Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever made, and not just because it’s the only one where the season is saved by badassery instead of singing. Most holiday movies drone on about the importance of family, but listen, TV: if we wanted to sit around interacting with our families, we wouldn’t be spending the one time of year we’re all in the same house staring at you instead.
Die Hard doesn’t replace Christmas movies, it’s the ultimate example. The movie has every moral lesson of the standard kids’ movie AND gunfights. (That’s how you get people to listen, folks. G.I. Joe knew what they were doing.)
POOR KID IN A MAGICAL NEW LAND
Christmas movies transport an unfortunate pauper to a magical new land of bizarre customs. Die Hard takes struggling New York beat cop John McClane to a California corporate executive party. He couldn’t be brought to a more different world without becoming an astronaut on a space station full of terrorists. (Which was our rejected script for Die Hard 5.) He reacts to the limo at the airport the exact same way movie kids react to Santa Claus’s sleigh: total disbelief of this s**t, but hell, it looks fun, why not get into the vehicle with this strange man? Note: this bit is much less creepy with an adult cop instead of a small boychild.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY
John has come to Nakatomi to put his family back together, but he’s not the only one to learn this lesson. Terrorists Karl and Tony were playful brothers. An idyllic pair of Teutonically blonde flesh-golems. Of course, like all brothers, they had their differences. While Tony would study and work hard at rerouting the Nakatomi Tower’s telecommunications systems…
…Karl would have fun and chainsaw right through the exact same thing. Brotherly pranks like that.
But when Tony’s neck is broken by a desperate police officer who doesn’t realize just how often the same s**t is going to happen to the same guy, only then does Karl realize that all the negotiable bearer bonds in the world are no substitute for family.
It’s the classic Christmas lesson: don’t work through the holiday. If only Karl and Tony had stayed home, bench-pressing Volkswagons in front of an open fire, they’d have been happy together.
GREED IS BAD
Every Xmas story needs a Scrooge, and Hans Gruber is the best Scrooge ever. He’d also be the best Blofeld and would be a 90% perfect Lex Luthor (only losing points for having hair), because brilliantly evil Alan Rickman is technically repitition. But he’s particularly Scroogey: the ultimate educated elite, wears suits which cost more than McClane makes in a month, and obviously already has enough money to hire an entire personal cheerleading team.
He’s so smart he could easily make honest money. He’s so smart his plan has computers doing things that computers can actually do, despite the fact he employs a computer expert in an ’80s movie. But he’s greedy, and that’s where it goes wrong. Gruber is always grasping for more, while John is generous. Consumed by greed, Gruber makes the classic mistake of the Xmas miser– he spends half the movie yelling about how much he wants his detonators, but when John finally gives him some, does it make him happy?
And when he finally gets every detonator in the tower, does he enjoy himself?
FEELINGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY
Many Christmas movies offers a chance to sell hope for sensibility. For example, Mr. Potter was prepared to hire George Bailey, the crooked developer explains how selling the local youth center is really the best way to help everyone, and every evil scheme always boils down to money. Which is the core lesson of every Die Hard. But feelings are more important, and John McClane feels like these scumbags need high-velocity Christmas presents, despite how that makes him look like a psychopath for most of the movie. The thieves just want the money. McClane is the one triggering gunfights around thirty hostages for cash that is utterly meaningless to everyone. Even Gruber patiently explains that the theft of the bearer bonds will barely be noticed by Nakatomi central office (although that was just before he shot the unarmed Mr Takagi.) By far the smartest thing to do would be sitting it out and letting them take the money and disappear into the sunset.
But John McClane knows that those are bad guys. We find that they were going to slaughter all the hostages as a diversion. So McClane was right, despite having absolutely no way to have known that, and despite violating pretty much every rule they have for police up to that point.
THE LOW POINT
Every xmas movie has an emotional low point, and Die Hard has the most painful one in all cinema. It kicks every other movie’s ass with a scene about pulling broken glass out of your own broken feet which, when you think about it, is the most badass and painful way to kick anything.
The most magical part of Christmas has always been opening your presents. Movies stress the importance of family, the feelings of togetherness, and a lot of other worthy garbage. Our best xmas memories are made when we’re kids, and kids are selfish brats. The sheer rush of dashing down and tearing opening your presents, knowing that all these new things are for you, you, you! We’ve got lots of new pleasures as grown ups, but you’d have to invent a new sort of sex to get the same level of ecstasy as Christmas morning. And then work out a way for men to have it multiple times in a row.
The vault-opening scene captures that perfectly.
The criminals don’t descend on the treasure like cold-hearted professionals, or even pleased successful adults. They caper around that half-billion dollars like kids on Christmas day. Computer whiz Theo rushes along opening every single million-dollar briefcase at once just because he can. He’s the most delighted accomplice to multiple murder I’ve ever seen.
THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
The worst Christmas movies are oxymorons: the first word utterly destroys the second. Instead of coming up with a cunning solution or toughing it out, the good guys just win directly because they’re the good guys with a “Christmas miracle” swooping out of nowhere to end the conflict. They sing a stupid song, or believe in Santa, or otherwise just wish really hard for what they want and it all works out. That should only work if you’re Green Lantern.
Die Hard kicks the hell out of that. Because Die Hard kicks the hell out of everything. John McClane shows absolute faith in himself by tying a fire hose around his waist and leaping off the exploding roof of a forty-story skyscraper. That’s as hard as you can believe in anything except physics. The only upside of that plan should have been how severing his spine at the waist meant he didn’t feel pain in lower his body when he hit the concrete. But he made it because his sheer faith in badassery caused a miracle.
It’s so badass, you’d swear Jesus himself arrived on Earth a day early just because he was sick of nativity scenes.