Snow is falling, fires are flickering, trees are glistening, and John McClane is defrosting. It’s that time of year when we gather ’round and honor the vital tradition of witnessing explosions and hostage negotiations in the name of Christmas cheer. Welcome to the party, pal.
The 1988 action thriller “Die Hard” has been endlessly debated with regard to its holiday centricity. I am here to make a case boldly honoring this absolute truth: “Die Hard” is undoubtedly a Christmas movie.
“Die Hard” features John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York cop coming home to his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids in Los Angeles after a six-month separation. The pair meet up at her office Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza. While John is preoccupied, a set of German terrorists hijack the building and hold the party guests hostage, in an effort to achieve a $600 million dollar burglary. The ensuing plot is a series of McClane’s efforts to both defeat the terrorists and stay alive.
What constitutes a movie being categorized as a “Christmas movie?” Films that lack such a debate on the certainty of their status include “Elf,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Grinch,” and “Home Alone,” among hundreds of others. Likely arguments in favor of Saint Nick’s domination of such media could be as follows: you watch this film every December with your family, the soundtrack is brimming with Christmas music, Santa references are made, gifts are given, or there is a message stressing the importance of family and loving one another. “Die Hard,” fortunately, ticks every one of these boxes.
In fact, one could argue that more Christmas-centric elements populate “Die Hard” than “Home Alone.” These sibling films are actually an important case study; Kevin (Macaulay Caulkin) from “Home Alone” develops several creative survival tactics as thieves seek to rob his home. He holds down the fort alone, much like one John McClane in his isolated endurance. “Home Alone” may be more family-friendly, but what “Die Hard” lacks in the after-school-special realm, it makes up for in the epic-action-sequence realm. “It’s Christmas, Theo! It’s the time of miracles. So be of good cheer… and call me when you hit the last lock.”
The previous quote comes from criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and is one of several lines that immerse viewers in a world of holly and jolly. Or should I say, Holly and John? The protagonist’s wife is named after a plant famously connected to Christmas. One of the most iconic Christmas moments in “Die Hard” occurs when John McClane makes one of his first kills and sends the body in a chair in the elevators, wearing a Santa costume with the words, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” written on it. Out of the context and tonality of watching this play out in the film, it may sound rather dark. However, a hopeful mood tinged with cheesy comedy accompanies this line as Hans reads the shirt; the terrorists may have met their match.
Nearly every note of music you hear in “Die Hard” is derived from a Christmas melody. Argyle (De’voreaux White), the film’s comedic relief and limo driver, plays “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC on the drive to Nakatomi after picking up John from the airport. Hans ominously hums “Ode to Joy” in the elevator as they take a hostage to a separate room. This tune is reprised upon the thief syndicate finally opening the vault to their robbed riches. This moment is further punctuated with Theo (Clarence Gilyard) grinning and saying “Merry Christmas” as he stares at their treasures.
One of the most famous lines from “Die Hard” occurs when a battered John McClane crawls through an air vent and ignites his lighter, saying sarcastically, “‘Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…’” While this line does not explicitly reference Christmas, those of us that observe the holiday have certainly felt the disappointment of familial gatherings derived from plans made with similar phraseology. In other words, although most of us have not had to crawl through an air vent, optimistically planned holiday get-togethers can occasionally disappoint.
However, such turmoil is never present on “Die Hard” day. My family has a fantastically over-the-top watch party for this feature film every December. A massive poster of John McClane in all his muscular glory greets guests as they come in. Each person must blindly draw from a bowl of character pictures and proceed to root for their selected protagonist or antagonist for the duration of the film. Needless to say, whooping and hollering fills our living room upon the introduction of every new character. My mom makes bingo cards for lines, visuals and occurrences to keep an eye out for. Each year new fun elements come into play. I share this to emphasize the holiday cheer John McClane brings to my household, among so many others.
The reunion of bloodsoaked lovers John and Holly pulls at the heartstrings just as any Christmas film finale should. The near-death experience they just shared evokes resignation of their differences from the separation and newly passionate care for one another. I suppose a series of detonations and deaths will do that to you. To quote Argyle, “If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s.”
“Die Hard” can be streamed on Starz.
By Risa Bolash