of a Christmas movie than that?

Final Thoughts?

SH: If you have to reach for split-second details and extended analogies to make up for that hit-you-in-the-face, all-encompassing feeling of Christmas spirit, then it’s not a Christmas movie.

BL: I know a Christmas movie when I see one. DIE HARD is as Christmas as they come, and the world is a better place for its Yuletide action.

What do you think? Does DIE HARD fit the bill for Christmas movies? Or is it an action movie with a couple of “ho ho hos”? Cast your vote in the comments!

One Comment

  1. harryBundles

    December 18, 2017 at 4:54 am

    if Home Alone is considered a Christmas movie, then Die Hard is too.


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