35 Years of 'Die Hard': Origins of Christmas Movie Controversy

Unraveling the persistent controversy around an iconic action film.

by Nouman Rasool
35 Years of 'Die Hard': Origins of Christmas Movie Controversy

This month marks the 35th anniversary of the iconic action film "Die Hard," sparking a longstanding debate among movie enthusiasts - Is "Die Hard" truly a Christmas movie? Released in 1988, "Die Hard" features Bruce Willis as John McClane, an NYPD officer who ends up battling a group of terrorists during an office Christmas party at Los Angeles' Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve.

The film's pivotal scenes, coupled with its central theme of family and friendship, have led some to argue it's a Christmas classic. Detractors, however, argue that the film's violent content and R-rating, alongside the fact that Christmas isn't crucial to the narrative, disqualify it as a Christmas movie.

Origins of 'Die Hard' Debate

The successful movie, which grossed massively at the box office and birthed four sequels, launched a fervent debate that's continued for decades. The Atlantic's 2021 investigation traces the roots of this debate to a 2007 Slate post, making the case for "Die Hard" as a holiday film, followed by a similarly themed Guardian article, marking the start of the online dispute.

Google Trends reveals an uptick in searches around whether "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie, with numbers peaking every holiday season since 2016. Over the years, the film's cast and crew, including Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Jeb Stuart, Steven E.

de Souza, and director John McTiernan, have also contributed their perspectives. In 2018, Willis himself declared during "The Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis," that "Die Hard" is not a Christmas movie, but rather a Bruce Willis movie.

Interestingly, VelJohnson and Bedelia, who played supporting roles, originally didn't see "Die Hard" as a Christmas movie. Over time, however, their views have evolved to align more with the fans' perception. They both believe the label of a Christmas movie is ultimately a decision for the fans.

McTiernan also echoed these sentiments on the Empire podcast last year, stating, "If the audience decides they want to make it a Christmas movie, it’s a Christmas movie." He also explained in an American Film Institute video in 2020 that the joy experienced during the making of the film contributed to its classification as a holiday movie.

Despite the controversy and varying opinions, it seems public sentiment leans towards considering "Die Hard" a Christmas movie. A 2018 poll found 25% of American adults categorizing it as such, with variations across gender and age demographics.

The debate continues to thrive, with Bruce Willis's wife, Emma, acknowledging the 35th anniversary of "Die Hard" in a heartfelt social media post. Emma highlighted Willis's remarkable career and the lasting impact of his role as John McClane, a character so iconic that it has sparked a debate continuing 35 years after the film's release.