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Why ‘Die Hard’ is the greatest Christmas movie of all time

Kevin Noonan | Monday, December 3, 2012


The Christmas season inspires a lot of superlatives.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s everyone’s favoritest holiday. We’re going to have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye.

I had to leave out the funniest word of that quote.

But when it comes to the best superlative of them all, the greatest Christmas movie of them all, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world on which to decide. I’m not going to say that it causes a significant portion of the disputes across the country during this joyousest of holidays, but the Christmas season does see one of the highest numbers of family disputes of the year annually.

But, of course, there’s only one answer that the rightest of them all, and I’m here to deliver it and prevent all those barroom brawls and family feuds this holiday season, because I’m the nicest, smartest and handsomest. And the humblest. (I’ll cut back on the superlatives, I promise).

From the opening scene, when Officer John McClane gives his first wry smile of the film, “Die Hard” puts all other Christmas movies to shame.

The 1988 Christmas classic disguised as an action thriller follows Bruce Willis, near the end of the “No guys for real, I still have hair” stage of his career, as McClane, an NYPD officer who flies to Los Angeles to see his wife and children for Christmas, who moved to the city without him.

Right off the bat, we get the core principles of cinematic Christmas fare.

First, McClane is headed to a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, so the movie is clearly set around Christmas, an important part of the Christmas movie qualifications.

Second, it’s a film about family, as McClane is just trying to get see his wife and kids what more could you ask for from a Christmas film than a father trying to get to his family for Christmas? That’s straight up heartwarming.

Third, much like Santa and his reindeer must overcome insurmountable odds all by themselves in order to deliver Christmas joy to every little boy and girl all over the world, McClane must take down an entire building full of communist-sounding terrorists all by himself and his sarcasm in order to save a group of hostages, including his wife. The movie is pretty much as Christmas as it gets.

Like any good Christmas movie, it has its share of “wink-wink” moments and nods to classic Christmas lore. A great example: When McClane paints the words “Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho” on a terrorist’s chest shortly after besting him in a good old fashion battle of wits (and machine guns).

The scene is clearly a reference to Jolly Old Saint Nick’s well-known go-to phrase when little kiddos hop onto his lap in shopping malls all over the world, and it’s a classic Christmas moment that melts the iciest of hearts.

No holiday film would be complete without an antagonist audiences root against, but nobody can really hate during Christmas, so the bad guy must be somebody you sort of love and respect too.

Well, friends, look no further than Hans Gruber, played by the incomparably stellar Alan Rickman before he watered down his brand by turning out to be a good guy as Snape at the end the Harry Potter movies.

Gruber tells the police he’s a politically motivated terrorist, but really he’s just confused. Does he have a political agenda? Or does he actually want to rob an unholy amount of money from Nakatomi? Deep down, he’s really just a lost little international thief, looking for some direction and his detonators.

And of course, what Christmas story would be complete without a feel-good redemption storyline? “Die Hard” delivers again, in the form of Carl Winslow from “Family Matters” (Reginald VelJohnson).

VelJohnson plays LAPD Sgt. Al Powell, who suffers from self-doubt and is afraid to use his pistol after an accidental shooting earlier in his career. Powell is McClane’s only friend throughout the film, but it’s clear that he needs to redeem himself and get back to form in order to be fulfilled as a person.

He gets his chance at the end of the film, and when Powell unloads his revolver into the Karl, that slippery little un-killable rascal of a terrorist, eyes tear up with the knowing how much it means to the sergeant.

And of course, the happy ending. Christmas movies have a happy ending, that goes without saying who wants a downer on Christmas?

After saving all the hostages and dropping Gruber off the side of the building like it wasn’t even a big thing or whatever, McClane finally gets to be with his family. So grab the eggnog and raise a toast the greatest, most spectacularest Christmas movie ever made.


Contact  Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu 
The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.