Die Hard: Why It Is Most Definitely Not a Christmas Movie

‘Tis the season.

It seems that every year brings the same debate and that debate never seems to go away: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

Well, as a service to the world, I have decided to put that question to rest once and for all.

For me, today, this debate arose after I shared an article claiming to have the definitive response to the question on my Facebook. The reasoning (and it’s not bad reasoning) is that John McTiernan, the director of the movie, claimed that it definitely is a Christmas movie during a discussion with the American Film Institute. He’s the director, so case closed, right?

Not so fast!

First of all, the screenplay to Die Hard was written by Jeb Stuart. Now I do not know what his feelings on the matter are, but if he doesn’t think it’s a Christmas movie, who do we believe? The writer or the director? Even if we go with the writer, Die Hard is based upon a novel written by Roderick Thorp. Did he write it as a Christmas story? If not, then how can the movie be a Christmas movie?

I don’t think any of that is dispositive, but I bring it up to challenge the notion that the director is some sort of authority on whether it is a Christmas movie. And, if it was indeed intended to be a Christmas movie, I would argue it failed horribly.

So what makes a Christmas movie?

If we want to engage in the discussion, we first have to decide what constitutes a Christmas movie. If we have no criteria, then there can be no analysis. In my opinion, a movie cannot be a Christmas movie if it does not utilize Christmas as a vital plot point, usually by invoking that vague thing known as the “Christmas Spirit.” So what do I mean by that?

In The Santa Clause, Scott Calvin becomes Santa Claus after inadvertently causing the death of the previous Santa. Before I make my point, may I just point out what an ingenious twist this is on the Christmas story? You’ve got a portly old gentleman who is climbing around on snowy rooftops. I’m surprised he doesn’t slip and fall every year. So they come up with this ingenious “clause” that allows the Santa powers to be transferred to some unwitting fool who wasn’t necessarily looking for a career change. But I digress.

First, the movie can’t happen without Santa Claus and Christmas, so I could rest my case there. But the true meaning of the story is not about how you can get sucked into a job you don’t want (we’ve got Office Space for that… or Chuck), it’s about how a grumpy guy who doesn’t appreciate the magic and wonder of Christmas learns about the Christmas Spirit and turns his life around. He strengthens his relationship with his kids, repairs his relationship with his ex-wife, and finds true love (well, that happens in the second movie, but still).

In Die Hard, Christmas is not a plot point, but merely a plot device. The fact that it occurs on Christmas Eve facilitates certain jokes that, if anything, poke fun at Christmas. Wealthy professionals getting drunk, snorting coke, and getting it on with co-workers at a decadent Christmas party has nothing to do with the Christmas Spirit. No, while hard liquor is a Christmas spirit, it is not Christmas Spirit. Nor is Christmas Spirit nasally-infused.

And, while this is not in and of itself dispositive, Die Hard was not even released during the Christmas season. It was released on July 20, 1998. Movie studios do not release Christmas movies in July… despite the existence of Christmas in July as a thing.

I found it interesting, though, that so many of my friends called me out for claiming that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. My friend Kyle said that, “following your criteria only a handful of films are really Christmas movies.”

This is the very argument that my fiancee and I had. One movie she brought up as an example is Love Actually, which many people consider a Christmas movie, but really isn’t.

Au contraire, my Love. I would argue that, pursuant to my reasoning, Love Actually actually is a Christmas movie. Allow me to explain.

The movie begins on Christmas Eve at the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport in London. From there, every interrelated storyline ends up having some connection to Christmas and the Christmas Spirit. Heck, the movie even has the Christmas Spirit as a character!

Are you shaking your head wondering what I’m talking about?

Watch the movie with the director commentary. Rowan Atkinson’s character actually had a greater role in the movie as written, but several of his scenes were cut for various reasons. He is the Christmas Spirit, though. His role is to facilitate Christmas miracles for the characters (which he ends up going 1-for-2 on in the end). In the department store, he delays Alan Rickman’s character from buying the jewelry for his assistant. In the airport, he runs interference so Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s character can run through security to profess his love to Olivia Olson’s character.

This isn’t me reading into it, by the way. This was intentionally written into the story.

So Love Actually actually is a Christmas movie because all of the storylines revolve and unite around Christmas and Christmas miracles.

Another great debate is whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie? The real answer is yes, but I’ll actually go a bit farther and take a position here.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie.

While both Christmas and Halloween play important roles in that movie, it is mostly about the people of Halloween Town (okay, mostly Jack) discovering Christmas and trying to recapture the Christmas Spirit.

This is, admittedly, a debatable point because it is more about Love and how it makes you feel, but Jack first discovers this feeling through Christmas and the Christmas Spirit and isn’t that one of the common themes in most Christmas movies?

Another “Christmas movie” we watched that my fiancee says isn’t really a Christmas movie is White Christmas. But, like so many Christmas movies, this movie utilizes the Christmas Spirit and a Christmas miracle as a major plot. Bob Wallace reunites the troops to save General Waverly’s inn and to show him that he is still loved and respected. Oh yeah, and snow.

Yes, it is mostly a cliche love story that exists to facilitate great music and dancing (did you know that Vera-Ellen was one of the youngest Rockettes ever?), but it is also about the Christmas Spirit and Christmas miracles. So I would argue that it is, in fact, a Christmas movie.

I’m sure we could single out plenty of specific movies that may or may not be Christmas movies, but I think that looking to the Christmas Spirit as a guide is a good way to determine whether a movie is a Christmas movie or not.

Therefore, despite the fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve, it has nothing to do with Christmas or the Christmas Spirit, so Die Hard is most definitely not a Christmas movie.

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