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Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie? - An Open Dialogue

by Maggie McAteer and Lily Peavey


As the holiday season rolls around, the controversial question of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie inevitably reemerges. The 1988 blockbuster stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, a New York City cop visiting his estranged wife, Bonnie Bedelia’s Holly Gennaro McClane, and their two children. However, the plot soon takes a turn when McClane joins his wife and her coworkers at a holiday party held in the headquarters of the company in which she works for. The building is attacked by a group of thieves (led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber) who hold the party’s attendees hostage as they attempt to perform a heist. McClane is the only one in the building with the power to save his wife and her fellow hostages, leading him to wage a one-man war against a violent force of evil. Despite Die Hard’s lasting popularity and significance as a groundbreaking action movie, it’s almost as well known for having ignited a lasting debate on whether or not it can be classified as a Christmas movie. The Pointer Press’ resident Die Hard experts, Lily Peavey and Maggie McAteer, present their arguments to determine whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie once and for all. Yippee-ki-yay!



Argument I: Die Hard is rated R

Lily: Die Hard is not the only Christmas movie with this particular designation. Popular romance and Christmas-themed movie Love Actually has an R-rating as well - thus, such a rating is not a deciding factor in its classification of a Christmas movie. In fact, the reality is that movie ratings are inconsistent and arbitrary, and should not define any movie’s watchability. Sometimes it’s best to watch a more mature movie at the holidays rather than a childish and clichéd movie to gain a fresh perspective. While traditional Christmas movies such as Miracle on 34th Street are usually a go-to with most families, when watching with friends or older family members it can be better to see something which can be accepted by a broader audience rather than something suited for children. With an older movie such as Die Hard, an entire family with older children can appreciate both its entertainment value and sense of nostalgia. On the actual elements that have defined the film as R, let’s be honest: by the time someone is a teenager, most people have already seen aspects of arguably violent cinematic universes, such as Marvel and Star Wars, to the point that older movie effects depicting violence won’t be disturbing to them. Die Hard’s more mature elements are something that have become the norm in many movies geared to younger and younger audiences, so they don’t preclude it from being a family movie or a Christmas movie.


Maggie: There should be Christmas movies for older children and teens, but Die Hard is not one of them. It was made in a different time, one when we didn’t know as much about the harmful impact of violence in the media. In recent years, there have been countless studies that illustrate the harmful effects of watching violent films and television. Seeing excessive amounts of violence on screen has been shown by the American Psychological Association to cause children to become more fearful, less empathetic, and more likely to exhibit violence in their own lives. Even back then, Die Hard was rated R for heavy violence, among other things. The primary purpose of Christmas movies is that they can be watched with family; they’re supposed to bring people together. That’s why we have wonderful classics like the many versions of A Christmas Carol or It’s A Wonderful Life. They’re movies that everyone, even teens, can enjoy together. Die Hard is chock full of violence, gore, and cursing, which makes many people uncomfortable - and for good reason. Someone shouldn’t have to sit through movies full of gunshots which make them flinch just because their sibling is more desensitized to violence than them. It’s not that R-rated movies can’t be Christmas movies. It’s when those movies are rated R for violence and not for a few mentions of sex or language that the standard changes. Love Actually, rated R for sex/nudity and profanity, is a beautiful movie that is sweet and wholesome and full to the brim with Christmas spirit. But there are some things that just aren’t okay in this day and age. Unfortunately, Die Hard has way too many of them for it to be considered a Christmas movie.



Argument II: Die Hard takes place at Christmas

Lily: Of course, every movie taking place at Christmas is not a Christmas movie. Take Little Women, Rocky, or the Harry Potter film series, for example. But while some movies simply use the holiday to mark the passing of time, Die Hard is able to relate the plot to its setting, causing the movie’s outcome to take a form that would only be possible during Christmas. Die Hard is about someone coming home for Christmas, and its Christmas setting is vital for the movie as well, especially when considering John McClane’s motivations to try and make it home for the holiday. If the movie were to take place at any other time than Christmas, it simply wouldn’t work. It makes the movie flow and allows for a unique sense of awareness that has cemented the movie’s place in time. Sure, it might not feature a father dressed up as Santa Claus or another version of the North Pole, but it shows off just-as-vital elements of theme with the clever integration of holiday music, iconic Christmas phrases, and a building complete with a tree and decorations. Even the film’s villain, Hans Gruber, demonstrates undeniable Christmas spirit, expressing belief that his heist will succeed by stating that, “It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles.” While, yes, Die Hard could technically be placed at any time of the year - it was even released in July, not December - this limitless possibility makes the decision to set the movie (which is truly about a miracle) during Christmas time a key and memorable feature in the story.


Maggie: Taking place at Christmas is not what makes a Christmas movie. It’s the story that matters, the feelings that it sparks inside you. Die Hard could have been set during any holiday; all you have to do is switch out some of the songs, costumes, and scenery and it’s still Bruce Willis beating people up. The story just happens to take place at Christmas, it doesn’t revolve around it. This film franchise has five different movies in it, all with similar story-lines, and only two are set at Christmas, proving that the holiday at which it is set isn’t that consequential to the action centered plot. One of the later ones, Live Free or Die Hard, is even set on Independence Day! Different holidays, same explosions.



Argument III: Die Hard is a movie that centers around family

Lily: Yes, family is a central part of multiple popular stories such as Fast & Furious, Star Wars, and even Pirates of the Caribbean, but Die Hard’s unique take on family as a crucial element to its holiday themes is what makes it a Christmas movie. Family is uniquely a focal point in almost every Christmas movie out there, and Die Hard is not an exception. It’s about McClane trying to save his wife, trying to survive for his children, and holding out on the belief that they can celebrate the Christmas holiday together, as a family. If we look at the primary characteristics of Christmas movies, they almost always feature a protagonist who is trying to “save Christmas” for their family. Die Hard checks that box, and further, its heroic lead is constantly motivated by love and firm beliefs as he chooses to take risky actions in order to help others - another noteworthy positive message.


Maggie: There are countless examples of movies that revolve around family that have nothing to do with Christmas. For example the entire Fast and the Furious saga. This is a series strongly centered around family and it has nothing to do with Christmas. Family is an extremely common theme across the board and a movie deciding to include it is not a singular reason for it to be a Christmas movie. Christmas movies are about family most of the time, yes, but they are about so much more than that. Christmas is about belief and spirit and the fundamental goodness of humanity. Most importantly, it’s about choosing love, not hate. Any movie with a central focus on guns and shooting cannot be considered solely about choosing to love.



Argument IV: Die Hard is violent

Lily: Many Christmas movies feature violence. Home Alone, a movie steered towards kids, notoriously features many violent acts which are perpetrated by a disturbingly young protagonist. Unlike Home Alone, Die Hard’s protagonist is one police officer going up against thieves who have already killed someone - the odds are against him, and he must do whatever it takes to succeed and ensure there is no further loss of life. In fact, the movie itself is revolutionary in its ability to combine true risk and a darker, more compelling plot with an undeniably a holiday theme. Die Hard changed the way we can choose to look at Christmas, and though it of course isn’t suitable for young children or those uncomfortable with violence, it’s helped ensure that all people can enjoy movies of their favorite genres in the holiday season.


Maggie: Christmas is something that is meant to bring everyone together as an entire family, and it’s a time for peace and happiness. There is no reason for violence, which is already an alarming part of our daily lives, to ruin a beloved holiday. As mentioned previously, showing extreme acts of violence to younger children can desensitize them to a real and pressing issue. This is a real problem, one that Die Hard, as an undeniably violent movie, contributes to. Thus, Die Hard should not be considered a movie suited for family occasions or representative of themes of Christmas itself. It lacks a cheerful message and role models for impressionable young children who should not think that this sort of violence is “okay.”



Argument V: Most Christmas movies aren’t similar to Die Hard


Lily: It’d be a lie to say Die Hard isn’t an original Christmas movie. Animated fantasy films and “guy gets the girl” rom-coms were what most saw from holiday movies in the past. While Die Hard features some of those elements between McClane and his wife, it’s a completely fresh take on the standard Christmas movie formula. Most movies feature the “perfect American nuclear family” of a woman and a man happily married with two kids - a son and a daughter - trying to make the “perfect Christmas” with a series of impossible mishaps happening along the way. Then at the end they all learn the divisive and fluid “true meaning of Christmas” and live happily ever after. But Die Hard isn’t that at all. The McClane family is in shambles, and these “impossible scenarios” are given a truer sense of peril with some of the arguably best villains in cinema history, and a unique way of following the story from multiple different viewpoints - from McClane trapped inside the building, from the main villain (Hans Gruber) leading the heist, and from the forces on the ground trying to do everything they can to help McClane and the hostages survive. The movie shines with its long-lasting and quotable humor, brilliant acting, and original story. Elf and The Nightmare Before Christmas are other beautiful examples of what an original script and compelling characters can do to expand for an entire genre, giving the audience a fresh take on the traditional and repetitive Christmas movie. So, sure, it might not be another rendition of A Christmas Carol, another Home Alone or The Santa Clause, but it’s still a unique Christmas story that no one had ever seen done before, and that’s what makes it so timeless and enjoyable.


Maggie: Movies should be original. That’s what makes them interesting, that’s what makes them good. Original Christmas movies? Even better. That’s why people love movies like Edward Scissorhands and Scrooged. They offer us fresh takes on the classic themes of Christmas. But Die Hard isn’t an original Christmas movie. Adding violence to a movie to make it more appealing to older audiences doesn’t make it more original, it just depletes the Christmas-y aspects of it. Die Hard cannot be considered a Christmas movie because it is simply too violent and too inappropriate for not only younger audiences, but also for older ones. There are some teens who haven’t been as desensitized to violence as others; for those people, it would just make them feel uneasy. Christmas movies are beautiful things, full of innocence and childlike hope. They’re about finding out what it means to love and what Christmas is all about. Die Hard just doesn’t share the purity of those concepts.


Closing Arguments:


Lily: Die Hard is a phenomenal and original Christmas movie that has rightfully sustained its popularity for over thirty years. The usual “true meaning of Christmas” is a sweet and beautiful thing - that doesn’t mean that it can’t be found in nontraditional places. Die Hard is a family-favorite when it comes to including teenagers and mature family members who don’t want to watch your grandma’s favorite Hallmark movie, your three-year-old cousin’s favorite talking reindeer, or worse yet another version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas over and over during the holiday season. The youngest of the family may not be able to watch (and no one is forcing them to), but after long days of making their children and younger siblings’ days special, there is undeniably value in the rest of the family being able to share something which they enjoy like a more mature Christmas film. Christmas has long been a time for outdated and childish depictions of the stereotypical “perfect family,” with unoriginal scripts and jokes that don’t hit the mark. This movie shakes up that formula and turns it into something different and new. There’s violence, yes, but that's been a commonplace in movies geared towards all audiences for years. Die Hard brings a sense of realism and consequence while still preserving treasured values of family and heroism, thus delivering on its promises in a way that few movies ever do, especially today. Like all movies, Die Hard is a product of its time. Today, we have different standards for movies and portrayals of characters and the diversity within the film. However, this is an issue with all of the ‘classic’ Christmas movies from It’s a Wonderful Life to Home Alone, and a variety of others. In fact, this movie contains positive portrayals that break the typical stereotypes seen in movies of its time. McClane’s wife Holly shows strength and level-headedness in the face of danger, wit is shown to succeed over brutish, machismo aggression, and John McClane himself displays vulnerability and admits his faults with his relationship with his wife and family. As long as we are able to acknowledge lack of representation from a modern perspective, we can still consider Die Hard and almost every other ‘classic’ Christmas movie as flawed but enjoyable all the same. There is no argument as to whether this movie changed the game for the Christmas genre and that it has become one of the most beloved movies out there. Ultimately, the decision over its status as a holiday film is up to its audience. If their beliefs align with the main ideas of Christmas being defined by hope, family, love, and miracles, Die Hard undeniably has its place in the canon Christmas movies today.


Maggie: Die Hard is a movie from the past. Does this mean we can’t enjoy it? No. It just means we have to be more careful around whom we watch it and make sure we talk about it afterwards. When it came out, Die Hard could have been a Christmas movie. But in today’s world, our standards for what is okay have changed; and if they haven’t, then maybe they should have. I’m not saying people should never watch a movie made in the 80’s, or that someone should never watch Die Hard. It’s just that if one does, take it with a grain of salt. When watching with younger kids, even younger teens, talk about the levels of violence in it and how popular they were in the time period. Why were movies like that back then? Who was making them? Talk about how the movie portrays women, or people who aren’t white. If this is your favorite Christmas movie, that’s great. But this Christmas season, think about taking a step back. From all the violence. From the shooting, from all the loud explosions. Watch something happier. Not all movies for children are childish, especially Christmas movies. Classic Christmas films like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas are classics for a reason. They’re sweet and poignant and remind us about family. More recent films like Elf, or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas are also wonderful, new takes on old stories. If you’re still of the mindset that anyone older than 10 shouldn’t be watching anything PG, there are still plenty of Christmas movies for older kids that won’t expose you to excessive amounts of gun violence. Love Actually is many people’s favorite Christmas movie, rated R for language and sex/nudity, and National Lampoon’s Vacation is rated PG-13 for much the same. You might still want to talk about these movies, especially if you are uncomfortable about the sexual content in them, but they don’t require the same acknowledgements as a more violent story does. In the end, only an individual can decide what’s right for them. Maybe you’re not affected by violence that much, maybe it triggers panic attacks; everyone has different limits. The bottom line: Die Hard isn’t a movie that represents the peaceful values of Christmas time, and there are far better options out there.

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