Alert! Spoilers Ahead for All Two of You Who Haven’t Seen It!
Any time you claim something is the “Best ___ EVAR,” there’s bound to be some backlash. It’s no better, worse even, when the blank-filler up there is “Christmas movie.” Defenders of It’s a Wonderful Life might find themselves pitted against pro-Charlie Brown Christmas-ers and A Christmas Carol lovers in the eggnog-fueled drunken brawl to beat ‘em all.
Luckily, there is one definitive Christmas movie to rule them all. The title of Most Awesome Holiday Flick Ever goes, hands-down, to Die Hard.
“What?” I’ve heard before. “That’s not even a Christmas movie!” Au contraire (which is French for, “nuh uh baby”), the entire reason Bruce Willis’ John McClane winds up at Nakatomi Plaza just in time to foil the slick Alan Rickman — er, Hans Gruber and his Germanic thieves with German accents that are very believable and German, is because he wants to see his family for Christmas. He’s in the building to meet his estranged wife in a nice, neutral location that just happens to have $640 billion deep in its basement.
The holiday’s barely noticeable relation to the plot is but one of its pluses. If you’re a Jewish kid who can’t find anything on TV that doesn’t remind you how much you suck, you might be able to find the one station that put ass-kicking and exploding buildings on with a wink. It’s got widespread appeal, meaning it’s enjoyable at any time of the year. Try saying that about Fred Claus.
After all, no matter when you’re seeing it, this is simply a damned fun movie to watch. Since it is centered around a Christmas party, you’ve got the perfect excuse to take a break from the stress of planning, cooking, shopping, fielding family, in-laws, and in-links, to sit back, relax, and watch a New York cop kick some serious bad guy ass.
This is the action movie that pioneered the modern action movie. And yet the sly, self-aware-without-being-too-smart-alecky way the movie pits McClane against Gruber offers a joy to the world that goes unmatched by serious holiday dramas and Michael Bay-style offerings alike. Bruce Willis was unknown as an action movie star before this role, mostly because he’d built his acting career as a comedian.
The unusual casting was a great idea. Can you imagine Sly Stallone grunting out, “Now I know what a TV dinner feels like,” without grunting and mugging for the camera? Can you imagine deciphering anything that man says? Fortunately, the producers couldn’t either, and the result is a movie that laughs at itself while the audience gets a chuckle too.
Even Rickman, best known in recent years as the dour Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, adds his own festive element. While pretending to be an earnest East German boy on the phone with the FBI, he requests the release of several Communist sympathizers imprisoned around the world. His associate Karl, clearly uninformed about the cover-up, gives him the “WTF?” face, and Gruber covers the phone so he can hiss, “I read about them in Time magazine.”
“Okay, fine,” doubting Thomases and Thomasinas will sigh. “But the rampant explosions have nothing to do with the holidays!” To which I once again say, Au contr…er, nuh uh baby, nothing speaks to the holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa alike like a good, roaring fire and ill timed explosions (be they emotional or otherwise).
But even if you refuse to budge and adamantly insist that your Christmas viewing includes peace on Earth and love for all mankind, Die Hard delivers. Law and order triumphs over greed in the end, and there’s even a sappy, kiss-filled reconciliation between John and Holly McClane as loose $10,000 bonds and burning flecks of building and Germanic foot soldier float gently to the ground around them. Tell me Santa Claus and the Virgin Mary wouldn’t be proud of the triumph of good over evil and the ultimate affirmation of love’s power. Tell me Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra wouldn’t do a celebratory chest bump after seeing Carl Winslow’s fat cheruby face blow away the bone crusher from Money Pit who looks like Thor and Fabio’s immaculate offspring.
So if you’ve had enough of the saccharine sweetness of Santa Claus and sugar cookies, seize control of the remote with a resounding, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” (your Aunt Claire will be so proud) and pop in Die Hard. If a dead thief wearing a Santa hat and bearing a shirt with the handmade inscription, “Now I’ve got a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho,” can’t get you in the holiday spirit, nothing can.
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Written by Bree Kornblum Katz (@breekatz)
Bree writes when she is not skiing off cliffs, facing down funnel clouds, or plumbing the depths of the internet. She's published short stories with Dead Dog Press, Six Sentences, and BlazeVOX and currently blogs about her hair-raising experiences in the Rocky Mountains at extremetothemax.com. She's still waiting on her… More »