“Die Hard” retains its title as a Christmas Classic

Parker Otto

With Christmas a few weeks away, people across the country are watching classic holiday films, including the many versions of  “A Christmas Carol,” 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and, just in time for its 30th anniversary, “Die Hard.” As bizarre as it sounds, many people watch this R-rated action film every winter, and it has gained a reputation as a Christmas film. While it is one of the best action films of all time, the debate on whether its yuletide viewings are appropriate continues.


The film follows New York cop John McClaine, played by Bruce Willis, who goes to an office Christmas party to make amends with his wife. When terrorists led by the enigmatic Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman, take everyone at the party hostage in a skyscraper, John takes the fight to him wearing a tank top and no shoes.

It’s easy to see why the film is beloved. It has a relatable protagonist because of how different McClaine is from other action stars of the 1980s. He has the physique and real-world problems of an ordinary man rather than being an invulnerable, muscle- bound killing machine like The Terminator, Robocop or John Rambo. This is someone who has relationship issues, can be physically injured and because of his lack of clothing, is exceptionally vulnerable.

The hero of the film is only as good as the villain, and Gruber one of the best that has graced the silver screen. In 2003, the American Film Institute ranked him the 46th greatest movie villain on their list “100 Years. . .100 Heroes and Villains.” Like many terrorists in film, he is hell-bent on getting what he wants, but he has a large amount of charisma that separates him from the other two-bits.

The supporting cast is fine, but the standout is Sergeant Al Powell, played by Reginald VelJohnson, who is on the outside of the skyscraper with a variety of police, SWAT and FBI agents. He communicates with McClaine primarily through walkie-talkie and is there to keep McClaine from losing his mind in the perilous situation. As Powell continues to speak, McClaine learns that Powell is a desk cop who hasn’t fired his gun in years after killing a kid who was holding a realistic-looking ray gun. This added depth of character makes him more than comedic relief and, at the film’s climax, he ends up saving the day by killing one of the remaining terrorists Karl, played by Alexander Godunov.

With all of the film’s bloody action, it hardly seems like the go-to holiday film. What makes it a Christmas staple is the main theme of the film: redemption. Both McClaine and Powell have demons in their past with McClaine’s marital problems and Powell’s guilt, which they both must overcome in order to save the day. While their uphill battles mirror each other, McClaine experiences a physical struggle whereas Powell’s is more psychological.

Besides their struggles the two also need each other to pull themselves out of the hole which they dug. The best example of this is when McClaine speaks to Powell and tells him to find McClaine’s wife when it’s all over and tell her that he’s sorry for everything. Al simply replies, “You can tell her that yourself. You’ll make it out of there.” They almost have a symbiotic relationship which makes their first meeting after all the terrorists have been destroyed all the more heartwarming.

The themes of redemption and cooperation shown in “Die Hard” are staples of the Christmas season. It’s a time of year where people are more charitable and caring. While “Die Hard” may seem like any other action film with swear words flung left and right, bloody shootouts and explosion after explosion, there’s a lot more to this film than meets the eye. So yes, “Die Hard” is not only a Christmas film, but one of the best Christmas films of all time.