As the pre-Christmas news lull begins to bite, we take up questions of crucial cultural importance. Should Phil Robertson have been suspended? Is Santa white? Where did Pajama Boy ever get the idea that it’s appropriate for a grown man to wear a onesie? And what about “Die Hard”? Is it or is it not the greatest Christmas movie of all time?
Of course it isn’t. It’s not a Christmas movie in any material sense. Stop being silly.
Yes, Die Hard is set during Christmas (at an office holiday party, no less). Yes, there are some accoutrements of Christmas, Santa Claus outfits and the like, that pop up during the film. Yes, at some point someone says “ho ho ho.” But that doesn’t mean that it fits into the genre of “Christmas Movie.” A Christmas Movie is a movie that is specifically about Christmas: A Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, etc. These are all Christmas Movies. They are movies that are not only set during Christmas but also are actively about Christmas.
Precisely. Matt Lewis elaborates:
1). The holidays must be an integral part of the storyline. This is sort of like defining pornography — you know it when you see it. But some films use the trappings of Christmas merely as a backdrop or a prop. Die Hard is a terrific film, and it certainly benefits from the music and imagery of the holiday season. But (like Lethal Weapon) this film would have worked without that conceit. John McClane could have just as easily have headed out to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving — or spring break. To be sure, Christmas creates a nice ambiance, but isn’t a vital part of this story.
2). The film should be released at Christmastime. One could probably overlook the first concern if the movie had been sold as a Christmas movie. Just like when we interpret the Constitution, it’s important to look at the original intent. And it’s interesting to note that Die Hard was released on July 14, 1988 — right in the middle of a very hot summer. There was no attempt to label it a holiday film. And it would be revisionist history to suggest otherwise. Compare that to It’s a Wonderful Life (December 25, 1946), or even Love Actually (November 6, 2003.)
Frankly, the movie’s less Christmas-y than it could have been. They could have had McClane dress up as Santa at his wife’s request to pose for pics with kids at the office Christmas party. Then Hans and the gang show up and it’s time for Santa to kick ass. As it is, Christmas is nearly an afterthought: It’s there to make the “marital reconciliation” subplot a touch more poignant in an “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sort of way, but you could swap in Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve and lose virtually nothing. The best argument I can make for Christmas being somehow essential to “Die Hard” is that it’s true to the film’s (and especially Willis’s) sense of humor. Of course this is how down-on-his-luck wisecracking Detective John McClane would be spending what’s supposed to be the most serene, warm-and-fuzzy holiday of the year. But even there, the joke is basically that this isn’t a Christmas movie. It’s the opposite of the small-town feelgood schmaltz that makes “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” canonical.
If you’re in the “Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever!” camp, odds are you’re there for one of two reasons. One: You just can’t quite fully embrace the schmaltzy Christmas movies. Sure, you appreciate the greatness of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and you watch “A Christmas Story” the obligatory three or four times on TBS on Christmas Day like all good Americans do, but they’re just a touch too saccharine, a bit too … Pajama Boy-ish. You need something with balls, something with Bruce Willis throwing terrorists off of roofs. Ralphie may wear a onesie on Christmas, but you don’t, bro. You’re all man. Two: You love “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” and all the other schmaltzfests, but you love, love, love “Die Hard,” above and beyond the way most people who’ve seen it love it. (Because, let’s face it, everyone who’s seen it loves it.) You’re a “Die Hard” superfan, ergo any question that involves DH being named as the greatest __________ movie of all time is going to be answered in the affirmative. The greatest “troubled marriage saved by selfless heroism” movie? Yes. The greatest “1980s Japanese business panic” movie ever? Hell yes. The greatest “catchphrase involving the word ‘motherf***er'” movie? Almost certainly, although that requires a cursory review of Samuel L. Jackson’s oeuvre for a firm conclusion. It’s really a simple mathematic equation: “Die Hard” is super awesome + “Die Hard” mentions Christmas a few times = “Die Hard” is greatest Christmas movie evah. It’s really not, though. C’mon.