The eternal debate is raging anew on Twitter this afternoon, so let’s spend a few more minutes exploring why you’re all wrong about this. Simple question: Has anyone ever said to themselves, “I’m in the mood for a Christmas movie. I know — I’ll watch ‘Die Hard'”? No, they have not. Lots of people have said to themselves, “I’m in the mood for an action movie. I know — I’ll watch ‘Die Hard.'” Lots of people have also said to themselves, “I’m in the mood for ‘Die Hard,’ period.” That’s how singularly awesome and culturally ubiquitous the film is: Sometimes you’ll get a movie itch and nothing else but DH will scratch it. But — and this is the key point, worth (re)emphasizing — the fact that “Die Hard” is an exceptional movie set on Christmas Eve does not make it an exceptional “Christmas movie.” If it does, then the fact that McClane’s heroism is all about reconciling with his wife should, in theory, also make DH one of the great romantic movies ever made. I wince as I write that, knowing that now the “Die Hard” superfans are going to say, “IT IS ONE OF THE GREAT ROMANCES EVER MADE.” But of course, it isn’t. The romantic subplot is useful in humanizing McClane, making an already likeable character even easier to root for. But ultimately it’s window dressing for what truly makes “Die Hard” great, just like the Christmas elements are.
I’ll grant the “‘Die Hard’ is too a Christmas movie” crowd this much: Genres shouldn’t be defined too rigidly. The traditional “Christmas movie” as most people understand it is a cavalcade of warm-fuzzies in which the hero ends up receiving a gift that somehow re-shapes his or her life. That’s the gist of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story,” and of course the eight thousand filmed versions of “A Christmas Carol.” Usually the gift involves newfound appreciation of one’s family, but not always. (A classic TV version of the “Christmas movie,” I think, is the Art Carney/Santa episode of the “Twilight Zone.”) But if you think that’s too narrow a definition, okay. I’m open to the idea of defining “Christmas movie” more broadly. Just tell me how “Die Hard” does that. Most of the arguments for including the movie in the canon are either superficial, like McClane’s journeys in the elevator shaft supposedly mimicking Santa coming down the chimney, or too narrowly tied to the traditional genre themselves, like claiming that McClane’s reconciliation with his wife is somehow important and Christmas-y after two hours of him kicking the sh*t out of terrorists. Who cares if they reconcile? The payoff of the movie isn’t the reconciliation, it’s McClane killing the villain by dropping him off a skyscraper. To claim otherwise is like arguing that the payoff in “Star Wars” isn’t Luke blowing up the Death Star, it’s the scene right after where they come back to base and hug. By that logic, if Chewbacca was wearing a Santa hat during the medal ceremony, “Star Wars” would be a Christmas movie too. If you want to argue for DH as part of the Christmas canon, go broadly genre-buster with it — “Christmas is all about joyful exuberance and overcoming evil, and that’s exactly what McClane does!” Not “well, he writes ‘ho ho ho’ on a dead guy’s shirt in one scene, so, hey.”
One more thing. If DH’s “Christmas movie” status hinges on the family subplot, of McClane trying to reconcile with his wife on Christmas Eve, why make him a cop? That signals two things to the audience: First, that he knows his way around weapons and possesses enough courage around bad guys that his exploits are kinda sorta believable, but more importantly, that he’s a guy who’s used to protecting the public and would probably stay and battle Hans even if his wife wasn’t there. Right? Does anyone think McClane, having discovered that his wife left the party before Hans and his crew seized the building, would have simply slipped out a window and gone home rather than stood and fought? Of course not. Nothing would have changed. He would have killed Hans and rescued everyone anyway, because that’s just the sort of ass-kicking mensch he is. And — get this — he would have done it even if it wasn’t Christmas Eve. Christmas doesn’t matter. The wife doesn’t matter. All that matters is that McClane is awesome and unbeatable. Which is why every video store in America stocked “Die Hard” in its “action” section, not its “Christmas” section.
Here’s “Red Eye” debating this very important question a few days ago. Good point from Joe Concha: What kind of respectable “Christmas movie” sets an office party on Christmas Eve? No one would be there. C’mon.