At this point, it’s pretty canonical that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The argument is over, and now it’s kind of tedious to here it get talked about online. I haven’t really seen it much this year. It’s gotten to the point where you hear more people complaining about people talking about Die Hard as a Christmas movie than you hear people actually talking about Die Hard. It’s a straw man at this point.
Die Hard is a great movie. It’s a near perfect bit of ‘80s action. It made Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman stars. Well, it made Willis a movie star. He was already a TV star thanks to the largely-forgotten Moonlighting. That’s a story for another day, though. There’s humor, tension, big action set pieces, a proper amount of violence, and so much more. It’s got several good performances. Die Hard is great all year long.
I did want to think about it as a Christmas movie for a second, though. Mostly, I wanted to think about how it works outside the constraints of Christmas. How would it feel? How different would it be? Could you make roughly the same movie?
By and large yes, but the logistics would be different. You’d have to have an excuse for a big party at Nakatomi Plaza. That’s easy enough, though. They’re celebrating a big deal or something, though you’d have less people there for that I imagine. Then, you have to give a reason for John McClane to be coming from New York to Los Angeles. That’s doable, but also how do you get him to the party? Without him coming across like a jerk bursting into his estranged wife’s workplace some random night?
Other than that, the thing you would miss are little touches. The music. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.” Various Santa Claus hats. These are fun details, but they could be replaced in a non-Christmas setting. They wouldn’t be as good, though. Plus, in 1988, a Christmas action movie was still fresh. I mean, it was right around the same time as Lethal Weapon, so it became a weird trend for a second there.
Die Hard would likely still be a great movie even if it wasn’t set at Christmas. However, it wouldn’t be as good. That much is clear. Hans Gruber works 365 days a year as a villain, but Christmas is the time for miracles, and Die Hard is a bit of an action movie miracle.