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‘Die Hard’ A Christmas Movie? Hardly

Die Hard

In recent years, I’ve noticed a lot of people, when asked, listing Die Hard as their favorite Christmas movie. To be honest, when I first noticed it, I largely assumed these were attempts at people being humorous, sarcastic, or just plain contrarian. It’s true that the plot of the 1988 Bruce Willis movie does take place during the Christmas season, and indeed involves Willis’s character John McClain traveling to his wife’s office Christmas party in an effort to reconcile with her only to get caught up in a terrorist attack, spending the rest of the movie attempting to rescue his wife and her co-workers. Indeed, there is even Christmas music included in the background during various points in the film. However, it’s difficult to say that Christmas itself is really an integral part of the movie in any significant respect. The attack that is the center of the film could have taken place at any other time of the year, after all, and McClain could have been drawn to his wife’s office at any other time of the year, such as a party to celebrate a promotion or some such event. This isn’t really true of films that we traditionally think of as Christmas movies, which tend to revolve around something specific to Christmas itself, or some part of one of the many cultural traditions associated with the holiday. Apparently, though, many people are quite serious when they list Die Hard as a Christmas movie despite all of this.

Matt Lewis, however, argues that there are two very specific reasons why Die Hard is not a Christmas movie:

1). The holidays must be an integral part of the storyline. This is sort of like defining pornography — you know it when you see it. But some films use the trappings of Christmas merely as a backdrop or a prop. Die Hard is a terrific film, and it certainly benefits from the music and imagery of the holiday season. But (like Lethal Weapon) this film would have worked without that conceit. John McClane could have just as easily have headed out to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving — or spring break. To be sure, Christmas creates a nice ambiance, but isn’t a vital part of this story.

2). The film should be released at Christmastime. One could probably overlook the first concern if the movie had been sold as a Christmas movie. Just like when we interpret the Constitution, it’s important to look at the original intent. And it’s interesting to note that Die Hard was released on July 14, 1988 — right in the middle of a very hot summer. There was no attempt to label it a holiday film. And it would be revisionist history to suggest otherwise. Compare that to It’s a Wonderful Life (December 25, 1946), or even Love Actually (November 6, 2003.)

One could also argue that there should be some sort of lesson derived from the film which is appropriate to the season. But that’s a test few modern films (Home AloneLove Actually, etc.) could pass. Expecting this would probably constitute asking for too much.

Lewis goes on to note that one might also add that there also ought to be some sort of “lesson” that the film teaches, presumably one in line with the Christmas season, but as he goes on to concede there are plenty of Christmas movies that are more “Christmas-y” than Die Hard that wouldn’t pass that test. Using the first two criteria, though, both of which seem completely valid to me when coming up with a list of “Christmas” movies. First, it’s fairly clear that Die Hard doesn’t meet the test. As Lewis notes, and as I note myself above, Christmas is essentially tangential to the movie itself. Second, the fact that the film was released in the middle of the summer and was never marketed as a Christmas movie both strike me as being fairly conclusive on the issue. If the producers and the studio wanted to sell the movie as a Christmas movie, they could have easily done so. They didn’t because it isn’t a Christmas movie.

In the end, I still go back to the idea that a good deal of the effort to retcon Die Hard into a Christmas movie is some massive exercise in irony and sarcasm simply because it flies in the face of the clear evidence. Nonetheless, Lewis has taken plenty of mostly good-natured heat on Twitter and else since his column and elsewhere so, apparently, there is some cohort out there that wants to consider what is plainly a summer blockbuster action movie with a plot that, tangentially, occurs at Christmas time, into a holiday classic. That’s their choice I suppose, but I’m certainly not going to agree with it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Two Die Hard movies are set at Christmastime. Why do these people insist on treating Die Hard 2 with such disrespect? :-D

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Dave D says:

    I think for some people treating Die Hard as a Christmas movie isn’t about irony. I hate this season/holiday, and the movies about it are dreadful. If I had to list favorite Christmas movies I would be at a loss, because I have yet to see one that warrants a second viewing. The AV Club had a good write up of this, which puts it somewhere in the between of Christmas movie and not which is where it belongs.

    “Thematically, Die Hard is largely Noel-free. And yet Christmas is still an important part of the movie, in the same way that beat cop Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is, or Argyle (De’voreaux White) the limo driver, or nosy newsman Richard Thornburg (William Atherton, solidifying his title as the Greatest Fictional Prick of the ’80s); the season and the characters serve various plot functions, but they matter more as crucial bits of texture that give the story life. ”

    ” This is a thriller first, and a Christmas movie second, or maybe third or fourth, and in a way, that’s closer to how most of us view the holiday anyway. You can’t ever completely get away from the carols and the ads and the melancholy, but the older you get, the more it’s just something that happens in the background; it informs events, but doesn’t dictate them. ”

    http://www.avclub.com/article/die-hard-works-because-its-only-christmasadjacent-106073

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Pinky says:

    I know I’m in the minority on this, but Die Hard always struck me as heavily, heavily borrowing from Lethal Weapon. The way both movies used Christmas as a backdrop is one example.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    OK OK, it’s not a X-mas movie. Can I watch it on Xmas day anyway?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Tillman says:

    I usually stick with A Christmas Story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. DrDaveT says:

    @Tillman: Nah, you’ll shoot your eye out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. grumpy realist says:

    The Muppets Christmas Carol….? (Yeah, I know, I’m a sentimental wimp.)

    Although I do want to crawl through the screen and rip It’s A Wonderful Life to microscopic pieces. HATE that film.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave D:

    I’m with you. I hate Christmas. I’d much rather watch Bruce walk on glass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Of course it’s a Christmas movie. Its theme is that office Christmas parties can be dangerous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  10. James says:

    Seriously? I’m sick of the War on Christmas. Now their trying to take Die Hard out of Christmas!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  11. Tlaloc says:

    The Ref is hands down my favorite christmas movie. Nothing like Leary screaming clever obscenities at Kevin Spacey to warm *my* cockles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. beth says:

    @grumpy realist: Wouldn’t It’s A Wonderful Life fall into this category too? It’s set at Christmas but it really doesn’t have anything to do specifically with the holiday. It really could be set at any other time of the year, right? (I could be mis-remembering the plot – I haven’t watched it in years).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @beth: Probably. I just can’t stand the movie, no matter when it shows up.

    The only version I would find palatable is a version where zombies attack the town and Mr. Potter turns out to be a space alien.

    THAT would warm the cockles of my heart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. the Q says:

    Die Hard NOT a Christmas movie?….yippee ki yay mother flacker

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. rudderpedals says:

    Bruce Willis is the reason for the season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Matt says:

    Using this criteria, It’s A Wonderful Life is not a Christmas movie. Christmas was just a “backdrop” in that movie as well. My mother watched it for every Christmas for my entire life. Anyone who’s ever been to a Corporate Christmas party knows why Die Hard is the best of all Christmas movies! Hogwash to you sir.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. BIll says:

    The James Bond Movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was set around Christmas and New Year’s. Ernst Starvo Blofeld(Telly Savalas) even said Merry Christmas to 007(George Lazenby in his one and only outing as Bond). To top matters off, Blofeld executes a drive by shooting with the help of his henchwoman Irma Bunt, that murders Tracy Bond, 007′s wife of less than a day. Fleming’s book put the murder at New Year’s Eve or Day. Can’t recall.

    A song heard during the movie is ‘Do you know Christmas trees are grown?’

    Bond at Christmas time and he takes a bride. Pretty fantastic, huh? Put On Her Majesty’s Secret Service down as a Christmas movie too. I much prefer it to Die Hard. OHMSS was released in December 1969.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. John Burgess says:

    @BIll: When I was living in the UK, the Bond films were standard Christmas fare on broadcast TV. Cheap and minimal studio staffing requirements, I guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. BIll says:

    @John Burgess: A few years ago the Sci-Fi channel played the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and other Zombie movies on Thanksgiving day. Pass me a leg?

    I don’t watch Zombie movies. Seeing a human eating another human I don’t find entertaining. Don’t watch Lethal Weapon movies, Batman movies(except the one time my wife dragged me to it), and a whole bunch of other fan favorites.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    Slow news day?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Tyrell says:

    My favorite Christmss movies: “Home Alone 2″ – set in New York City and better than the first “Home Alone”.
    “The Muppets Christmas Carol” – I first happened to see this three years ago and was pleasantly surprised.
    “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – short, and nice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Tillman says:

    @beth: It’s a very Christian movie, if not a Christmas movie.

    @DrDaveT: That’s the go-to line, but I’ll never get over, “He has yellow eyes! For God’s sake, yellow eyes!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Tyrell says:

    My favorite Christmss movies: “Home Alone 2″ – set in New York City and better than the first “Home Alone”.
    “The Muppets Christmas Carol” – I first happened to see this three years ago and was pleasantly surprised. A good rendering.
    “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – short, and nice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. James Pearce says:

    Die Hard is not only my favorite Christmas movie, I watch it every year…on Christmas.

    It’s not that I don’t know the rules for a politically correct Christmas. It’s just that I don’t care.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. gtleviathan says:

    Tell you what, I’ll lobby against Die Hard as a Christmas movie if you help me lobby against These Are a Few of My Favorite Things as a Christmas song. The Sound of Music had nothing to do with Christmas. It always irks me when I hear this song on Christmas radio stations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Gremlins.

    Best. Christmas. Movie. Ever.

    And while it was released in July, it was originally planned for Christmas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. The other Jack says:

    A third qualification of what is a Christmas movie could be “do you associate the movie with the Christmas season”. To me, it not Christmas time until I see the Die Hard Movie. They play it every year at Christmas time and there is some X facture unlike Lethal Weapon that many associate the two together. By the above standard many Christmas movies wouldn’t qualify. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one. Even “The Christmas story” could easily been rewritten to “The Birthday Story”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0