It’s that time of year again where we unearth the age old discussion:
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
Perhaps a bigger debate than “is there life after death?” or “are boneless wings considered wings?”, Die Hard has long been considered by certain corners of the world as a Christmas classic, but with little focus on Santa, elves, or even the holiday itself, others have deemed it simply as an action movie.
There’s been a lot of talk about this, and some have even broken it down with data in order to generate an answer. Regardless of what you think, this is my blog, and within this minuscule corner of the world my word is law. So for the sake of the season, and because I just wanna talk about this movie in general, I hereby decree:
Die Hard is a Christmas movie.
Not only is it a Christmas movie, it’s also one of the best action movies ever made, defining a generation and completely changing the landscape of the genre in the process. This is the film that so many wannabes and copycats wish they could be. The tight plot, the witty dialogue, the relatable characters, and the just the right amount of cheesy one-liners all make up the dragon that many writers and directors have been chasing for years. Despite their best efforts, Die Hard continues to be copied but has rarely been truly duplicated.
So what makes Die Hard so great?
On the night of Christmas Eve, NYPD detective John McClane arrives in Los Angeles for his wife Holly’s company Christmas party. Things aren’t exactly going too well in their relationship, so John can only hope the spirit of the holiday might help to reconcile their differences. Before John and Holly can truly reach common ground, a group of terrorists led by German radical Hans Gruber take the entire party hostage as they attempt to steal millions in bearer bonds from the company. John is able to slip away and proceeds to lead a one-man war against the thieves, hoping to save the guests, his wife, and inadvertently, Christmas.
The character of John McClane is a unique one, due in part to the unusual casting of Bruce Willis as the lead hero. Now, casting Willis for a role like this might not sound unusual for the seasoned actor, but this wasn’t always the case. Back in the mid-80s, all Willis was really known for was a comedy-drama series called Moonlighting, where he played a wise-cracking detective. The ingredients for a prototype John McClane were there, but at the time, no one was ready to take Willis seriously as a big action star. At the time, action movie heroes were muscular, larger than life, certified badasses that could take on the world and were seemingly immune to harm. What Willis’s McClane does is introduce a more relatable, every-day protagonist to a big action set piece. He’s capable, but not invincible. He get’s battered, bruised and bloody, running around the tower barefoot and tearing his feet up in the process. All the while he manages to crack jokes and never lets the towering odds ruin him. Becoming one of the first relatable action heroes, John McClane has since shifted away from his humble beginnings in later sequels, but we can never forget how a character like this changed the game for future action protagonists.
Of course, no action hero is complete without a formidable bad guy to go up against. Enter Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. At the time mostly well known for his roles on Broadway and would later go on to portray Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, Rickman stepped into the shoes of the suave, no-nonsense German thief with a considerable amount of poise and pomp. While Gruber doesn’t intimidate physically, his cunning nature and willingness to kill to meet his goals makes him both an entertaining and unsettling villain. Incredible verstatile, Gruber goes from shooting a man in the head nonchalantly to pretending to be an American to buddy up to McClane when he runs into him. It’s almost hard not to root for the guy.
By his side is a team of henchmen that all feel unique and fill specific roles, such as a hacker or the muscle. Their interactions with McClane perfectly elevate the tension, as you feel as if he could lose at any moment. Like our hero, the villains feel realized and authentic. Their goals are believable and their motives make sense. On the outside are the officers of the LAPD trying to make sense of it all and attempting to do the job that only one man in a wife-beater can pull off. One of the officers is even able to befriend and support McClane from the outside via radio. While a separate but hundreds of feet of steel, their relationship humanizes both men and even pays off dramatically in the end. Everyone involved brings their A-game, and thanks to a smart script, this is one of the best action ensembles in history.
So you’ve got the characters, but what about the action elements. You know, the thing the genre is named after? Luckily for us, this film was a product of the 80s, where big budget action set pieces were hitting their peak. Before the days of CGI creating all the action on a computer, filmmakers had to find the most practical way to pull off these death defying stunts. More often than not, their hard work pays off and you’re left in awe wondering how in the Hell they kept from actually killing Bruce Willis. The staging for some of the scenes is mind-boggling, from the elevator to the ventilation shafts to the roof, switching from open to claustrophobic when needed. Everything feels so complete and tight, with very few (if any) leaps in logic or suspensions of disbelief. It’s not everyday you find an action film so grounded in reality that still manages to feel over-the-top in all the best ways. The choreography in the fight scenes is brutal, yet still entertaining. The stunts are ridiculous but believable. If you’re looking for the definitive blueprint for a contained action thriller, this is the film you’d be looking for.
The Christmas setting is an interesting one, but pays off in an emotional sense just as much as it does in an aesthetic sense. John and his wife Holly are going through a bit of a separation. Their young daughter asks if they’ll be together for Christmas, but both are unsure. When Gruber and his cronies roll in and hijack the party, they’re also hijacking one of the most magical times of the year. If anything, Christmas Eve could have been the only time where John and Holly could reconcile, because that’s just what this holiday does to people. With John left as the only man to fight the bad guys, he inherits the weight of the importance that has been bestowed upon him. His wife and her coworkers lives are in his hands. In a way, he’s not just fighting for their lives, but their love. Could it be that it took a hostage situation to be the perfect outlet for John to prove his love to Holly? It’s possible, as this is John’s motivation to smile and jest in the face of these odds. But let’s remember how we got here.Christmas was going to be what potentially saved their relationship. Without the spirit of the holiday, John and Holly might not stand a chance. So, in a weird sort of way, John isn’t just fighting to save his wife.
He’s fighting to save Christmas.
Die Hard, in my mind, will always be the perfect action movie. It takes everything I love from the genre and neatly molds it into a work of art that also happens to involve a man repelling down a skyscraper with a hose tied to him. Its stakes are believable, its characters are enjoyable and the action is a piece of wonder. It perfectly balances feelings of humor, dread, adrenaline and hopefulness. With an emotional victorious and triumphant ending that feels earned and valid, Die Hard cements itself as an untouchable icon of cinema. If you haven’t added this film to you holiday movie rotation, I highly suggest you do. You’ll be surprised how much a film where a guy falls 100 stories to his death can really get you into the spirit of the holidays.
Hopefully after saving the day and getting the girl, John McClane helped himself to a nice drink. While I’m not entirely sure what his drink of choice would be, I’ve went ahead and designed a cocktail dedicated to his rough and tough New York swagger. For this cocktail, I’ve decided to honor this sour New Yorker with a variation of a New York sour. I love whiskey sours, and it turns out you can really make a sour out of any spirit. Rum sours are quite popular and very delicious, but I rarely see the New York variation paired with it. For those of you that don’t know, a New York sour is a variation of a whiskey sour that is topped with a float of red wine, adding a little bit of bitterness and flavor to the foam resting at the top of the drink.
This drink in a way almost resembles the tower that Die Hard is set in, with the red on top symbolizing the big explosion on the roof during the climax. Plus, there’s just a certain Christmasy feel to the drink, almost resembling snow (with a little bit of blood in it but don’t think about it). Either way you want to look at it, this is a great drink with elements of the east and west coast molded into one, a perfect drink for no matter where you are.
Yippie-ki yay and Merry Christmas!
- 2oz white rum
- 3/4oz simple syrup
- 1oz fresh lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- Float: 1/2oz red wine
- Add your ingredients to empty shake, then dry shake for 20 seconds.
- Add ice, then shake to chill the drink.
- Strain into a rocks glass over ice.
- Pour the red wine over the back of a spoon into the drink to float it on top.