Growing up my father and I watched a lot of movies but they were almost exclusively War, Action & Adventure, Western or Horror themed. He stuck pretty heavily to the classic macho type films. Amongst our favorites were the movies of Bruce Willis with Die Hard being a staple. Whether it is the season the movie is set in or that it was simply a tradition in my household growing up but Die Hard has always been considered a Christmas movie in my heart. I've long debated this topic with people and thought I'd take this opportunity, in July no less, to lay out my argument.
It's a 33 year old film (that you should have already seen) but I guess spoiler alert...?
First, I think it might be worthwhile to ask the broader question "What qualifies a movie as a Christmas movie?" The most obvious attribute would be, is the movie set around Christmas? I think most people would agree with this as a base line. With visual imagery and traditions connected to the wintertime events of the holiday we as viewers can relate to it. This helps us associate what we see in the world around us (if watched during the Christmas season) with what the characters are experiencing. If Ralphie from A Christmas Story wants an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle as a present we can easily connect with that desire to have the perfect gift. While we may not all want a BB gun specifically we've all had that one gift we do REALLY want and can relate to the anxiety of waiting to see if we get it.
In Die Hard we do indeed see visual imagery and references to Christmas. When riding in the limo with Argyle John asks him to play Christmas music to which he replies, "Man this IS Christmas Music" and turns up the volume on Christmas in Hollis by Run D.M.C.
When John McClane sends the the dead terrorist down to the Christmas party where they are holding the hostages he spots a Santa hat that he slaps onto the body and writes the message, "Now I have a machine gun Ho-Ho-Ho".
Other breakdowns of Christmas references in the movie reveals the following:
19 shots with Christmas trees (11 unique trees)
15 other unique Christmas decorations in scenes
14 uses of the word "Christmas"
4 other Christmas references
Ok so Die Hard doesn't lack in Christmas references but how does this compare to other popular "Christmas" movies? Few people argue Home Alone is a Christmas movie and it regularly ranks high on all time top holiday flicks. It breaks down as follows.
7 Christmas tree shots
29 Christmas decorations
7 Christmas carols
7 uses of the word "Christmas"
10 other Christmas references
Home Alone takes the trophy for Christmas decorations (after all it is in a home not a business) and other Christmas decorations however Die Hard beats it out in every other category. One could argue that Home Alone is more a home invasion movie than anything though so how about a Christmas film with a capital "C" like Miracle on 34th Street?
1 Christmas tree shots
3 Christmas decorations
4 Christmas carols
8 uses of the word "Christmas"
4 other Christmas references
Here we have a clear winner in Die Hard, Yippee Ki Yay! Now plenty of movies take place at Christmas time but aren't seen as "Christmas movies" like You've Got Mail, Edward Scissorhands, Babe, Batman Returns, Rocky IV, Lethal Weapon and Gremlins (although I would also argue Gremlins is a Christmas movie). So WHEN people watch the movie also relates to it's genre when it comes to holidays.
Every year the fandom page for Die Hard spikes by 400% in November and December with the biggest spikes being Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Translating this to views it shows the as a society we think about and enjoy this movie around the holiday season. Now to be clear I am not arguing this movie is a family movie. With ~20 murders, 10 scenes with cigarette smoking, cocaine usage and 26 times they drop the "F" bomb you have to be mature enough to watch this very adult movie.
For those who disregard numbers and go more off of the spirit of a movie I would like to reference the 2007 paper by Peter Clarke titled "A measure for Christmas Spirit". This paper uses a multi dimensional feelings evaluation model to define Christmas spirt as Good Will, Generosity and Altruism. Well you want Christmas spirt? Boy do I have the movie for you!
Good Will - John McClain cooperates with the police to solve a terrorist situation that he could have just as easily shied away from.
Generosity - John brings gifts for his family that must have been very impractical to travel with.
Altruism - And what's more altruistic than willingly sacrifice your own life to save the innocent like on the helipad at the end? That's downright Christ like if you ask me.
By any and all forms of analysis Die Hard remains a Christmas movie. With data this nagging question can be clearly decided and those who continue to argue against it in my opinion simply don't like the movie as opposed to truly feeling it doesn't fit the holiday.
In March of 2021 I visited Hollywood with the family and took the time to stop by the Nakatomi Plaza building (actually known as Fox Plaza) at 2121 Avenue of the Stars; Century City, Los Angeles, California. We only had a couple of minutes before security ran us off but I did take the chance to snap a photo.
A huge thank you to the nerds at Fandom for helping me with some of the numbers. I enjoyed watching the movie and dissecting it but it helps to have outside validation too.
Merry Christmas all!