hard to die is a christmas movie?
every year the question comes up, and every year people dig in on one side or the other, loving and loathing the argument at the same time. the debate has become a Christmas tradition as ingrained as the Christmas movies themselves. but ultimately, the problem is not so much die hard (1988) as the definition of a “Christmas movie”.
So what makes a movie a Christmas movie?
is it a matter of release date? No, because that would eliminate Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945), two classic Christmas movies released in the summer, as well as many other favorites that opened before Halloween, like The Corner Store (January, 1940). ), holiday inn (September 1942), and white christmas (October 1954).
Is it a marketing issue? No. miracle on 34th street, among others, had no hint of Christmas in its one-sheet.
Is it a configuration issue? partially. a Christmas movie certainly must have some degree of festive setting, but the setting itself isn’t enough to warrant the label, or we’d be up to our ears in “Christmas movies” containing fleeting Christmas scenes. That said, the duration doesn’t seem to matter much either: meet me at st. louis (1944) devotes only a quarter of its running time to christmas, but is an established seasonal favorite.
Is it a gender issue? this is more debatable. For some purists, Christmas movies should predominantly focus on the joy, love, and nostalgia that define the season. but the season is actually “defined” by much more. it also amplifies loneliness, cynicism, and family dysfunction, for example. As a result, there has long been room to explore all of these topics and more across a wide range of genres.
We accept Christmas movie comedies (Home Alone, 1990), musicals (White Christmas) and romantic fantasies (The Bishop’s Wife, 1947), so why not also historical dramas (The Lion in Winter, 1968) , westerns (3 godfathers, 1948) and action thrillers like die hard?
In fact, all six titles are lighter in tone than two of the quintessential Christmas classics: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), which has long sections of harrowing trauma inflicted on James Stewart, Thomas Mitchell and the audience; and A Christmas Carol (1951), which practically turns into a horror movie when Scrooge visits his possible future. Of course, both films end with sequences that are among the happiest in all of cinema, the sequences we tend to remember the most.
But the most important element of those six titles, and of all the other films mentioned in this article so far, is the significant use of Christmas in their storytelling. In a full Christmas movie, some aspect of the season informs our experience of the story in a meaningful way. Since Christmas can instantly lend meaning to so many points on the emotional spectrum, the overall tone of a Christmas movie can be romantic or funny, touching or satirical. The desperation exuded by Jack Lemmon while drinking alone in an apartment bar (1960) is given as much added meaning by its Christmas Eve setting as James Stewart’s joy at the end of his wonderful life.
Would I have a lot of “work” if it were set on a night other than Christmas Eve? the story would work: john mcclane could still fly to los angeles to reconcile with his wife, and terrorists could still take over a building to carry out a heist. but it would be a very different experience for the audience.
Christmas greatly enhances our reaction to McLanes’ marital problems because family dysfunction during the season is so relatable. Christmas also does a lot to lighten up the terrorists’ story: the film treats their successful vault robbery as if they’re opening the world’s best Christmas present after working hard and entertainingly to “unwrap” it. The moment is accompanied by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” blaring on the soundtrack, a work orchestrated throughout the score. Die Hard is built inextricably around Christmas thanks to its familiar plot, dialogue, music, sound effects, and frequent visual references to the tropes of the season. adds to an overriding tone of playfulness and joy, even through the great action and suspense of the story.
In the end, no matter how passionately someone argues their case, the raging debate is unlikely to go away because Christmas movies are not a distinct “genre.” the label is subject to personal definition. If someone considers a Christmas movie to be any image with a hint of the holiday, then that’s what it is, to them.
On the other hand, there is another way to define “Christmas movie”: a movie that we love to rewatch with friends and family at Christmas, not because of any Christmas content, but simply because of its pure and escapist entertainment value: the marx brothers. comedy, maybe, or a gene kelly musical, or a james bond movie. In fact, there’s even a bonus movie that significantly incorporates Christmas: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
ernst stavro blofeld plots to destroy the global economy via dastardly gadgets wrapped like christmas presents, and 007 falls for tracy di vicenzo as the holiday season approaches, leading to one of the most romantic cinematic moments. from bond: he proposes to her late at night in a country barn on a snowy christmas eve. these are integral aspects of the story, significantly enhanced by the festive setting.
There’s just one problem: the story doesn’t have a happy ending, possibly a big Christmas movie no-no. And that raises a new question: Is Her Majesty’s Secret Service really a Christmas movie? Let the debates begin!
Jeremy Arnold is the author of TCM Movie Christmas: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season, published by Running Press and Turner Classic Movies.