What makes a movie a Christmas movie? The answer is really in the eye of the beholder. It all depends on the standard by which one measures the Christmas in the movie. Is it because the movie happens to take place at Christmas time? Is it because Christmas decorations are obvious in many of the movie’s scenes? Is it because Christmas music and carols are being played in the background? Or is it because Christmas is so important to the plot that the movie wouldn’t even be happening if it were not for Christmas?
I’m certain this argument comes up every year around this time. Someone will jump on social media and call Die Hard their favorite Christmas movie and the annual debate will rage on. Forget about anti-vaxxers and how long we’ll have to deal with Omicron… This is the real controversy of the holiday season.
But I argue that Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie. And I will present my evidence now.
I’m willing to overlook a lot of the obvious signs that point to this being a Christmas movie: the many mentions of the fact that it’s Christmas Eve, the decorations, the music… particularly that the end credits roll to that holiday classic, “Let It Snow.” No, I simply ask to draw your attention to one irrefutable fact… Christmas is crucial to the plot of Die Hard.
In the first few minutes of the film, while the opening credits are still appearing on screen, we get a few important tidbits of information about John McClane and why he has flown to Los Angeles. First, as he speaks with another airline passenger sitting beside him, we learn that he hates flying and that he has been a New York City police officer for 12 years.
As John rides in the front seat of his limo with his driver, Argyle, we get a little more back story to explain why he made the trip from New York. His wife, Holly, had a tremendous career opportunity six months ago, which took her and their two children to LA. John, being the stubborn New York cop that he is, didn’t think that Holly’s career would pan out and figured she would come crawling back to the east coast when her career failed out west. But it turned out that Holly was pretty good at her job and she has quickly risen in the ranks with the Nakatomi Corporation.
Now, on Christmas Eve, John has flown out to California to spend the holiday with his family. And, I believe, he hopes to find a way to reconcile with his estranged wife.
Let’s ask the question: why is John taking a limo from the airport? It could be argued, at the beginning of this story, Holly still loves John. If she didn’t, she would have filed for divorce after their last big fight six months earlier. But they’re still married. But just because she loves the man does not mean she isn’t just the slightest bit bitter regarding their last big fight and John’s unwillingness to believe in his wife’s ability to succeed in her career or his refusal to even consider the notion of leaving New York, even though he could easily join the LAPD based on his 12 year record with the NYPD. Therefore, I really don’t think that Holly would make the effort to hire a limousine service to pick up John from LAX.
Thankfully, Holly has a very generous boss in Mr. Takagi. He is the head of things at the Los Angeles branch of the Nakatomi Corporation, which, as mentioned above, has been very successful. So Takagi takes it upon himself to provide a luxurious ride for his employee’s husband who is in town for a Christmas visit. And since it coincides with the night of the office Christmas party, Argyle has been instructed to deliver John to Nakatomi Plaza so he can join his wife at the party.
If it were any other time of the year, this movie would not happen. How many offices do you know that have major holiday parties outside of Christmas? When’s the last time you went to an office Valentine’s Day party? I’m sure there are some businesses out there, probably more of the smaller, local businesses, (and Dunder-Mifflin) that will provide their employees with something along the lines of a 4th of July barbecue. But in reality, the most likely time of year that any office will celebrate with their employees is at Christmas time. Because not only, as we see in Die Hard, is this company celebrating Christmas. They are also celebrating a very financially successful year.
If it were not for the fact that it is Christmas Eve, John would not have had any reason to be at Nakatomi Plaza when Hans Gruber and his small army arrived. In fact, he would not have had any reason to even board a plan for the coast in the first place. He would have continued being stubborn in New York, refusing to acknowledge his wife’s continued success. Because out of sight, out of mind.
If it were not for the fact that the Nakatomi Corporation was having its Christmas party on this night, Hans and company would not have even attacked. They knew that there would be hostages in the building, but that those hostages would be limited to only a few dozen people at most. They knew that security would be minimal… because it’s Christmas Eve and the only people still in the building were at the party. If it isn’t Christmas, then Hans isn’t coming after those negotiable bearer bonds that are locked up in the vault.
I’ve written all of the above hoping to make it clear that Christmas is at the center of Die Hard‘s plot. And I do that because so many of the counter-arguments to the question of “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” stem from people responding that it is an action movie that happens to take place at Christmas. But I say, remove Christmas and you remove John McClane from the story.
I’ll even take the hypothetical a step further…
Let’s say it’s not Christmas time. So John didn’t fly out west to reunite with his family because it’s just another weekend and he’s probably working on a case back home. Mr. Takagi still wants to be able to celebrate with his employees after closing some very lucrative deals. There’s a party… it’s just not a holiday themed party. It’s just an excuse for 30 or so of Nakatomi’s best and brightest to grab a few drinks and toast their own late ’80s decadence.
Hans, still being the brilliant tactician that he is, plans out the entire heist, just as we see it should have been in the film. They take over the building. They invade the party on the 30th floor. Hans grabs Takagi, who is still uncooperative and still winds up dead. Everything plays out according to plan because there isn’t a loose cannon running around the upper floors of the building barefoot. Tony is never sent to look for whoever pulled the fire alarm, thus Karl never seeks revenge on behalf of his dead brother. The police still try to storm the building and fail. The FBI still cuts the power, allowing Theo to finish breaking into the vault. Hans and his crew are able to obtain all $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds and escape to the garage where they have a fake ambulance waiting to transport them out while they blow up the roof and all of the hostages. And since the FBI and police are under the impression that the bad guys all died in the explosion with the hostages, Hans and his buddies will be sitting on a beach collecting 20%. All because it isn’t Christmas.
Just to show the flip side of this argument, one could say that the Ryan Reynolds rom-com Just Friends is not a Christmas movie. Now, it does take place at Christmas. There is snow on the ground. There are Christmas decorations everywhere. And we are inundated with Christmas music. But remove Christmas from the movie and you still have the exact same romantic comedy. Reynolds’ character, Chris, does not return home to reunite with the girl he loved in high school because it’s Christmas. He and the pop singer he’s been assigned to babysit just happen to end up in New Jersey when their private plane has to make an emergency landing on the way to Paris. It’s at that point, since he’s so close to home, that the movie really begins. Not because it just happens to be Christmas.
What movies do you consider Christmas movies that others might not? Let me know down in the comments!