The “Die Hard” poster from its 1988 release contains zero Christmas references. If not marketed as a holiday film, is it truly meant to be? (Photo courtesy of
The “Die Hard” poster from its 1988 release contains zero Christmas references. If not marketed as a holiday film, is it truly meant to be?

Photo courtesy of

“Die Hard” Crossfire: Is it a Christmas movie?

December 22, 2020

“Die Hard” is not a Christmas movie

Picture this: Bruce Willis fighting Alan Rickman and a crew of terrorists in an LA skyscraper while barefoot. Does that really scream Christmas? It doesn’t. To put the debate to rest, “Die Hard” is not a Christmas movie. Many people have jumped to the conclusion that because the action flick takes place on Christmas Eve, it automatically falls under the same category as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.” While the time that the film takes place during does point it in the direction of the North Pole, it still feels far from jolly as most of the film contains violence and crude language. Truthfully, this is one of the last movies that I would put on to get myself in the holiday spirit. 

To be a Christmas movie means to spread joy, nostalgia and love to all audiences. While there is no definite genre, Christmas movies are found to have plot devices focused on the holiday season, happy endings, and loads of cheer. While “Die Hard” does check a few of those boxes, the overall violent plot of the film overshines all of the miniscule holiday hints. Taking place on Christmas Eve, former policeman John McClain (Willis) flies home to reconcile with his wife which leads him to her office party that evening. At the party, German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Rickman) attempt to seize control of the building. Working by himself, McClain must take down all the terrorists and save the hostages in the building. 

Let’s debunk this Christmas clash by starting with it’s conception in the late 80s. The film is based on author Roderick Thorp’s novel, “Nothing Lasts Forever” which is classified as a thriller, not a Christmas novel. In fact, the Los Angeles Times described it as “a ferocious, bloody, raging book”. If the movie’s source material contains so much gruesome content, how could that possibly create a movie with Christmas cheer? Many people share the belief that this movie is too violent to put it on any holiday movie lists. 

“In my opinion, a good Christmas movie has to make you feel warm and fuzzy,” senior Megan Schlief said. “This movie did not make me feel warm and fuzzy.” 

Following the timeline from its creation, the release of the film was actually on July 15, 1988. That would mean the public first experienced the story five months before the season that people argue it fits into. Normally, Christmas films are released only a few weeks before the holiday season like “A Christmas Story” which was released on November 18, 1983 or “Love Actually” on November 14, 2003. Even in all the marketing and posters from the film’s release, none of them included anything about Christmas or festivities. There were only taglines like “Twelve terrorists. One cop. The odds are against John McClane… That’s just the way he likes it”. 

If we take a closer look at the script, it has been calculated that the word Christmas appears 18 times. In comparison to other words such as gun (73) and terrorist (51), it is pretty evident that the action aspect of the movie takes precedence to any types of Christmas themes. In the cult classic holiday movie “Elf”, christmas appears 37 times, not to mention the 68 references to Santa. I do understand why people make the argument that “Die Hard” is a festive film because it does have elements like Christmas music and a few references to the season, but I don’t think those things are enough to qualify it as a Christmas movie.

“I don’t see it as a Christmas movie because to me, a Christmas movie is full of snow, family, Santa, presents and the basic Christmas meals and die hard really doesn’t have that stuff from what I remember“I don’t see it as a Christmas movie because to me, a Christmas movie is full of Santa, presents and the basic Christmas meals,” senior Ben Harrington said. “‘Die Hard’ really doesn’t have that stuff from what I remember.”

The timing of the movie may not even be that crucial in the Christmas argument. It makes more sense that the terrorists planned their attack to happen when the building was still under construction so they could get better access. Because the renovations happened to occur during the Christmas season, the party seems more like an added effect. The skyscraper construction seems more crucial to the plot than the holiday party as Willis uses the former to fully embrace his role as an impressively tough fighter of crime. 

“I’m always amused when people call ‘Die Hard’ a Christmas movie,” teacher Sheila Fleming said. “If the opening scenes took place at a birthday party instead of a Christmas party, would we call it a birthday movie? If it began at a Fourth of July party, would it be a Fourth of July movie?” 

It has been found that there are only 21 visual Christmas references in the entire movie like trees and Santa hats. However, that just seems like a few moments of added flair; it does nothing to progress the plot or influence characters. Even someone who worked directly on the film also believes all the elements aren’t enough to label it as anything but an action movie. 

“I’m not sure if the spirit of Christmas is fully embraced by that movie, to be honest,” cinematographer Jan de Bont said. “To really call that a Christmas movie — it’s a little far-fetched.”

While I understand the perspective of those who take the opposing side, it’s hard to agree when the protagonist himself agrees that it doesn’t fit the holiday bill. 

“‘Die Hard’ is not a Christmas movie,” Willis said. “It’s a godd—- Bruce Willis movie!” 

To sum up, it is not a Christmas movie; it is a movie that just happens to take place at Christmas. If you don’t want to take my word for it, maybe take Wikipedia’s as the film is absent on their list of Christmas movies. At the end of the day, whether you watch “Die Hard” as a holiday movie or not, the debate is all in good fun and everyone can celebrate Christmas in their own ways. But seriously, what about Willis’ bloody, glass-filled feet really screams “happy holidays”? 

“Die Hard” is a Christmas movie

No matter which way you slice it, there’s only one explanation; Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” is undoubtedly a Christmas movie. The film follows John McClane, a cop visiting his estranged wife and her office Christmas party, only to fight terrorists who attack the building and everyone in it. One of the most obvious reasons why would be because it takes place on Christmas Eve at a Christmas office party. This point often warrants scoffs and eye-rolls from those who disagree. Many debunkers claim that the plot stands on its own and that you could seemingly input any holiday and the plot would continue. This is false. Not only are few holidays other than Christmas usually celebrated by offices and corporations, but festive holiday elements, like music and ambiance, are strung throughout the movie, making it very difficult to just instantly replace. Also, how would those criminals have been able to enter and hide in the office building seemingly unnoticed had it not been for the fact that the only event happening was the party? If you were to change the holiday, you’d have to revamp a majority of the film’s surrounding details, making this film incredibly dependent on Christmas.

“I would consider Die Hard to be a “Christmas movie” for the following reasons: the events of the film take place at an office Christmas party on Christmas Eve, and the protagonist’s motivation is centered around reconciling a relationship during the holiday. Also, Christmas-themed music is used throughout the film, and the antagonists’ strategy benefits greatly from the nearly vacant building due to the holiday,” Mr. Ernst said.

“Die Hard” screenwriter Steven E deSouza responded to CNN correspondent Jake Tapper on Twitter and confirmed that the film is a Christmas movie. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Debunkers also claim that the film exudes no traditional elements of Christmas spirits, which is just flat out wrong. Friendship, reconciliation, and a happy ending are all vital themes to this film, as they are with any Christmas movie. This specific plot may be more violent, aggressive, and harsh, but who cares? By claiming that it has no festive Christmas elements, people are claiming that every Christmas film should be the same. Honestly, that’s boring. Sure, I love a good happy movie around the holidays, but do they all have to be of the same overly-sweet mold? “Die Hard” already comes with a happy ending! What more do people want? 

“[Die Hard] is a Christmas movie because [John McClane] is trying to get home for Christmas, he makes up with his wife, and it’s a Christmas miracle all centered around the holiday,” senior Katie McCann said. 

The film also carries an element of tradition in a lot of households. Films like “Elf”, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “The Polar Express” are examples of what people watch on repeat around the holidays, but for a lot of families, “Die Hard” is no exception. There isn’t enough evidence to disqualify “Die Hard” from being watched during the holiday season, and for me personally, I am more inclined to watch it during the holiday season than I am during other non-holiday months. Though it may not be the focus of the film, Christmas is an integral part of the story and the ambiance, which makes it the perfect Christmas film while you’re getting ready for the holidays. 

“Absolutely it’s a Christmas movie in our house,” Mrs. Pfau said. “As for why… that’s a bit harder to articulate as it doesn’t necessarily exude the Christmas spirit, does it? Nonetheless, we always watch it at Christmas time, and it does, after all, take place at a Christmas party!” 

There’s even the festive element of gifts strung throughout the film. The character Holly (an incredibly fitting and festive Christmas-y name!) is given a Rolex by the company she works for, and the character Hans Gruber is eventually given access to the Nakatomi vault by the FBI. Also, isn’t the protagonist John McClane kind of like Santa Claus in a way? He climbs through the vents of the office building like Santa climbs down a chimney. There are also some religious parallels; both this story and The Nativity story contain pregnant women, and you could deduce that John is like Mary and Joseph from the same Nativity story. Mary and Joseph traveled a long way to have their child, just like John traveled a long way to get home. That last one may be pushing it a bit, but you can’t deny there’s for sure a similarity. 

“I think considering it takes place during Christmas and, most importantly, that some people treat it as a Christmas movie and watch it as a family tradition around the holiday, [Die Hard] is a Christmas movie,” senior Jake Downey said. 

You could even claim that the character of John McClane is a parallel himself, paying homage to one of the most classic Christmas characters of all time, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is a grumpy guy, who is unwilling to allow change into his life and has to be shown the way to happiness and acceptance by a few Christmas ghosts. Though no apparitions pay McClane a visit, he is incredibly reluctant to make the move to Los Angeles to be with his family, and he does spend the majority of the film in quite the quarrel with his wife, until their final reconciliation at the end. McClane carries an element of Scrooge-like grumpiness with him, which is ultimately changed when the party is saved. 

“John McClane is very much Scrooge-like,” junior Elizabeth King said. “He’s reluctant to come to California and throughout the movie he begins to change. 

For some, their opinion on whether or not it qualifies as a Christmas one is based upon the opinion their parents pushed onto them growing up. In general, whatever side you’re on in this argument, you tend to stick to it wholeheartedly, and that sort of intense socialization can sway you even as you grow older. 

“I think it’s a Christmas movie because my parents told me it’s a Christmas movie,” senior Ashley Harmon said. 

In the end, there’s no denying that “Die Hard” has earned its place among many other films as a phenomenally festive Christmas classic. Even the film’s screenwriter, Steven de Souza, Tweeted that he agrees! With all those elements of Christmas festivity, music, and ambiance, not to mention the literal placement of the film’s major event on Christmas Eve, how could you claim that it’s not? It’s hard to deny “Die Hard”’s deep connections to Christmas, and who doesn’t love a little action on the side? Regardless of what you think, no film will have you screaming “Yippee-Ki Yay!” like this one, especially during the upcoming holiday season.

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