Non-believers and Scrooges of the world take note: not only is John McTiernan’s 1988 gun-toting masterpiece Die Hard one of the best action movies ever made, it’s also quite possibly one of the most misunderstood Christmas films around too. True, it may not feature Santa or Rudolph or anything more vaguely festive than the occasional song or bout of snow, but at the heart of all the terrorist-killing mayhem is a moral guided by the true meaning of Christmas: togetherness.
Bruce Willis’s lovably sarcastic, renegade cop John McClane finds himself estranged from his wife and his kids, looking to reunite with them both as the Christmas period approaches. Thrusting himself firmly out of his comfort zone to the other end of the country in order to attend his wife’s office Christmas party, McClane soon finds more than just his marriage on the line, when international terrorists – lead by the diabolical Hans Gruber (an incredibly young Alan Rickman) – seize the building, taking everyone inside hostage. Everyone that is, but for McClane himself, who soon embarks on a one-man mission to apprehend Gruber and rescue his wife.
It’s a quintessential 80s action romp, in the vein of Schwarzenegger and Stallone (it was even originally conceived as a sequel to the former’s earlier effort Commando), but here marked with a clear and present difference: emotion. Unlike his beefcake cohorts, Willis brings humanity to Die Hard and it’s this that marks it as a serious Christmas contender.
Whether it’s the classical likes of Dickens’ original A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life or even the Will Ferrell charmer Elf, the most memorable and well-loved Christmas movies across all generations have one clear connection: the theme of togetherness. Each character embarks on a journey, and along the way discovers the “true meaning of Christmas”, that it’s about bringing people together; cheesy, I know, but I guess that is what Christmas is all about after all.
It may be covered in waves of blood and bullets, but Die Hard at its very core, is also about togetherness, and how Christmas reinforces that. McClane is driven to reunite with his wife because of “the holidays”, something which leads him to ultimately (spoiler alert) save her life, in the process reaffirming their relationship and pushing their family back together. In the same way that Christmas brings together Buddy and his father in Elf, and George Bailey and his family in It’s A Wonderful Life, it pulls together the McClanes in Die Hard.
A film doesn’t have to explicitly mention Christmas at every opportunity in order to still impart the morals the holiday brings, and Die Hard is a perfect example of this. Its hero may not dash around dressed in red and white, but Christmas remains a key part of the story’s overall significance, with subtle nods to its setting helping to show how its general meaning is woven into the film’s very DNA.
In the same way that Elf is a Christmas movie for lovers of slapstick comedy, Die Hard is a Christmas movie for fans of action and adventure. It doesn’t get more simple than that.