Yippy Kai Yay, Mother….you know the rest. That quote has become one of the most recognizable in cinema and it comes from one of the most iconic and beloved action films of all time. In a time when action heroes were big, buff, fearless and extraordinary, Bruce Willis came along as John McClane, an everyman average Joe who is suddenly forced to into a terrorist plot at Nagatomi Plaza in L.A. McClane is a New York cop visiting his wife Holly, who got promoted to work out in California while John stayed in the big apple due to the backlog of paperwork. Excuses, excuses. Terrorists take hold of the building and suddenly, it’s John versus the world. Oh, and it takes place right before Christmas. But just because it’s set around Christmas, does this mean it’s a Christmas movie? According to a 2018 survey, the answer is no, Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. Die Hard cinematographer Jan de Bont said it wasn’t in 2020. But there are two kinds of people in this world, those who think this seminal action film is a Christmas film, such as director John McTiernan, who in 2020 agreed it was, and those who are wrong. Let’s find why.
Die Hard is a relatively simple film, but it stands as one of the best action films of all time. The story is confined to one location, a skyscraper in L.A. which has been taken over by terrorists, led by Alan Rickman’s iconic Hans Gruber, who is without a doubt one of the best movie villains of all time. It’s McClane’s job, as the only good guy with the training to stop them on the inside of the building, to save the hostages and stop the bad guys. The catch is he’s not equipped for the job. He’s sporting only his pistol with no extra magazines and left his shoes and socks in his wife’s office upon arrival due to his fear of flying. So already he’s at a huge disadvantage and that’s not even taking into account that McClane isn’t like John Rambo or any of the countless 80s action heroes.
But the main drive for McClane, the reason he’s in L.A., is to see his estranged wife, who moved away due to her job-and a mighty fine job it is. But being away from the kids and his wife has put a bit of a strain on the relationship and McClane is in L.A. to try and fix his marriage before it’s too late. Of course, his plans go down in a flaming building but that doesn’t stop him. A common theme in Christmas movies is the idea of “coming home for Christmas”. There are films and songs written about this concept, that no matter how busy it is or how far you have to travel, you have to be home on December 25th.
Die Hard literally takes this concept and brings it up to eleven. Most of these Christmas films and songs deal with bad weather and traffic keeping loved ones apart, but for McClane, it’s a mountain of things. Not only is the marriage already on the rocks, but there are European terrorists holding his wife and her colleagues hostage-and they’re willing to kill them if they don’t get their way. McClane’s mission, therefore, is the same as any other good Christmas film: he has to come home for Christmas and for him, coming home is finding his wife and bringing her to their kids. In order to do that, he has to get over his disadvantages and find a way to make the best out of a crappy situation. Sounds like a lot of Christmas themes if you ask me.
The film also likes to remind you that, despite the action taking place in warm, sunny Los Angeles, this film does take place during the holiday season. Aside from Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis and Vaughn Monroe’s version of Let it Snow!, the latter of which is played once John and his wife Holly are safe and in each other’s arms at the end of the film, the score is comprised almost solely of interpretations of Ode to Joy. Why did director John McTiernan (Predator) and composer Michael Kamen choose this? Well according to McTiernan, it was to instill a sense of wonder and happiness, quote:
“My principle concern going into this was that it was a story that concerned terrorists, and terrorist movies are usually mean, filled with all sorts of mean, nasty acts. And I didn’t say yes to this project until we figured out some ways to put, in essence, some joy in it.”
What’s more joyous, especially in the West where this film takes place than Christmas? Joy is exactly what Hans, Theo and the rest of the terrorist thieves hear in their minds when they open the vault door at Nagatomi Plaza, as seen in the clip below. And what does Theo say once the vault is open? That’s right, an enthusiastic and earnest “Merry Christmas.” Because for Theo, Christmas just came a few days early. Does that make him a bad person? It absolutely does, but his sense of joy isn’t any less genuine.
But wait, there’s more! Throughout the film, John is on his own in the building fighting the terrorists with little support from the outside world, who wonder if he’s not in on the act. But John has one ally on the ground and that was the first officer on the scene. That officer was Sgt. Al Powell, played by Reginald VelJohnson. He firmly stands behind, motivates and believes in McClane and the two end up bonding over the course of the night. Powell’s determination to help a stranger is 100% fitting with the spirit of Christmas, helping those in need.
Finally, 20th Century Fox just seems to think so, by releasing this trailer.
I for one watch Die Hard every Christmas and totally believe it’s a Christmas film. It’s not only set during the Christmas season, with music and decorations to be seen throughout the film, but it also shares some Christmas values and themes that we find in other holiday classics. While there are many films that can be set at Christmas time, such as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang or Iron Man 3 for example (good ol’ Shane Black and his love of Christmas) that doesn’t mean those films are Christmas movies. Die Hard, on the other hand, I’d very much say is. But what do you think though? Is this action classic just that, an action classic set during the holiday season or is it actually a Christmas movie that just also happens to be one of the greatest action movies ever made? Let us know what you think in the comments below.