Around the holidays, there are a lot of things up for debate. At what age do you tell kids the truth about Santa Claus?What’s the best way to discreetly throw away that fruitcake Aunt Helen brought to the party? How much wine is too much wine to drink in front of grandma?
But perhaps the most heated holiday debate centers around the 1988 Bruce Willis film “Die Hard.” According to a 2018 Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter poll, 62 percent of Americans are firm believers that the film isn’t a Christmas movie, with 13 percent of those polled answering that they weren’t sure.
I’m here to advocate for the 25 percent of Americans who see the Christmas magic in the John McTiernan movie.
Welcome to the party, pal.
A broken family, a terrorist attack and a company holiday party are the unlikely — yet perfect — ingredients for a Christmas classic.
At the beginning of the film, audiences see New York police officer John McClane travel to California to see his estranged wife, Holly Gennero, at a Christmas Eve party in Nakatomi Plaza, where she is a successful executive.
Right off the bat, there’s evidence that this was clearly intended to be a Christmas movie. Without a Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, McClane never would have been in the building when it was invaded by terrorists looking for money.
Every good Christmas story needs candidates for the naughty list, and Hans Gruber and his gang of German terrorists certainly qualify. After swarming the building armed with machine guns and explosives, Gruber murders Nakatomi executive Joseph Takagi after the latter doesn’t give up the codes to get into the vault. After being informed that Takagi would not be rejoining the Christmas festivities, the lobby full of terrified hostages were looking for a savior.
John McClane fit the bill.
After taking down his first terrorist by breaking his neck in a tumble down the stairs, McClane sends Gruber his unique version of a Christmas card by sending the dead terrorist down the elevator shaft clad in a Santa hat. The message? “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho,” written on the man’s jumper. Talk about an ugly Christmas sweater.
After taking his victim’s gun and his walkie-talkie, McClane is able to contact a police dispatch to let them know some dangerous creatures were stirring in Nakatomi Plaza. While Sgt. Al Powell who was sent to investigate doesn’t initially find anything amiss, the corpse of a terrorist McClane flung on his car changes his mind.
With one officer on the ground on his side and local reporters using the event to drive up ratings, McClane continues to defy odds — Christmas miracle, perhaps? — to keep detonators out of the hands of the terrorists and to stay miraculously free- — for the most part- — of bullet holes, thanks to the Stormtrooper-esque bad aim from the terrorists.
Unfortunately for McClane, there is a Judas in Nakatomi Plaza. Ellis, whose main motivation is to get into Miss Gennero’s skirt suit, decides to take matters into his own hands and talk to the terrorists himself. McClane, whose identity had previously been unknown to Gruber, is revealed by Ellis during the exchange in an attempt to save himself. Between his selfishness, greed and a bad cocaine habit, Ellis himself is a pretty good candidate for the naughty list. Unfortunately for the young businessman, his last Christmas present wasn’t coal, but a bullet between the eyes, delivered by Gruber.
Thanks to Ellis’ contributions, however, as well as an ethically-bankrupt interview with McClane’s young daughter on the local news, Gruber discovered that “Miss Gennero” was actually Mrs. McClane. This leads to Miss Gennero being taken captive in a kidnapping attempt as the terrorists sought to escape from the roof of the building.
In the end, thanks to reality-defying action and a little Christmas magic, McClane saved his wife and saw Hans Gruber fall from the rafters of the building.
While there’s several fairly obvious Christmas references in the movie, such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” playing, Santa Claus and Christmas lights and talks of Christmas miracles, the argument for Die Hard being a Christmas classic may be more metaphorical than anything else.
John McClane didn’t have to risk his own life for anyone in Nakatomi Plaza. Sgt. Powell didn’t have to stand up for McClane, a stranger, when his superiors doubted him. In every respect, “Die Hard” is about fighting for your fellow man, friendship, and fighting back against the evils created by greed.
How could you ask for a better Christmas story?
So, this Christmas, probably after the kids have gone to bed, celebrate the real meaning of the season by watching what is clearly a holiday classic.
Yippe-ki-yay, motherf…well, you know the rest.