More than 35 years after it its release in July 1988, we may finally have an answer to one of the holiday season's biggest debates: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
For decades, moviegoers have loved weighing whether or not the action flick about an off-duty police officer, John McClane (Bruce Willis), who attends his estranged wife's company holiday party that gets overtaken by European terrorists, is part of holiday canon.
The latest Yahoo/YouGov poll shows that 50% of respondents say Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, compared with 26% who say it is; 23% say they aren’t sure.
Far more Americans agree that films like Home Alone and A Christmas Story are their go-tos, as 34% say they regularly rewatch the Macaulay Culkin classic each holiday season, while 33% say they revisit the timeless story about a boy and his BB gun.
At the bottom of the list? Die Hard. Just 14% of poll respondents say they'll be watching Die Hard this season. That could change, though, after AMC Theatres announced that it is rereleasing the movie in theaters beginning on Dec. 8. Yippee ki-yay.
What makes a movie a Christmas movie?
Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said that holiday movies are rooted in tradition and nostalgia, tapping into “the good old days” when things were “simpler, kinder and slower.”
“The human brain is funny,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “It tends to remember happy events with a bit of fairy dust, amplifying the glow and heightening our enjoyment of positive memories. [Holiday favorites] become annual rituals, signifying the holiday season as much as Christmas carols playing at the mall."
Yahoo UK proposes a litmus test for spotting a holiday flick:
1. Does watching the film at any other time of year feel weird? If the answer is no, then it's not a Christmas movie.
2. If you take Christmas out of the movie, does it still make sense? If the answer is yes, then it’s not a Christmas movie.
So where does that leave Die Hard?
What makes Die Hard a Christmas movie?
For starters, Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve.
There are numerous yuletide Easter eggs throughout the movie as well. Film data analyst Stephen Follows discovered 21 Christmas references alone, including the reams of paper floating down the skyscraper like snowflakes, for example, as well as plenty of ho-ho-hos and Santa hats. Three Christmas songs are on the soundtrack, including Run-DMC's “Christmas in Hollis.”
Die Hard has the basic ingredients of a holiday classic: “The rekindling of family ties" and “the hunt for the lone savior,” which makes it a no-brainer, wrote Josh Sinclair, in Men's Health.
“You clearly have sacrifice for the community and family. You also want presents being opened? McClane’s gun is wrapped with Christmas tape on his back before giving a bullet to Hans [Gruber]. You want some religion? McClane is victorious after praying for help — plus he simply shouts ‘Jesus Christ!’ repeatedly throughout the film,” James Hibberd, an editor at Entertainment Weekly, wrote.
Jan de Bont, Die Hard’s cinematographer, said that it’s a bit "far-fetched" to place a Christmas label on the summer blockbuster.
“I’m not sure if the spirit of Christmas is fully embraced by that movie, to be honest,” de Bont told Yahoo Entertainment in a 2020 interview. He takes no offense at those who disagree with his view. “I totally get it. It’s so funny.”
To that end, he did recall that it was festive on set.
“We were filming around Christmastime in the winter, and it was freezing cold,” de Bont said.
While the film’s director, John McTiernan, confirmed that Die Hard was never intended to be a holiday favorite — it opened as a summer blockbuster in 1988 — he says the fans have made it so.
“It's not for us to say, it’s people. It’s for the audience to say,” he told Empire, a film fan podcast, in an August 2022 interview. “It wasn’t intended as a Christmas movie, or the fact that it was deliberately built around Christmas, but not intended to be a Christmas movie.”
How does its star feel? Willis himself cleared up the misconception at his Comedy Central roast in 2018.
“Now please, listen very carefully: Die Hard is not a Christmas movie! It’s a goddamn Bruce Willis movie. So a yippee ki-yay to all of you motherf***ers.”
The Yahoo Entertainment survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,675 U.S. adults interviewed online from Nov. 9 to 13, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent's most recent answer given prior to Nov. 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov's opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.