Yup its that time of year again. The annual celebration we like to call Christmas is back and I bet that if you typed ‘is Die Hard a Christmas movie?‘ into Google (or your choice of interwebs search engine), you’ll find dozens of articles all asking that particular question and all with differing answers. Most sites keep regurgitating the exact same article from the previous years too, just with a few wording tweaks and many offer ‘a new poll’ which, as I’ve noticed seems to switch results every year. Last year a poll said yes Die Hard is a Christmas film but this year it’s a no. It’ll be a yes again next year.
I have been writing this blog for a few years now and never bothered to offer my own insight and answer to this age old query, until now. Except, I don’t want to do what everyone else does with a simple yes or no. I want to not only answer but also explain my answer.
This summer saw the 30th anniversary since Die Hard was released and I’ve been doing Die Hard based articles all year in celebration. So it only seems fitting to tackle this sticky subject as part of and to end my 30th anniversary celebrations. But before I get to my opinion and answer to the query, lets see what some people connected to the movie say…
Are They Right?
“Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a god-damn Bruce Willis movie!”
– Bruce Willis
Bearing in mind, that was (as mentioned) during a comedy roast. So I’m guessing Bruce was trying to be funny. Plus there is the fact he’s getting old and senile too. I mean, back in 2007 he said that Live Free or Die Hard is better (at times) than the original.
“It’s at least as good if not better at times than the first film.”
– Bruce Willis
As I said, senile. So what Bruce says about the original being a Christmas movie or not is completely moot… seriously it’s as good as if not better than the original? Bruce needs to be put down at this stage, it would be kinder.
I suppose that is really the crux of my point, it’s opinion. When it comes to this question everyone falls into one of three categories.
- You have the naysayers, the ones that refuse to see Die Hard as a Christmas flick.
- You have the opposite, the ones who will say it is a Christmas movie every year until they die.
- Then you have the third group, the ones that just don’t give a fuck.
People say it’s not a Christmas film because it has nothing to do with Christmas… and they’re right from a plot point of view. Then there are those that say it is a Christmas movie because it takes place over Christmas Eve, but is that enough? For me, no. Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with considering a film a Christmas one just due to its setting.
Now, I will come off as very hypocritical next as it’s now time for me to answer that yearly question, is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Well…
Those are my Christmas jumpers for this year, what do you think my opinion is? Still, I said earlier how I don’t just want to answer but also explain my answer. And this is where the hypocrisy will come in. No, I don’t think that Die Hard being set at Christmas is enough to qualify it as a Christmas flick. I feel the same way about that other controversial choice too, Lethal Weapon. I love me some Riggs & Murtaugh and I think Lethal Weapon is a damn fine picture… but it’s not really a true festive flick to me despite it being set at Christmas just like Die Hard.
What Is A “Christmas Movie?”
Yet, something like Batman Returns or Gremlins? Yup, I see those as Christmas films despite the fact they have little to do with the festive season other than the setting. I did pre-warn you about the hypocrisy. Die Hard gets shot down as a festive film just because it’s set at Christmas but the plot has nothing to do with the holiday… yet Home Alone is always lauded as a ‘Christmas classic’ when it is only set at Christmas but plot-wise? What does a really annoying kid fending off two really fucking stupid burglars have to do with the Yuletide season? So why is Die Hard ignored as a Christmas flick because it has nothing to do with the season and only set in it, when others in the same boat get a free pass? You don’t see ‘Is Home Alone a Christmas movie?’ articles year after year do you?
This line of reasoning can be applied to films that no one would argue against being a Christmas film too. Take my all time favourite festive flick, It’s a Wonderful Life. Usually at near the top of, if not at the top of a lot of Christmas film lists…. but why? The opening of the film and the end are set in and around Xmas sure, but the majority of the story has absolutely nothing to do with the silly season at all. George Bailey thinking life would be better if he were dead is a story that could’ve been told any time of the year, not specifically Christmas. Yes, it being (hardly) set at Christmas gives it a little lift, a bit more gravitas, I guess. But the core of the plot and meaning behind it, that could’ve been told in the Spring and still got the same message across right?
What about the all-time, undisputed classic A Christmas Carol? I love this story. No matter how many times it is told and re-told, I never get bored of it. Form the Alastair Sim starring 1951 Scrooge, the Bill Murray take from 1988 with Scrooged to the greatest version of the tale yet, The Muppet Christmas Carol from 1992. It’s a story that has been done dozens up on dozens and dozens of times from 1901 onward. Yet, it’s another one that is considered a ‘Christmas classic’ when it really has little to do with Christmas outside of its setting. Yeah I know what you are thinking, how dare I? But just look at the plot for a second. it’s about a miserly old man learning to be more generous and friendly. Let me put it this way, keep the same plot, same characters, ghosts everything. Only change the setting from Christmas Eve to October 31st and you have a really effective Halloween film about a mean old bastard who is scared into being nice by ghosts of his past and even Death itself.
Seriously, What Is A Christmas Movie?
Of course, there are films that are not only set at Christmas but also have a plot that is cemented in the festive season. Miracle on 34th Street as an example. It’s a film about a man trying to prove his is the real Santa Claus. It’s kind of hard to get a more Christmasy film than that. You can change the setting, but the plot is still about someone proving they are the real Santa. As a little side note, one of the arguments for Die Hard not being a Christmas movie is because it was originally released in July. Not very Christmasay at all. Did you know that Miracle on 34th Street was released in June? Same argument then, no?
But what about something that features the real Santa but is hardly set at Christmas at all? I present the short animated film Father Christmas from 1991 based on the books by Raymond Briggs, the man behind another all time Christmas classic, The Snowman. Have you ever seen Father Christmas? (the short film not the real dude). It basically tells the story of what Santa does the rest of the year when it’s not Christmas. For those not in the know, he goes on holiday and says “bloomin'” a lot. It’s a film about Father Christmas that has little to do with Christmas itself… yet it’s a definite ‘Christmas classic’.
And that really is my point, it’s hard to pin-down what makes a Christmas movie an actual Christmas movie. You can have Christmas films that have plots and characters centric to the season. There are ones that are only set at Christmas but from a plot point of view have nothing to do with the holiday. Then there are some that feature Christmas characters at the centre, but story/plot wise have little to do with Noël. So where does Die Hard fit into all of this? I said earlier how I don’t consider Die Hard a Christmas movie just because it’s set at Christmas. Yet I do see it as a Christmas flick nonetheless… and so this is where the explanation comes in.
This Is What A Christmas Movie is…
Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Rocky III. So what do all those films have in common? Well they’re all Christmas flicks. Maybe I should clarify, they are all Christmas films to me specifically. See here in England in the eighties when I grew up, we only had four TV channels at the time and these channels would always battle year after year to get the big films shown over Christmas, sometimes it would be a TV premiere too. It was a wondrous time of year for the young film-fan me as I got to watch plenty of flicks. I’d probably watch more films over the two week Christmas holiday from school than I would the rest of the year combined. A lot of first time views of these films for me comes from Christmas and so they go on to be forever associated with Christmas to me personally, despite their settings, plots or characters. Then there is the other thing I connect Christmas to, family. I still remember and miss those family gatherings every year. Let me take one film from those above as an example with Rocky III and continue my explanation.
The film itself has nothing to do with Christmas, I know. Yet the first time I saw Rocky III was on TV in the eighties over Christmas (I think 86?). I still remember the day vividly. Nan and Granddad came over on Christmas Eve and stayed with us. We opened our presents in the morning and I got an X-Wing, toy not a real one. We had a huge traditional dinner around 1 pm before The Queen’s Christmas Message came on the telly at 3, as Nan would never miss that. Me and my brothers got to play with our new gifts for a while before we had to tidy up. And then later that evening, Granddad snored away in his favourite armchair, sleeping off that huge dinner as the big film, Rocky III came on TV. I sat on the sofa next to Nan and she put her arm around a 10-year-old me and we both sat there watching Sylvester Stallone punch the crap out of Mr. T.
Whenever I watch Rocky III, even now, it reminds me of that Christmas Day and so is, for me, a Christmas film. it has nothing to do with Christmas, no Christmas characters, story or plot and not even a hint of a Christmas setting. Yet it will always be a Christmas movie because of that memory.
Same goes for Die Hard (finally), I don’t consider Die Hard a Christmas film because it’s set at Christmas, it helps I admit, but it’s not the reason it’s a Christmas flick to me. The reason is because I first saw it over Christmas. I was way too young in 1988 to go to the cinema to watch Die Hard. But when it was released on VHS, I remember my older brother Rob, coming home one day with a copy and we watched it together a few days before Christmas. From that day in 1989 to this, I always watch Die Hard on Christmas Eve as a tradition. Now I’m an adult, I pour myself a large glass of Jack Daniels, plonk myself into a nice & comfy leather armchair, then sit back and relax as Bruce Willis shoots terrorists (who said they were terrorists?) in a skyscraper. I’m not satisfied until Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza. And I’ll be doing the same this Christmas Eve too twenty-nine years after that very first time.
That is what a Christmas film is. It doesn’t have to have a Christmas theme or plot or characters, nor does it need to be set at Christmas either. A Christmas flick is one you watch over Christmas because it gets you in the mood, it sparks off a festive memory, a film you watch because it’s Christmas not because it’s a Christmas film.
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? For me, yes and it’s up there with the likes of Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course Rocky III.
Have a good Christmas folks. Oh and yippee-ki-yay mother fuckers.