I sometimes feel that I should avoid discussions of favourite Christmas / holiday movies. While I love LOVE movies – especially during the December holiday season – I have never really considered myself a fan of Christmas movies. Yes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is probably the best of that particular series. Of course, the original Miracle of 34th Street (not the remake) is still a charming classic. A Christmas Story remains as lovely as ever (as does, one might argue, Black Christmas, if only as it offers a different take on the season; Bob Clarke also directed both movies). It’s a Wonderful Life remains essential any time, month, or season.
But if I have to pick my all-time favourite Christmas movie (and this hardly an original pick), there’s no question or debate in my mind. My pick is the 1988 Bruce Willis Holiday classic – released that summer of course – Die Hard.
I mentioned Die Hard in a recent post on thrillers from the 1970s. And while I am uncomfortable repeating myself here, I felt this burden necessary after a conversation with my colleague Sarah. SHE HAS NEVER SEEN DIE HARD.
…okay. First things first: Bruce Willis rocks. Before Die Hard, we really only had the television show Moonlighting. I remember it being a fun, quirky show – but Moonlighting Willis was never an action hero. That changed, of course – but this was something we should have picked up long before. I think that I remember a Quentin Tarantino quote on Willis (I might have this wrong but I don’t think so) suggesting that Bruce Willis embodies many of the tough guy qualities of the many tough guy actors from 1950s Hollywood. Think Robert Mitchum or Ralph Meeker or Sterling Hayden or Glenn Ford.
I believe there is something to this – all kinds of fine directors continue to use him correctly – but Willis in Die Hard pushed this tough guy thing further. Before Die Hard (at least in 80s cinema), action heroes came in the Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone variety. Don’t get me wrong here: some of these movies are pretty good. But these movies were superhero action movies. You had to have muscles like Stallone or Schwarzenegger to be an action hero. Die Hard shifted this with Willis as the every-man-action hero. His John McClane is just an off-duty cop, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any actor afterwards could play that credible action star. And now it seems like EVERY actor wants to play that credible action star. Nick Cage became an action star! It was heady time.
And this every-man-action-hero was given the perfect action film to be heroic in. I cannot think of a single false step, bum scene, or wrong-note performance. Indeed, Alan Rickman’s villainous Hans Gruber stills remains one of cinema’s best-ever villains. Die Hard is such perfect action that it completely changed what action movies should be. Suddenly everything was “Die Hard on Something Different Than a Tall Building”. So, we got Die Hard on a Boat or Die Hard on a Train, Die Hard on a Mountain or Die Hard on a Plane. Some of these movies were good, but most were terrible. Action movies seem to exist within periods of time. The Die Hard epoch lasted over ten years, until I would argue the release of The Matrix.
So yeah, Die Hard is a perfect genre-defining, action-icon creating film that is also (I haven’t forgotten) a wonderful Christmas movie. John McClane is a New York cop travelling to L.A for Christmas. The bad guys have taken over Nakatomi Plaza during the company’s Christmas party. After dispatching his first bad guy, McClane offers his first quippy quote: “now I have a machine gun …ho ho ho.” Sticking still with the bad guys, main baddie Gruber suggests that “Christmas is the time for miracles” – especially when there is a safe that needs crackin’. The film’s score is littered with references to Christmas caroles and jingles. And what says Merry Christmas more than saving your loved ones from helicopters crashing into buildings?
I love this movie.