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Yipee-ki-yay, Santa: Why is Die Hard a Christmas classic?

‘Tis the season of giving. ‘Tis the season of joy, eggnog, and black-and-white movies with uplifting messages. ‘Tis the season of Rudolph, carols, holy nights, and yippee-ki-yay, mother … yes! ‘Tis the season of the most unexpectedly heartwarming and comforting Christmas movie of all time: Die Hard. Every year, we hear the same discourse about Die Hard. Is it a Christmas movie? Is it not? Everyone has an opinion. Even Bruce Willis weighed in on the debate during his profane and matter-of-fact monologue at his 2018 Comedy Central Roast.

Yes, the conversation surrounding Die Hard is intense, with no side willing to give in. Those who defend its action masterpiece status seem to view the Christmas comparison as insulting; Christmas movies are safe and traditional, things Die Hard isn’t.

On the other hand, the Christmas apologists often point out the obvious: it’s a movie that happens on Christmas Eve, hence, a Christmas movie. That argument is somewhat absurd; it’s the year of our Lord 2022, and we can all agree that Die Hard‘s significance goes beyond its basic premise. It is now a modern classic with a reputation that far surpasses its initial purpose. And while it might not fit our idea of a cozy Christmas movie, Die Hard has a place in our December calendar, and it’s not hard to see why.

How Bruce Willis saved Christmas

Bruce Willis crawling through a vent in Die Hard.

Like the all-time classics of cinema, Die Hard now has a life of its own, and boxing it to fit some tired stereotype of what it should look like helps no one, especially when its initial success came from how unlike anything that came before it was. In truth, Die Hard is one of cinema’s best feel-good movies, a cheery triumph disguised as a tough action piece. Yes, it has the over-the-top action and the thrills, but it also has something few action movies have: heart. It has heart to spare, and it’s all thanks to the leading man at its center.

Bruce Willis has an impressive filmography many actors would kill for, but Die Hard remains arguably his most recognizable project. It made him a household name and launched his leading man career. The film also redefined the concept of the leading action man and cemented Willis as the ultimate everyday hero that could single-handedly save the say. Willis gives Die Hard a spark of energy and charm no other actor could have. Unlike Schwarzenegger or Stallone, Willis is not a massive wall of throbbing muscles tearing through enemy lines with brute force. His McClane is more down-to-Earth, relatable even, the embodiment of an ordinary man in an extraordinary world.

Die Hard | The Greatest Christmas Story | 20th Century FOX

It’s this warmth that Willis brings to the table that makes Die Hard more than the average action vehicle. John McClane would’ve been one-note and maybe even boring in less capable hands. But Willis is a spitfire, an energetic and unstoppable tornado of wit and charm that never lets the mood go down. His McClane is tough but surprisingly delightful, even when killing bad guys. Especially when killing bad guys. And you need that charm because Die Hard is all about doing the right thing.

If we think of our favorite Christmas movies, we can see recurring themes — kindness, selflessness, family, empathy. All these are present in Die Hard more than in any other action film. McClane is a family man on a righteous quest, risking his life to protect others. It’s a tale as old as time, as old as the first tale, and audiences can see through the spectacle into the film’s true message. The right actor was necessary to convey this everyday excellence, and Willis came through. In his hands, McClane is the ideal hero, not because of what he does but because of why he does it.

The perfect feel-good movie

John McClane peeking from behind a wall in Die Hard

Feel-good movies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are rom-coms, some are family adventures, and some even spend most of their duration as hardcore dramas. But the ending is always uplifting, inspiring, a conclusion powerful enough to renew our faith in humanity. In a sense, most action films are feel-good movies; they all end in a cathartic explosion, be it in the form of righteous vengeance or cosmic justice. And who doesn’t cheer when Bruce Willis shoots a bad guy? Who doesn’t smile when Alan Rickman’s evil Hans Gruber, Die Hard‘s answer to Mr. Potter — the irony is not lost on anyone — gets his punishment or when McClane shares a knowing smile with Sargeant Powell?

Yes, Die Hard is all about those warm and fuzzy feelings. So what if they come from German radicals dying on Christmas Eve? Fuzzy feelings are fuzzy feelings! And on Christmas, all we want is to feel something. Gloom and doom have no place in our Christmas watchlist — there’s enough of that in the world already.

Christmas movies are a genre in and of itself and are easily recognizable. There are also movies we watch during Christmas, and they don’t necessarily have a tree with presents. For a film to succeed as Christmas entertainment, it needs to send the right message; it’s about the content, not the setting. Sure, snow and blankets help, but Christmas is not about the wrapping. Not only about it, anyway. Die Hard is a perfect Christmas present. It has a large red bow that makes it instantly pop out among the pile of shining boxes under the tree. However, like the best Christmas gifts, it’s what’s inside that counts.

We need a little Die Hard

Al Powell and John McClane looking in the same direction in Die Hard.

I think it’s safe to say Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. For starters, it came out in July, not December, meaning it was never trying to capture the holiday audience. Secondly, Christmas is only the background, a framing device instead of an element vital to the plot. And while it features many feel-good elements, they are in service of its genre rather than an attempt to capture the well-known Christmas cheer. And yet, it’s undeniable that Die Hard is a Christmas classic, which is arguably more important. Although these two concepts sound similar, I don’t think they are, and Die Hard is the perfect example. Bruce was right; it’s not a Christmas movie. But that won’t stop anyone from gathering around a cozy fire and watching it on Christmas Day. Some films surpass their initial intent and become more than they intended.

Die Hard 2 (1990) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Die Hard is violent, irreverent, profane, and thrilling, which aren’t necessarily things commonly associated with the most wonderful time of the year.

And yet we need a little Die Hard in our holiday season. Who wants everything to be white, especially when a little red is crucial for a perfect Christmas? So is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Basically, who cares? We are talking about classics here, and only a few beat out John McClane. So grab a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. It’s Die Hard time! Find out where to stream Die Hard here.

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