Unlike Easter, New Years Day or the summer solstice there’s a wealth of Christmas themed films. Ranging from the saccharine Miracle on 34th Street to the bitter Bad Santa, there’s a Christmas movie out there for every taste. So, in the run up to Christmas, we got our writers to tell us about their personal festive favourite. First up is James McQueen who explains to us why Die Hard is not only a great action movie, but a great Christmas one too.
There exists a divide between movie goers about what constitutes a Christmas film. The main reason for this divide is one movie in particular, 1988’s Die Hard. Those familiar heart-warming themes about family, togetherness, cherishing what you have and being thankful for it, are admittedly hard to find in a movie with a sizable death count. Arguments like; “Such brutality shouldn’t be anywhere near a Christmas movie”, “it doesn’t get you in the mood for Christmas” and “just because it’s set at Christmas doesn’t make it a Christmas film” are all solid arguments against this powerhouse of 80’s action cinema being a bona fide Christmas movie. I don’t buy it though, Die Hard is the best Christmas flick ever made.
Let’s look at the movie itself. New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Los Angeles to visit his estranged family on Christmas Eve. His wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), a highflying business woman for the Nakatomi Corporation, is attending a Christmas party at the still under construction Nakatomi Plaza. John is her plus one at the event and neither of them know how the night will go. Will they make up? Will they get back together? Their relationship hangs in the balance; even John doesn’t even know where he’ll be sleeping on Christmas Eve. So far, so Christmas movie. We have a man trying to set things right with his wife so he can spend Christmas with his family. It ticks every box. In the beginning anyway…
Things get interesting when this familiar family drama backdrop is hijacked by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his highly drilled band of heavily armed militants. Not that things were going well between John and Holly before then. After a warm start to the party, it’s not long until the pair start to squabble about what led them to separate beds on either side of the US in the first place. The theme of career versus family is one that crops up in many Christmas movies. It’s one that probably would have been exhausted in Die Hard if Gruber hadn’t shown up.
Granted, it would probably have had a different title but it’s fun to imagine this movie without Gruber shooting up the place. John having a comical punch up with Ellis in a rest room, the “man to man” chat with the ever dignified Mr Takagi leading to the rediscovery of why he loved Holly in the first place, the public declaration of love in front of all the guests and the beautiful reunion with the kids on Christmas morning with that enormous teddy bear… it brings a tear to my eye.
Perhaps not though. Perhaps McClane would have struck out completely and spent the night in the limo listening to Stevie Wonder on repeat with Argyle. Perhaps the Christmas reunion would have been a hungover disaster of a day for John culminating in a huge argument and divorce papers. Perhaps John would get that TV dinner after all.
Ah, what could have been… Thankfully, Hans Gruber had other ideas and that’s the reason why Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all. Nakatomi Plaza is a fantastic setting as McClane scurries bare foot from floor to floor, creeping through air vents, swinging down elevator shafts and taking part in a bit of improvised bungee jumping with the help of a firehose. It’s white knuckle stuff and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it; Die Hard is like the drunken uncle at the dinner table whose savage sense of humour seems out of place until you experience one without him. John McClane has earned his right alongside George Bailey, Gizmo, Ralphie, Kevin McCallister and yuppie Bill Murray at the dinner table (what a table that would be).
The beauty of Die Hard is that it sets up a conventional Christmas movie plot before turning into one of the best action films of all time; one you can watch all year round. Few other Christmas movies are as easy to watch in March as they are in December. I would argue though, that watching it at Christmas makes this beast of a movie just that little bit better. After all Hans Gruber was the Christmas miracle the McClane family needed. What could be more Christmassy than that?