What is a Christmas film?? What are the parameters?? How do we define the sub-genre?? These are vital questions to ponder as one tackles a central question of the holiday season: is Die Hard a Christmas movie??
It is a debate that has become an annual tradition on social media every December, with passionate advocates on both sides of the issue. I have jumped into the fray on occasion, but it’s kind of like arguing about religion, sports, & politics…the chances of changing anyone’s mind is midway between slim & none.
The first thing that needs addressed is the definition of a Christmas movie. In my opinion it’s pretty simple. Context & backdrop are important. Is the movie set at or around Christmastime?? Visuals are a key element as well. Are there Christmas trees & decorations in the movie?? Music is a vital part of any cinematic experience. Does the movie contain Christmas music?? Some folks like to argue about the subject matter or main theme of the film, but that’s a slippery slope. How many of our beloved Christmas films are truly about Christmas?? There are very few movies that even mention Jesus Christ, let alone focus on His birth. Hollywood runs from religiosity, so if you throw out the birth of Christ as a defining characteristic the whole discussion becomes a free-for-all. What about a movie’s release date?? Nowadays most studios will debut their holiday films in November or December, but that hasn’t always been the case, so it has to be eliminated as a requirement. At the end of the day, if a movie takes place at Christmas, shows Christmas trees & other decor onscreen, has Christmas music, & gets alot of play on television in December I think you can reasonably call it a Christmas movie.
Die Hard was released on July 15, 1988, which is something that many use to discredit it as a Christmas film. However, allow me to toss out some truth bombs. It’s A Wonderful Life hit theaters on January 7, 1946, yet nobody calls it a New Year’s movie. Miracle on 34th St. was released on May 2, 1947 and no one is questioning its Yuletide credentials. White Christmas came out on October 14, 1954, yet it certainly isn’t a Halloween movie. Christmas in Connecticut was released on August 11, 1945. Elf?? October 9, 2003. The Polar Express?? October 30, 2004. You get the point. While Christmas movies are generally out in November or December there are exceptions, so release date cannot be used to disqualify Die Hard or anything else from the category.
Let’s dive down the setting rabbit hole. Some folks like to say that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, it just happens to be set at Christmas, which is a really dumb argument. They point out that it’s about terrorists taking a bunch of people hostage in a skyscraper, and the plot wouldn’t change if it took place in the spring or summer. Okay, I’ll concede the point. However, let’s look at It’s A Wonderful Life, which is one of my all-time favorites. The story is about a suicidal man who is guided back on track by a good-natured guardian angel. It happens to take place on Christmas Eve, but would the story change all that much if George Bailey was going to jump off that bridge in March or September?? Not at all. What about Home Alone, the story of a little boy’s valiant defense of his house against burglars?? What if Kevin’s family forgot him as they were headed to the beach in the summer or to Disneyland in April?? Would it drastically alter the movie?? Not really. And don’t get me started on the ubiquitous Hallmark Christmas movies that the ladies love (okay okay…I’ve watched a few on occasion too). They are basically small screen rom-coms that take place at Christmas, but no one is mocking them. Well, alright…everyone mocks them, but no one whines that they aren’t Christmas movies. The importance of setting cannot be minimized. Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve during a company Christmas party. Why do some people want to flippantly toss that fact aside??
At one point John McClane kills a terrorist, puts a Santa hat on him, & sends the carcass back to evil Hans Gruber wearing a sign that’s says “Now I have a machine gun…Ho ho ho!”. Are we supposed to ignore that?? Or how about early on, in the limo, when Argyle the chauffeur introduces us to Run-DMC’s Christmas in Hollis?? And the closing credits that feature traditional holiday song Let it Snow?? I’m pretty sure there is a little Jingle Bells & Winter Wonderland thrown into the mix as well. Those moments cannot be discarded.
I shouldn’t bring politics into this, but I cannot help myself. In my experience one side of the ideological aisle tends to support their opinions with logic & facts, while the other side is led by their feelings. I find this is also the case with the Die Hard debate. Christmas movies are generally warm & fuzzy family flicks or kid friendly Santa Claus stories, which is fine. I love that kind of stuff. Conversely, Die Hard is violent & doesn’t “feel” Christmasy. That’s really the only legitimate argument some can offer. Unfortunately for them facts & feelings don’t always intersect.
In my humble opinion the debate begins & ends with the setting. To argue that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, it’s just set at Christmas, makes zero sense. The fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve at a Christmas party is precisely what makes it a Christmas movie. Offering hypotheticals that the plot wouldn’t change if the story took place some other time of year doesn’t hold water a) because it is speculative and not based on the reality of what the film actually is, & b) rationale that can be applied to other movies that no one is trying to disparage. This fact & other evidence I have presented form a solid case in support of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Welcome to the party Pal.