With this three-part series “Is it a Christmas movie?,” we have reviewed three movies in an attempt to settle the debate as to whether they are Christmas movies or not based on classic Christmas movie criteria and tropes.
The 1980s gave us some of the best movies of all time, but did it give us the best Christmas movie of all time?
On the previous installment of “Is it a Christmas Movie?,” “Home Alone” failed to deliver on holiday tropes, but it did deliver on all the one-liners, action set pieces and violence that one would expect from a 90s blockbuster. It was able to do this because it seems to have taken its premise from what is considered one of the best action movies ever made, “Die Hard.” While “Die Hard” also takes place during the holidays like “Home Alone”, it still does not qualify as a Christmas movie. Despite this being the case, however, “Die Hard” does get close in a few key areas.
While the plot of “Die Hard” is not dependent on it being Christmas Eve, this does aid in bringing out the emotions of the film. “Die Hard” initially feels very much like a Christmas movie. When John McClane is first introduced, he feels like the perfect, rough-around-the-edges kind of dad who has lost the true meaning of Christmas. He is arriving on a plane which means he had been away from his family for a while but is making an effort to be a part of their lives during the holidays. He also is carrying a large stuffed animal, which means that he is really trying to win over his family.
The wife’s introduction is also perfectly fitting for the Christmas atmosphere. For one, her name is Holly, the perfect name for a character in a Christmas movie. Holly is also the “workaholic on Christmas” trope. While everyone else in the office is enjoying the Christmas Eve party, she is walking around finishing up work. Because of her high-ranking position at her job, Holly is away from her kids on Christmas Eve. Holly has to call them to wish them a good night and say that Santa is on his way because she is too busy to be there with her kids during the most wonderful time of the year.
The basis of John and Holly’s relationship is also holiday gold. Many action movies have a love interest the hero is fighting for, but John and Holly are set apart from just another action movie romance. This is because it isn’t just another couple getting back together; this is a couple getting back together for the holidays. John and Holly are trying to rekindle their love and rebuild their family on Christmas Eve. Having the film set during the holiday season adds a level of importance to their relationship since the holidays are all about love and being with family. If “Die Hard” managed to keep this emphasis on love and family throughout the rest of its runtime, it would be an expert genre-blending Christmas movie. Unfortunately for the film, however, it loses sight of the holiday spirit as soon as the action starts.
As discussed in the previous two entries of this series, the fight to save Christmas is a trope of the holiday genre. Just like in “Home Alone,” however, Christmas is not at risk of not happening if our hero fails in this movie. If John doesn’t stop Hans Gruber, Christmas will still happen the next morning. Once again, if Christmas is not in danger, there can be no fight to save it. Unlike in “Home Alone,” Christmas does make an attempt to stay relevant in the film during the action. One of the most iconic scenes in the movie is arguably the, “I have a machine gun now, ho-ho-ho” gag. While this is obviously a holiday-themed joke, the gag could be left at, “I have a machine gun now,” and it would all play the exact same. Christmas does not enhance the action in the film the same way it does the family dynamic, a dynamic that the film also seems to forget about in its finale. Even though John and Holly get back together in the end, there is never a payoff of the family reuniting on Christmas morning.
It is a shame because with only a few minor tweaks to the script, “Die Hard” could have easily been not just a Christmas movie, but one of the best Christmas movies. If the movie was set a few weeks early and Hans’ plan to rob Nakatomi Tower affected the global economy by crashing the stock market or wiping the bank records clean, Christmas would have been in financial jeopardy. If the villain’s plan had inadvertently stopped people from buying Christmas gifts, the holiday would have been in danger and in need of saving by our hero. After John and Holly rekindle their love, John could have then gone out and bought presents for his family, presents he would not have been able to buy if he hadn’t stopped Hans. John could have then returned home with a bag full of presents, invoking the image of Santa Claus, and reunited with his family. These tiny changes would have kept the holidays engaged in the plot and given the film a proper Christmas ending.
Although the film was on the right track to being a Christmas movie with classic holiday themes of rekindling love and reuniting with family, the fact that it loses the holiday spirit once the action starts makes “Die Hard” not a Christmas movie.