Die Hard Director Offers His Take On The Infamous Christmas Movie Debate

Bruce Willis in Die Hard
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

There’s no way possible that director John McTiernan, when working on the action classic Die Hard in the late 1980s, could have predicted that audiences members would still be debating – three decades after the film’s release – about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not. McTiernan didn’t set out to make a Christmas movie… not by traditional standards of a Hollywood holiday story. But the Bruce Willis-led thriller has more than enough elements linking it to the happiest season to have everyone from Bruce Willis’ mom to House Democrats in Washington, D.C. giving their opinions regarding the “Christmas” nature of the original Die Hard film. 

John McTiernan has weighed in on the topic before, believing that the joy experienced by everyone on set turned Die Hard into a Christmas movie. Recently, however, the director turned up on the Empire Film Podcast to discuss Predator and Die Hard, and took a more Zen approach to the conversation, telling the hosts:

It’s not for us to say, it’s people. It’s for the audience to say. If the audience decides they want to make it a Christmas movie, it’s a Christmas movie. It turns out that way. It wasn’t intended as a Christmas movie, although the fact that it was deliberately built around Christmas – but not intended to be a Christmas movie. But the fact that it was a Christmas movie had a lot to do with, you know… because it’s actually, from a distance, when you look at it, it’s politically pretty strident. And the only reason that survived was that the people in the studio who would have stopped that were deceived, because they thought it was just an action movie about a Christmas party that goes wrong.

Which it is. But one of the reasons we continue to celebrate Die Hard to this day is because John McTiernan layered levels of commentary about capitalism, heroism, and more into his actions, creating a masterpiece that was constructed to stand the test of time… even if the sequels are often debated regarding which one (if any of them) match the quality of the original. Me, I’m a Die Hard 2: Die Harder apologist, but you can see where that one falls on our official ranking of the Die Hard movies.

There are so many more interesting aspects of Die Hard to discuss, so the fact that the Christmas debate continues to swirl around it is mildly frustrating. Particularly in the wake of Bruce Willis’ recent retirement announcement, I’d rather we used Die Hard as a springboard to open up about his contributions to cinema, and the overall ranking of his complete filmography. 

You won’t find a more passionate Die Hard fanatic than me. Outside of the movies in the MCU, it is my all-time favorite film, an absolute masterpiece. But it joins movies such as Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Looper, 12 Monkeys, and Death Becomes Her as the best Bruce Willis movies ever made. Let’s table the Christmas conversation, and start celebrating those works even harder.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.