Why ‘Die Hard’ is the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made

20th Century Fox

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The holiday season is finally upon us, and with it comes the annual marathons of Christmas movies. For many, the debate over what the greatest Christmas movie of all time should be still rages on, and for good reason. From black-and-white classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street to comedic favorites like Elf and Christmas Vacation, it just seems like there are too many great films to crown a single one. But there is really one film whose superb acting, writing, and directing causes it to tower (quite literally) above the rest: Die Hard.

Although Die Hard may not pop into the heads of many when talking about the greatest Christmas movies due to its unconventionality, it most certainly is a Christmas film through and through. For one, it takes place on Christmas Eve during a Christmas party. But, of course, not all movies that take place during the holidays are Christmas movies, as Iron Man 3 and Lethal Weapon – another ’80s action movie – are not considered Christmas movies. So what qualifies Die Hard as a Christmas film? Well, at the movie’s core, it is a story about a man’s attempts to repair his relationship with his family during the holidays, but he encounters obstacles along the way. That brief synopsis is the exact plot of dozens of Christmas movies, so Die Hard’s credentials are certainly valid.

Now, what makes Die Hard so great? In short, everything. The film is extremely tight, with all scenes serving a purpose. There are no superfluous lines of dialogue or any lazy shots; every part of this film feels necessary and planned. Despite the meticulous crafting of the film, it feels anything but; the plot is wildly unpredictable, with John McClane, the film’s hero, battling against all odds to save the day.

Bruce Willis plays John McClane in a career-defining role as a New York Cop visiting his family in Los Angeles for the holidays. What makes McClane such a great character is that he completely subverts the stereotypical ’80s action hero and is just a normal person with his own flaws and anxieties. McClane is introduced as fearful of flying, and the first line of dialogue in the movie is McClane’s seatmate telling him a tip about how to diminish his fear by taking off his shoes and curling his toes. Not only does this humanize McClane and make his plight matter to the audience, but this exchange is a key plot point, as McClane is testing out this tip when the terrorists arrive, leaving him barefoot the rest of the film. Everything that happens in the film happens for a reason, making it incredibly riveting.

Furthermore, Die Hard is a true underdog story that rivals the likes of Rocky and Hoosiers, as McClane has to battle 12 armed and highly skilled terrorists, led by Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, one of the greatest on-screen villains. His cold and calculating nature contrasts flawlessly with the brash McClane, making him the perfect villain for this film.  

Moreover, above all the filmmaking, the characterization, and the cogs that make this film work so well, Die Hard is just a blast to watch. It’s endlessly re-watchable and quotable, with McClane’s profane one-liner being one of the most effective and iconic in all of cinema. It hits all ranges of emotions, from gut-bustingly hilarious to white-knuckle intense to heartwarming and everywhere in between. There is truly something for everyone to love in Die Hard, and, most importantly, it establishes a deep emotional connection with its audience. Due to McClane being such a fleshed-out and relatable character, the audience cares what happens to him and feels the emotions he feels, including his pain and his triumph. Without this, the events that play out onscreen would be utterly meaningless. Fortunately they have a profound impact on the viewer, and it’s awesome.

Die Hard succeeds on every level as a film, from its precise fundamentals to the visceral experience it provides. It’s everything that a movie should be, and that is what elevates it to the title of greatest Christmas film. Not only is it a great Christmas movie, but it’s just a great movie, which is a lot more than a large majority of Christmas movies can say. So go ahead and add Die Hard to your Christmas movie marathon, because what says Christmas more than machine guns, explosions, and John McClane?

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