Ho, Ho, Hold Up…

The Die Hard Debate Decided


Admitting you’re wrong is an act of self-awareness that now transcends the qualifications for the US presidency. These days, simply entertaining the possibility that a long-held belief may be faulty should put you in line for sainthood. Get ready to possibly slap my mug on a candle…

For years now, I have been a Die Hard Christmas Truther. I have spoken on the gospel of Nakatomi yuletide carnage on the radio, advocated for its inclusion on lists of best Christmas movies and once dressed as John McClane for a costumed holiday party. Over the years, what I thought was a quirky-fun position has slowly evolved into a belief espoused by, well, obnoxious wing-wangs.

If suddenly you find yourself joined in holding a position by certain people with whom you absolutely do not want to be sharing pretty much anything, you really have to do some serious self-reflection. I mean, apparently unless you already hold public office… Watching dillholes barf “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever!” in aggressive, gross fashion, seemingly out of a desire to be acknowledged for their coy contrarianism, has resulted in this gut-check: A 3-point test of Die Hard’s Christmas-ness. Yippee ki away we go!

Question one: Is the Christmas setting for Die Hard integral to the film?

From the head-bobbing beats of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” to McClane’s exuberant and bloody correspondence about his newfound machine gun ownership, Die Hard is inarguably seasonally tinseled. But is that setting intrinsically connected to the plot?

We have to look at a comparison with any standard-issue holiday film. Let’s go with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, because it’s arguably the only reason nobody has inserted Chevy Chase into a trash compactor. That movie is about Christmas. It doesn’t work without it because it quite literally can’t. The holiday is so woven into the inherent concept of the film, none of the events can be transposed to another time or setting.

Not so with Die Hard. In fact, and this is a hugely detrimental point to the not-actually-contrarian contrarians espousing John McClane as their lord and savior: the film doesn’t even need any kind of holiday at all. Were the employees at Nakatoma plaza gathered for a corporate merger or mandatory company party, everything plays pretty much the same. Yes, small details would have to be tweaked, but one frenzied, Regan-era coke-fueled rewrite could have omitted the entirety of Christmas from the film, and it would have still been a classic. The season t’wasn’t the reason for the film.

Question two: Are Christmas messages and themes central to Die Hard?

In 2017, Jake Tapper chose to end the year on whatever high note he could eke out. So he asked Steven de Souza, the writer of Die Hard, if the film was actually a Christmas movie. Tongue firmly pressed to cheek, de Souza quipped “Yes, but only “because the studio rejected the Purim draft.” de Souza has commented that holiday themes of family permeate the film, as though what people remember at the end isn’t Alan Rickman’s genuine, pant-crapping face but familial togetherness.

The idea that Die Hard has anything to do with meaningful holiday messages carries as much water as making fists with your feet. If there is any grand take-home point, which there absolutely isn’t, it has to do with McClane’s indomitable spirit, an ersatz Stan-Lee-esque embrace of responsibility even in impossible situations, or a reminder not to do cocaine before negotiating with thieves disguised as terrorists. The closest thing to an actual character arc in the movie is Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) finding the courage to kill again. Although that should have been what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was about, with the blood of reindeer game gatekeepers melting the fresh powder, it’s not actually a holiday message.

Question three: Does Die Hard actually get people thinking about the holidays?

The most subjective of the three questions, and the biggest reason this debate ends in a narrow split decision, recent developments have actually helped produce an affirmative “yippee” to this ki-yay query. Earned or not, Die Hard does immediately summon seasonal synonyms. Producer Joel Silver allegedly proclaimed back when the film was released—in the summer (!) of 1988—that it would get played at Christmastime on TV for years to come. He’s right. It does.

The whole “debate” works in its favor on this point. If you say “Die Hard,” someone in a “Don’t Tread on Me” shirt will immediately stop gaslighting their partner long enough to come running to say “That’s my favorite Christmas movie!” For better or worse, supported or not, this is a fact. And yet… In June of this year, Bruce Willis himself weighed in, saying “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.” Although it carries weight, his solo blues record means his judgement remains be suspect. Still, a close, measured examination reveals: Die Hard is NOT actually a Christmas movie.

Although anybody can declare anything to be their favorite anything, because it’s an entirely subjective statement, may I suggest the following responses to anyone who obnoxiously proclaims this to you in the future: “Actually,” because those dudes love sentences that start with that word, “Die Hard takes place at Christmas but is not about Christmas.” But that dispute is what they’re craving. So, better yet, just tell them your favorite Christmas movie is Lethal Weapon and watch them fumble for a comeback other than “Oh. Cool.”


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