The Absolutely Definitive Final Argument About Whether Die Hard is a Christmas Movie (Hint: It Is)

Bye bye Hans

Let’s get one thing straight first: the correct answer to “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” is “it is if you think it is.”

But lots of people enjoy arguing about this ad infinitum, and as a big fan of Die Hard who watches it every Christmas Eve, I am one of those people.

Before we go further, let me offer my personal definition of a Christmas movie (which is not the definition I will be using to argue my point in this piece): a Christmas movie is any movie that takes place primarily close to or during Christmas and/or features Christmas prominently in the film. Home Alone? Christmas movie. Batman Returns? Christmas movie. Edward Scissorhands? Christmas movie. Gremlins? Christmas movie. Santa’s Summer House? Absolutely dreadful film that takes place during a hot California summer but: Christmas movie.

On the other hand, the final scene of Spider-man: No Way Home (very mild spoiler here) takes place during Christmas – complete with decorations – but since most of the film takes place months earlier, I don’t classify it as a Christmas movie.

However, I understand my personal definition is a bit too broad for many people, and certainly makes it almost too easy to classify Die Hard as a Christmas movie.

So to offer a more rigorous way of determining what constitutes a Christmas movie, I propose using the same rule that is often applied to science fiction. Discriminating (read: snobbish) science fiction readers (and writers) often state that a true science fiction story is one that does not work if you remove the “science” element. Under this rubric, something like 2001: A Space Odyssey is science fiction because it involves humans going into space to investigate something, artificial intelligence, and an adherence to, or at least acknowledgement of, the laws of physics (alien monoliths and stargates notwithstanding). You can’t really tell the same story of 2001 by setting it in, say, feudal Japan.

Star Wars, on the other hand, is famously inspired by the movie The Hidden Fortress, which is set in…feudal Japan. Yes, Star Wars features spaceships, robots and laser guns, but it also features magic (the Force is magic, let’s not argue here), princesses, and faster-than-light travel that makes the vastness of outer space easier to traverse than Beaver Lake. And of course the movies feature sound in space.*

So here’s my proposed definition: a Christmas movie is any movie where, if the Christmas element is removed, important aspects of the story no longer work.

I want to offer some flexibility however. I suspect you could find a torturous way to make any story work without Christmas if you really wanted to, but in many cases this would leave a number of coincidences or plot holes that stretch belief. If simply setting it at Christmas resolves those plot holes easily, then I believe that counts as Christmas being integral to the story.

So let’s look at Die Hard. What are the Christmas elements of Die Hard (and of our experience of Die Hard) and if they were removed, would it still be, in essence, the same film? Would its star** still shine just as brightly in the pop culture firmament?

Let us consider.

John’s visit to LA: John McClane and his wife Holly are separated at the beginning of the film, with John still living in New York and working as a cop, while Holly has a big-time Business Job of some sort with the Nakatomi Corporation in Los Angeles. As the film begins, John is landing at LAX to visit his family for the holidays – and see them for the first time in several months.

Now, obviously John could come visit his family at any time, or for any holiday. But he has to take significant time off work (as an essential worker, mind you) and fly across the country – an expensive and time-consuming proposition. So why would John put so much effort into flying out to see his family? What time of year, more than any other time of year, would he want to be there for his children? Seems like Christmas works pretty well, right?

The Nakatomi Office Party: The Nakatomi Christmas party is a key element to the story. The terrorists’ plan requires the building to be mostly empty, but for some of the Nakatomi staff – particularly its president, Joe Takagi – to be present. There are two reasons for this: one, for the small chance that Takagi can give them the codes for the safe, and two, so they have enough people to create a hostage situation worth bringing in the FBI (but not a building full of people, as trying to track and control them all would be impossible – hell, they couldn’t even keep track of the one guy they missed at the party).

It’s possible the Nakatomi Corp could have parties for other reasons (such as landing a big account or something), but if you’re trying to plan a terrorist operation months in advance, it’s a lot easier to just wait for the inevitable Christmas party.

“Now I have a machine gun – Ho Ho Ho”: After dispatching one of the terrorists, John takes his weapon and sends him back down to the terrorists on the elevator, having written the above message (in blood) on the man’s sweater. While this is one of the most memorable seasonal elements in the film and often quoted (and the corpse is wearing a Santa hat), I will admit this particular element isn’t necessary to the plot. John could have written any taunt – such as “yippee-ki-ay mother****er” – on the sweater (with maybe a cowboy hat?) and the gag would still have worked.

The Taped Gun: At the end of the film, John is able to fool the villains by taping his gun to his back with packing tape labeled “Season’s Greetings.” This is a distinctly Christmas touch, but the question is, would it work without the Christmas aspect?

I think the answer is probably yes – although a small part of me wants to argue that that tape might not have been there without the need to wrap holiday packages.

The Soundtrack: The soundtrack isn’t part of the story, but it is an integral part of the experience of the film. And composer Michael Kamen leans hard into the Christmas theme. Most distinctive are the jingle bells that are often heard at important beats (such as when John spots the packing tape as described above). And of course, there’s “Ode to Joy” (not originally a Christmas tune, but now often associated with it), which sneaks into the score several times before culminating in the iconic sequence when the safe is opened (tagged with Theo’s “Merry Christmas” line). Kamen also weaves motifs from “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” into the score.

Finally, there’s the presence of Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” (which McClane explicitly objects to as Christmas music) and then the full “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” playing (ironically, given the Los Angeles setting) over the credits.

I do think Die Hard would be a different film without the Christmas aspects of the soundtrack. These touches add a memorable charm to the film that stands in stark contrast to its increasingly inferior sequels.

The Film’s Continuing Pop Culture Prominence. My final argument is admittedly even less tangible than the soundtrack, but here it is: the Christmas setting is why Die Hard has remained so prominent in pop culture.

Yes, it’s easily the best of all the films, but Die Hard with a Vengeance is considered to be a good action movie by many. I personally think Die Hard 2 is underrated. But ask yourself: do you know anyone who watches those movies annually? Now ask yourself: do you know anyone who watches Die Hard annually? (Hint: if you know me, then yes, you do.) If you do know someone who watches Die Hard annually, do they do it at Christmastime? (Again, if you know me: yes.)

I didn’t create the meme at the top of this article; someone else did. But I did make this (based on a design I saw online).

Die Hard ornament

And someone wrote this:

And finally, and most importantly, every single year at Christmastime, people around the world gather together…

…to argue endlessly about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. What I’m saying is that even those arguing that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie are contributing to the relevance of its Christmas-ness; that the film’s Christmas-ness (regardless of whether they think it should be classified as a Christmas movie or not) is a part of what they think about when they think of Die Hard.

There are many other well-known action movies set at Christmas, including Lethal Weapon, RoninFirst Blood, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and The Bourne Identity. But there aren’t lots of custom Lethal Weapon ornaments or children’s Christmas books based on The Long Kiss Goodnight. The Internet being what it is, I’m sure there are people who argue about whether those are Christmas movies or not, but there aren’t countless online articles about them every single Christmas. Why? Because the Christmas setting isn’t that prominent or important to their stories.

But that’s not the case with Die Hard. The strange magic of the holiday season is woven deeply in the fabric of the film, resulting in a film that bizarrely, and despite dozens of shootings, massive explosions, and a guy pulling glass out of his bloody feet, delivers a feeling of exhilarating joy.

And so I believe Christmas is an integral part of most people’s experience of Die Hard – which makes it a Christmas movie. Without its Christmas setting, it’s likely Die Hard would have enjoyed a status like other great action films such as Commando or Speed – popular in its time, forever appreciated by fans of the genre, but not the permanent pop culture touchstone it is today.

* Although the super-nerd in me is often tempted to explain this by positing that the Star Wars galaxy is filled with an unknown invisible substance that carries sound.

** of Bethlehem

No Comment, Part II

The mainstream media is starting to catch on.

“Got a comment? Keep it to yourself” | The Boston Globe

My favorite passage:

I feel sorry for today’s reporters and columnists, who work hard gathering information dutifully trying to raise the debate on issues or inform the public on a burning topic only to have some agenda-driven bonehead who doesn’t have the courage – or need – to identify himself or herself and isn?t bound by the same ethics or policies tear down the work product the moment it appears.

Well said.

Fanboy nirvana

In celebration of the San Diego Comic Con, USA Today has an amusing article examining the so-called “fanboy” phenomenon. (One thing I’ve never understood–why are those people who paint their bare stomachs at ballgames and name their kids after football players just “fans,” while anyone who owns a Star Wars toy is a “fanboy“? Not a new observation I know, but whatever.) I went to the SDCC in 2003 and would love to go back someday. That’s one point DG has in favor of moving to Cali.

Before anyone asks, no, I haven’t had the chance to read Deathly Hallows yet. Blame Tom. DG burned through it in seven hours though. I’ll try to get through it by the end of the weekend, then maybe we can have a little spoiler-filled discussion here.

Before I forget, congrats to Sean for breaking the 10K barrier on his Xbox Gamerscore. Way to go, fanboy! (I kid because I love.)

On a side note, I decided to remove the “What I’m Reading” section, mostly because it felt a little too much like that Twitter thing I tried a while back–too much pressure to constantly update.

Muchos huevos grandes

Before writing this, I looked up the phrase “long time, no blog” and found 190,000 results. At that point one is way beyond cliche, so I’ll skip it. In case you didn’t notice, I added an About Me page a few days ago, for those of you looking for a vaguely disturbing example of me talking to myself.

I’ve consciously been avoiding politics on this blog—for a number of reasons—but I just have to link to Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Essentially, Colbert numbers every crime Bush’s administration has been accused of with Bush sitting not five feet away. Of course, it’s all done “in character”—Colbert’s Bill O’Reilly simulacrum that he plays on is show. He also indicts the attending journalists for their complacent attitude toward this administration—which was later highlighted as the AP, Reuters and other organized marginalized Colbert’s speech in their coverage of the dinner while making a big deal of Bush’s goofy skit with an imitator. Unsurprisingly, it’s the blogosphere that’s buzzing over Colbert.

You can also read a transcript of Colbert’s comments here.

Rather than offer a boo or a booyah! to Colbert’s comments, I’ll offer these links. The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen lambasts Colbert here, while Sydney Blumenthal lauds him here.

I do want to say one thing: Cohen seems to censure Colbert for publicly criticizing Bush when he knows he won’t get “smited” or ” tossed into a dungeon” as he might have in less democratic countries or earlier periods of history. This argument doesn’t make much sense to me. Isn’t that the point of the freedom of speech? To be fair, I think what Cohen’s objecting to is the notion that Colbert did anything brave or noble (that he “spoke truth to power”), but the second part of that implication is, “because he couldn’t be murdered for it.” Well, no, but he could become the subject of editorials by indignant columnists at national newspapers. And let’s not forget what happened to Bill Maher. Colbert was arguably putting his career on the line, and for that, I have to give him the award for “muchos huevos grandes.”


I offer my deepest condolescences to the victims of today’s bombings in London.

From what I’ve read, it doesn’t appear that these were suicide bombings, so maybe they’ll actually find someone to punish for this.

For all the money we’ve spent on two wars, I don’t feel one iota safer than I did right after 9/11. But that’s simply because terrorism is something you can’t fight directly.

It reminds me of an Onion article that came out shortly after 9/11, in which the U.S. government asked the terrorists to form their own country (e.g., “Osamastan”) so we could bomb it. It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. The war in Iraq did not prevent the bombings in Madrid or London.

The age of terrorism is going to be a lot like the fifties and sixties, when people lived under the constant threat of nuclear war. In the end, after we’ve done what we realistically can to fight terrorism, we just have to live our lives–not in defiance of the terrorists, as some of our leaders would have us do, but in indifference to them, as we do earthquakes, tsunamis, and disease. A hundred years ago, a disease like smallpox could kill hundreds of thousands of people. Every age has its dangers, though we’re fortunate enough to live in a time when those dangers are minimal (though, of course, we currently have the potential to destroy all human life on Earth in a matter of days–something I think we really should get rid of).

I have a few simple suggestions for dealing with terrorism. First, dismantle the nuclear weapons. Some countries can keep a few (no more than ten) for deterrent purposes (and in case of oncoming asteroids), but those few must be kept under strict guard, with international security teams keeping an eye on them. (Okay, that’s probably too simplistic, but it’s a step in the right direction–we don’t need 10,000 nukes out there.)

Second, stop warring and start putting more eggs in the Diplomacy basket. Terrorism is indeed a swamp; drain the swamp and you have far fewer mosquitos.

But let’s be realistic: there will always be a few mosquitos. It’s just something we have to learn to live with.


Here’s something troubling: Student Arrested For Terroristic Threatening Says Incident A Misunderstanding.

“My story is based on fiction,” said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. “It’s a fake story. I made it up. I’ve been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies.”

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. “Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it’s a felony in the state of Kentucky,” said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Poole disputes that he was threatening anyone.

“It didn’t mention nobody who lives in Clark County, didn’t mention (George Rogers Clark High School), didn’t mention no principal or cops, nothing,” said Poole. “Half the people at high school know me. They know I’m not that stupid, that crazy.”

When I was in seventh grade, I wrote a short story called C.H.E.T. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Education Teacher). It was a parody of the movie C.H.U.D. In my story, the teachers in our school (and I referred to them by their real names) get turned into zombies and run amok attacking the students (again, all referred to by real names). The kids get eaten, the teachers get blown apart with shotguns, and so forth. I was young and stupid. Most of the kids in the story were friends of mine–not enemies I wanted to kill by proxy. I was probably one of the nicer kids in my class. I just thought the idea of the story was funny. And it’s common to write for a very specific audience–e.g., your friends at school–when you start your career at that age, so I made my friends the stars and the teachers the bad guys, since the teachers were, after all, the ones made us do homework.

I shudder to think what might have happened to me in the same situation as Poole. Drawing pictures of your teacher with bombs dropping on them or whatever is a rite of passage for teenage boys. From the way it sounds, Poole’s story was even less specific and violent than mine was.

I know I showed the story to a couple of other kids, though I don’t think I showed it to any teachers. However, I also don’t recall being that careful to keep it out of teachers’ hands. I did show my English teacher a later story in which terrorists take over the school and my friends and I have to kill the terrorists to save everyone. A teacher or two may have bought it at the hands of terrorists in that story, but my teacher didn’t scold me. I don’t know what she thought of it, actually, but she continued to encourage my writing, so she must have seen something in that Z-grade Die Hard rip-off (thanks again, Mrs. Gill).

Of course, there may be more to the story. In this article, the school’s principal claims the word “zombies” doesn’t appear in the story, though that really doesn’t mean anything. Poole could have referred to the monsters by some other name. I just checked C.H.E.T. (yes, I still have a copy of it), and the word “zombie” doesn’t appear in it, either.

Neither article gives much information about the actual story itself–all we get are second-hand descriptions by Poole and the principal. But as of right now, I’m inclined to give Poole the benefit of the doubt, because there but for the grace of Mrs. Gill and a pre-Columbine world go I.

In other news, I’m taking the week off from work(s). It’s spring break at Emerson, and I could use some time to sleep and write.

Here’s a bizarre news story. Inexplicable dog suicides off an eerie bridge? How many short horror stories are being written about it at this very minute?

I came across this amusing Lovecraft pastiche by Neil Gaiman.

Until next time, Cthulhu fhtagn!