A very important recent poll found a shocking 62 percent of voters do not think Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie. Of course the 1988 film is not only a Christmas movie but also a perfect one, stuffed with more Xmas per frame than anything airing on Hallmark Channel this week — plus lots and lots of fighting, blood, guns and ammo, thus making it perhaps the most American of Christmas movies ever. You don’t have to look very deeply for this, and indeed the whole Die Hard-as-holiday-entertainment idea has certain been blogged upon many times before. I suspect we like to put movies into single mental genre boxes and as Die Hard is also considered one of the best action films ever made, roughly 62 percent of us cannot also accept that it’s fully functional holiday fare too. The pine-green core of the film matches the structure of holiday classics, and the gunfire and explosions are merely twinkling lights and ornaments. Let’s take the aspects one by one…
1. Die Hard is about an estranged family where Dad is trying to make it home for the holidays on Christmas Eve. That set-up is a standard holiday movie formula. The fact that it’s terrorists stalling John McClane instead of a blizzard in Chicago (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), or his time-sucking corporate job (Jingle All the Way), is just Die Hard’s way of making its protagonist’s obstacles more interesting.
2. There’s a greedy, Grinch-y villain: Another classic holiday trope: The heartless schemer that threatens to spoil the holiday for all the good people of Whoville or Bedford Falls or wherever. You already know the villian’s name is Hans Gruber. You perhaps didn’t know the man who composed “Silent Night” was named Franz Gruber.
3. The dialogue is full of ironic Christmas references: Die Hard hammers this heavily, between Theo’s “Twas the night before Christmas..” riff to Hans’ “It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time of miracles…,” and many others. The best is probably Hans dryly reading McClane’s famous taunt: “Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho…” a line that perfectly capture the genre mashup.
4. There’s an anti-consumer-capitalist message (sort of): Die Hard takes on the familiar consumerism vs. family values trope, though with a bit of twist as the supposedly greedy Nakatomi corporation is one of the uber-Grinch’s victims. Still, it’s suggested that the company has somehow corrupted the family unit and McClane eventually releases Holly from her boss’ fancy Rolex shackle to reclaim his wife (Does this also smack of “women belong at home” sexism? Definitely, but that’s an entirely different essay).
5.Wait, McClane’s wife’s name is freakin’ Holly. I never got that one before! Surprised their kids aren’t named Mistletoe and Poinsettia.
6. McClane learns the spirit of Christmas: You clearly have sacrifice for the community and family. You also want presents being opened? McClane’s gun is wrapped with Xmas tape on his back before giving a bullet to Hans. You want some religion? McClane is victorious after praying for help — plus he simply shouts “Jesus Christ!” repeatedly throughout the film.