What Makes Die Hard a Christmas Movie

Bruce Willis, the indestructible force of the Die Hard series films, stars in the fifth release of the movie franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard. We first met him way back in 1988 as John McClane, the reluctant hero who was just looking to patch things up with his estranged wife and children when a few armed thieves got in the way.

Wikipedia and several fan sites claim Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Even though the movie has never billed itself as a Christmas flick, it contains nothing in the story about Christmas and never pretends to adopt any elements of Christmas other than the fact that McClane is reconciling with his family over the holidays it nevertheless persists as a perennial Christmas favorite.


Some have compared John McClane to George Bailey. No kidding.

Like George, McClane is just trying to reconnect with what really matters. For Bailey it takes an angel and a trip through time without him to see what is important. For McClane, it is a sneering bad guy, a machine gun and walking on broken glass to put on that Christmas shine.

(We’re just getting warmed up.)

Speaking of bad guys, let’s examine the connections between Mr. Potter, villain of It’s a Wonderful Life, to Hans Gruber, the terrorist of the original Die Hard, deliciously played by Alan Rickman.

Both are greedy. Both lack the Christmas spirit. And both get something for nothing: money.

That veiled connection to the commercialized Christmas is never overtly explored in either film but, then again, both George and John are men of action who take responsibility for righting the wrongs.

In Wonderful Life, George never tells Potter it was Uncle Billy who lost the money and we never learn exactly why the law ends up coming after George first. In Die Hard, McClane has no reason to stop Gruber’s money grab other than to save his wife. But both George and John bite the bullet, so to speak, and if that’s not Christmas, I don’t know what is.

(Can you see how far we’re stretching here? Wait, it gets worse).

In both Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life it seems the bad guys get all the good lines.

For Mr. Potter, his whole character was summed up when he said: “Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me a warped, frustrated, old man! What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help.”

For good old Hans, he was revealed when he said “I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.”

A great Christmas movie simply has to have great, articulate bad guys. Die Hard holds this in common with Martin Short’s character in Santa Clause 3, burglar Harry in Home Alone and even Herod from The Nativity Story.

(This is putting you in the Christmas mood, no?)

Sacrifice of self is a Christmas staple. Rudolph did it for Santa. The Grinch did it for Whoville. Jesus did it for everyone.

John McClane and George Bailey did the same. George was going to jump off that bridge. McClane did jump off that 40-story LA skyscraper with a firehose, guns blazing. I get Christmas warm fuzzies just thinking about it.

Critics quickly claim that just because Die Hard is an action movie it cannot be a Christmas movie. But we remind you that Home Alone had bad guys, The Santa Clause had a kidnapping and even A Christmas Story was really about a gun.

(Man, we’re good. But wait – there’s more.)

All good Christmas movies feature loyalty to family above all else. It is the lesson of Little Women, Home Alone, The Santa Clause and even Elf – great Christmas movies one and all. Die Hard, as we have already pointed out, is a great Christmas movie.

In Die Hard, the giant blonde terrorist, Karl, learns that all the money in the world is not nearly as important as his dear brother. Unfortunately, he learns this after John McClane casually murders his sibling. Karl is so overcome by vengeance and grief at this realization that he abandons all thoughts of self-preservation and dies futilely trying to kill Bruce Willis. He was so torn apart by the loss of his family that he wasn’t thinking logically, and was killed much easier. So you see, John McClane also knows family is the most important thing; that’s why he makes sure to take them out first. Does that give you that Christmas feeling?

Christmas movie heroes all need a hand in accomplishing their deeds. George Bailey had Clarence. John McClane had Sergeant Al, the mellow and wise LA cop who just knew McClane was the real deal. Nobody would ever mistake Clarence and Al for brothers but their contribution to the heroics of Bailey and McClane is what really gives both movies their Christmas charm.

But what makes Die Hard the Christmas-movie-to-end-all-Christmas-movies is the fact that no one thinks you’re nuts for watching it on Christmas Eve, just like It’s a Wonderful Life. And no one thinks you’re crazy for watching it in June, February or September, either. It is like keeping your Christmas tree up year round.

Yippe kay yay — and Merry Christmas.

Leave a Reply