Is Die Hard A Christmas Movie?

Bruce Willis in Die hard
(Image credit: Archive Photos / Stringer)

For the past few decades, there has been a heated debate about something that no one seems to agree on. No, it's not politics. Not religion either. Instead, this heated debate, one that has brought an end to lifelong friendships, ended relationships in an instant, and torn families apart, has to do with the 1988 action movie, Die Hard, and if the Bruce Willis-led spectacle is in fact a Christmas movie.

Well, with the movie celebrating its 34th anniversary this year, we have decided that now is the proper time to attempt to settle this once and for all. With sections on the setting, miracles performed, and several others, there's a lot to break down here, so let’s fall into it like Hans Gruber falling off Nakatomi Plaza

A dead terrorist with a Christmas message in Die Hard

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Does Die Hard Have A Christmas Setting?

One of the major characteristics of a Christmas movie is a story that takes place over the holidays, and Die Hard is just that. The movie takes place on Christmas Eve and follows John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he flies from New York City to Los Angeles in an attempt to patch things up with his estranged wife, Holly Gennaro-McClane (Bonnie Bedelia). But, instead of receiving a warm welcome before spending the night with Holly, the NYPD officer instead arrives to an office holiday party that is soon overtaken by a group of terrorists aiming to steal $640 million in untraceable bearer bonds from the building’s underground vault.

Even though there is no snow (not the kind that falls from the sky, anyway), cold weather, or overcast skies, Nakatomi Plaza is beaming with holiday cheer in the form of decorations and partygoers. Despite the whole terrorist attack and hostage situation, this is very much a Christmas setting.

Alan Rickman in Die Hard

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

Could The Movie Happen Without A Holiday Setting?

There is no denying the fact that Die Hard has a Christmas setting, considering it takes place on Christmas Eve and features a massive holiday party before things go south. But, the movie works without the holiday setting. Sure, John McClane is at Nakatomi Plaza to spend time with his wife over the holidays, but there’s an endless list of reasons why the wise-cracking cop could be in the perfect place at the perfect time to prevent Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his goons from walking away with a massive fortune. A surprise visit, a retirement party, an office picnic, you name it.

It’s true that Die Hard works best with a holiday setting (so many gags, the “ho, ho, ho” message on a dead terrorist), once you remove Christmas from the setting, the movie still makes sense. 

Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia in Die Hard

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

Was It Released Over The Holidays?

All-time Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story were all released between the months of November and December, a.k.a. the holiday season. But, what about Die Hard, when did it come out? Well, those who fall into the “it’s not a Christmas movie” camp will feel a little validated to find out the badass action movie came out in July 1988, very much not in the holiday season (unless you count Christmas in July). 

Do you know what other action movies set during Christmas were released outside of the holiday season? How about Lethal Weapon (March 1987), Iron Man 3 (May 2013), Die Hard 2 (July 1990), and multiple others. People aren’t calling Iron Man 3 a Christmas movie, well, no one besides Disney+. Sure, all of these movies have Christmas settings (Shane Black loves Christmas, apparently), but it's easy to see how purists think a Christmas movie needs to come out at some point in the holiday season, and not in March, May, or July as is the case for Die Hard.

Bruce Willis and De'voreaux White in Die Hard

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Does The Soundtrack Feature Christmas Songs?

Although Die Hard didn’t get any points in the “Is it a Christmas movie?” argument when it came to its July 1988 release date, the action movie classic does get a point and then some for its stellar soundtrack. The movie wastes no time getting the holiday tunes going, as Argyle (De'voreaux White), John McClane’s limo driver (and one of the standouts from the Die Hard cast)  from the airport to Nakatomi Plaza puts on Run-D.M.C.’s 1987 holiday anthem “Christmas in Hollis” after the conversation gets a little too personal.

The same can be said about the rest of the Die Hard soundtrack, which is peppered with songs like “Winter Wonderland,” “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!,” “Jingle Bells,” “Ode to Joy,” and other Christmastime staples. That collection of catchy holiday songs is reason enough for Die Hard to be a Christmas movie. There is also Michael Kamen’s outstanding score that incorporates Christmas themes and tropes into its orchestrations, creating a multi-faceted auditory holiday experience that only adds to the feel of the movie.

Clarence Gilyard and Alan Rickman in Die Hard

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Are There Any Christmas Miracles?

Another characteristic of a Christmas movie is the presence of a holiday miracle, and as strange as it sounds, Die Hard has one, it’s just not in favor of the good guys. Theo (played by the late Clarence Gilyard), the terrorists’ tech specialist, is tasked with breaking into the vault at Nakatomi Plaza, which proves to be no easy task, even for someone with his level of skill. In a race against time, Theo, trying to beat the final security measures to secure the $640 million in bonds, tells Hans Gruber that it would take a miracle to make it work. In response, Hans tells him “It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time of miracles.” 

The vault is eventually infiltrated and the terrorists start packing away the bonds, only to be stopped by another miracle: John McClane. The lives of the hostages, potentially the McClanes’ marriage, and Christmas are all saved. Also, it’s a miracle Bruce Willis’ character survived the night considering the flying bullets, broken glass, and vengeful terrorists.

Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard

(Image credit: Disney/Fox)

So, Is Die Hard Actually A Christmas Movie?

All that being said, is Die Hard actually a Christmas movie or is it just an action movie with a holiday setting? Although there were some strong arguments in support of the claim that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie (the plot works without the holiday setting, it came out in July), it is hard to argue against the Christmas setting, the soundtrack, and presence of miracles, even if Bruce Willis doesn't see it that way.

If you want to relive one of the best action movies of all time, you can do so, as Die Hard is streaming on Starz right now. And, if you want even more holiday cheer, take a look at the 2022 Christmas movie schedule.

Stream Die Hard on Starz.

Philip Sledge
Content Writer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or chatting about professional wrestling to his wife. Writing gigs with school newspapers, multiple daily newspapers, and other varied job experiences led him to this point where he actually gets to write about movies, shows, wrestling, and documentaries (which is a huge win in his eyes). If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.