IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: “Now I Have a Machine Gun, Ho Ho Ho”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 27, 2007
“Come out to the coast, get together, we’ll have a few laughs…”
A recent discussion on the topic of Holiday movies with my family quickly came to the question: What are the best Christmas movies of recent years? I mean, everyone knows It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Silent Night, Deadly Night, but what movies from recent years deserve to be placed among those classics in the canon? Since both my brother and I were involved in the conversation, inevitably one film came up in the discussion:
I don’t remember who suggested it, me or him, but it led to a fairly lengthy debate: Should Die Hard count as a Christmas movie? Going by the most obvious criteria–that Die Hard does, in fact, take place on Christmas–of course it does. But does it really deserve to be tallied among the ranks of the movies that people most commonly and thoughtlessly associate with Christmas? Is it a Christmas Movie, or just a movie that happens to take place on Christmas?
To me, there are three obvious tests to put it through to determine whether or not it deserves to be counted as an official, ballot-worthy Christmas Movie:
- Could the events of the plot not take place at any time besides Christmas?
- Would the movie be significantly worse if it didn’t take place at Christmas?
- Is the fact that the movie takes place at Christmas reflected in the general themes of the movie?
The answer to question #1–could it not take place another time–is probably no. Really, the actual fact of it being Christmas has little bearing on the major plot events of the movie. Sure, John supposedly comes out to visit Holly because it’s Christmas and he has work off to visit her, but that could just have easily been explained by any number of other plot contrivances that it being Christmas, and could likely be discounted as incidental. When you think about movies like Miracle on 34th Street, or, of course, A Chrismas Story, it’d be literally impossible to replay those events at non-Christmas times of year, and you can’t really say that about Die Hard.
The answer to question #2–would it be much worse if not at Christmas–I believe to be yes. There are any number of classic parts of the movie directly related to it being Christmas–ones you might not even usually recognize as film highlights, but ones the movie would be far poorer without. The use of “Let it Snow,” for instance–first as Al’s Christmas song of choice while buying twinkies, and then as the end credits. Or the sound of jingle bells when John McClane first sees the roll of tape that plays an integral role in his final victory over the baddies. Or, of course, the titular phrase of this article, written in lipstick on that terrorist who looks like Police-era Sting’s corpse, and hilariously vocalized by Hans–possibly the film’s single most memorable line. Maybe not essential to the story, but definitely essential to the film’s humor and identity.
And the answer to question #3–is Christmas reflected in its themes–I also think is yes. One of the things that so separates the movie from other action movies of its time is how the film’s larger story–John’s attempt to reconcile with Holly, and his search for personal redemption–actually enriches the film instead of just distracting from it, and the Christmas setting definitely adds to that. What is Christmas, if not the time for personal redemption, for telling people how you really feel, for once taking a stand for what is really important to you? It might not be quite as gooey and sentimental as most other classic Christmas movies, but that doesn’t make it any less moving or important to the movie’s thematic success.
So yeah, 2-1, I’d have to say it’s a Christmas movie. Just don’t ask about Die Hard 2–I don’t think that’d rank as classic in the “Die Hard movies that take place on Christmas” pantheon.