Every December, when the Christmas movie debate comes up, and I’m asked to list my favourites, I find myself having the same argument: I get to Die Hard, and someone will inevitably say “That’s not a Christmas movie; it’s just set at Christmas!” Then I have to explain, again, why it’s not only a Christmas movie, but a great one.
There are elements that all Christmas movies have in common, and I think that Die Hard hits every one of them. In order to prove this I’m going to need to spoil a lot of Christmas movies, so make sure you’re familiar with the classics before you read on:
This can be a threat to the hero, to their family, or to Christmas itself; sometimes even all three. One of the best examples of this comes in Home Alone, where Kevin is left to fend for himself, the family is further separated by his mum’s attempts to get back to him, and burglars are intent on ransacking their house, and spoiling their Christmas. In Die Hard there is the obvious threat of a hostage situation happening in the middle of an office Christmas party, but also the threat to the McClane family posed by Hollie and John’s separation.
A Nightmare Scenario
This can be an actual dream or nightmare, as in It’s a Wonderful Life, Babes in Toyland (the 1989 TV movie with Drew Barrymore & Keanu Reeves), or A Christmas Carol. It can also be a nightmarish situation, like Kevin’s battle through his house to beat the burglars. In Die Hard, John McClane goes from scrunching his toes into the carpet of Hollie’s plush office with a private bathroom, to crawling through vents, and trying to outwit gun-toting terrorists.
Every Christmas Hero has an ally rooting for them. Someone who provides reassurance, advice, or practical help. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack has Sally. In Home Alone, Kevin’s mum is helped by Gus Polinsky, while Kevin is rescued by Old Man Marley. In Die Hard, McClane has Argyle, the limo driver, and Sgt. Al Powell on his side, who offer information and support at critical moments. Arguably Mr Nagasaki is also an ally, as he seems keen to promote a reconciliation between Holly and John.
Unhelpful Authority Figures
The Christmas Hero is always thwarted by authority figures, who fail to recognise the threat, misunderstand the protagonist’s difficulties, or are simply unsympathetic. In Home Alone a succession of travel company employees thwart Kevin’s mum’s attempts to get home. In The Santa Clause Charlie’s mum and stepdad think his father is delusional, and have Scott arrested just as he’s accepted his new role as Santa. In Die Hard, McClane is hindered by the incompetence of the Deputy Police Chief, and two FBI agents called Johnson, who consistently ignore his information, and act in ways which endanger the hostages.
All good Christmas movies end with a reconciliation: the threat is dealt with, the authority figures put right, friends and family make up their differences, and Christmas is safe once more. In Home Alone, Kevin, having vanquished the burglars, is rewarded by the arrival of all his family on Christmas day, and is recognised as being more responsible. A Christmas Carol‘s Scrooge awakens on Christmas Day, and reconciles with his nephew, and his employee. In Die Hard, John McClane is reconciled with his wife, and finally gets to meet Powell, before Argyle whisks John and Hollie away to their children, and a family Christmas.
While Die Hard may lack the wonder of many other Christmas movies, at it’s heart it’s about a man who is desperately trying to have a perfect Christmas with his family, in the hope of restoring the family life that they’re in danger of losing. The threats and hindrances may be more violent than we are used to seeing in our Christmas movies, but he fights through them in true Christmas Hero fashion, and is rewarded by getting to spend Christmas with his reunited family, as he had envisioned.
With that in mind, I humbly suggest that Die Hard is worthy of a spot on everybody’s Christmas movie list.