Die Hard is a special film for me. It was the first 18-rated movie I ever saw in the cinema (I was 13 and entirely blown away by the action). Since then, the series has had its ups and downs. Die Hard 2 is okay but a little forgettable, Die Hard With a Vengeance is perhaps the best film in the whole series and Die Hard 4 and 5 are just a bit rubbish. 4 is better than 5 even though the kid in it looks like Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
In fact I rate the Die Hard series in this order:
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Die Hard 2
It’s almost perfect if you sub out the later Die Hards for Willis’ two RED movies. And they still fit. Sure, he’s not called John McClane but he’s basically playing the same role.
While Die Hard isn’t the best Die Hard film, it’s still a perfect movie and better than that, it totally qualifies as a Christmas movie. It’s got a tree, it’s got Christmas music and it’s a got a machinegun. Ho ho ho!
So, here are ten reasons why Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time. Even if most of these answers are going to have nothing to do with Christmas!
1. The reason why Die Hard 2 isn’t as good as Die Hard 1 and 3 is that it doesn’t have a really good bad guy. Jeremy Irons kills it in 3 as the wirey German psychopath but Die Hard 1’s bad guy game is unbelievable!
Firstly, there are four distinct baddies in there.
First up is the main man, Hans Gruber. What’s more sinister than an English evil mastermind? A German one played by an English actor! Alan Rickman’s cold and calculating demeanour isn’t just about how menacing Hans is, he also displays moments of humour and warmth that are soon dispelled when its time for another victim. And he’s full of great lines. In particular this little gem.
Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you’re nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
Add to that Trading Places’ Paul Gleason as the mandatory stubborn police chief Dwayne T. Robinson, Ghostbusters’ William Atherton as the heartless news reporter Richard Thornburg and Alexsander Godunov as the psychotic Karl and you’ve got plenty of reasons to root for McClane.
2. The writing in Die Hard may not be the most cerebral thing you’ll see in film but there are some nice touches. Because Die Hard is so good, it tends to be one of those films that you’ll see on TV a lot and will watch through to the end. We soon realised that because of this, we’d not seen the intro scene for ages and had completely forgotten it.
This small scene helps explain why McClane is running around with no shoes for the rest of the movie. Also, there’s a moment where McClane meets his wife Holly’s sleazy co-worker Harry Ellis. Harry mentions that Holly has earned herself a new rolex. This is quickly forgotten until the end of the movie when it ends up being the only thing stopping Hans from falling to his death.
3. There was a point towards the end of the film where a helicopter crashes into the roof of Nakotomi Plaza. There are explosions, everything is on fire. It all looked extremely dangerous. Here’s the thing. This was made before CGI was really a thing. Admittedly they probably used minatures and some sort of camera trickery but it looks fab. These days every action film seems to have buildings getting twatted but Die Hard still does it best.
4. Bruce Willis. Many other actors were considered for the role of John McClane. Robert De Niro, Arnie, Stallone and Mel Gibson could have all done a good job but we can’t imagine anyone doing a better job than Bruce. His many one-liners (often said to himself) and his interactions with the baddies are great but it’s his bromance with desk cop Sgt. Al Powell that shows off his vulnerable side, giving the character of McClane a bit more depth than the usual Hollywood hero cop. Even if he does drop a body on Al’s car and then pepper it with machine gun fire.
“Welcome to the party, pal!”
5. Okay, we’ve mentioned him already but seeing Hans Gruber reading out McClane’s message to the bad guys, ‘Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho’ scrawled across the shirt of a dead terrorist (at this point in the film we think they are terrorists, not robbers), is a thing of joy. Not only are we at the point now where McClane is fighting back but Han’s tone of confusion and sneering, snobbish derision makes it so much better.
6. Okay we’re five reasons down and we’ve not mentioned Christmas. You had better respect the fact that Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas movie. Firstly, it’s set on Christmas Eve.
Hans knows it, “It’s Christmas. It’s the time for miracles.”
The Nakatomi staff are all there because it’s a Christmas party.
The afforementioned ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’ complete with dead terrorist in a santa hat.
Theo, the annoying but entertaining hacker, adds to the festivities with his best line, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except… the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.”
7. “Oh, John, what the fuck are you doing? How the fuck did you get into this shit?”
John at his most exasperated-at-self best. Of course, you’d be a little miffed at yourself for getting into the kind of situation that sees you under fire from a helicopter while diving off a high-rise building and through a window secured only by a fire hose.
8. Al Leong, motherfuckers! This legendary martial artist, stuntman and actor has a small part in the movie as one of Hans’ evil henchmen. We’ve seen him being Genghis Khan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, one of the Wing Kong baddies in Big Trouble in Little China and the sadistic torturer of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. His part in Die Hard may not be as fleshed out but who doesn’t love the scene where he decides to steal a chocolate bar?
9. Harry Ellis. Nakatomi employee, Harry, isn’t the most likeable character in the movie, that’s true. But this hard partying, cocaine-addled money man actually has a spectacular redemption. He, very inadvisedly, attempts to broker some sort of peace between the bad guys and John McClane and after initially seeming to get in with Hans (to the point where one of the baddies pours him a coke – the drink this time), Hans tries to get McClane to stand down.
He pretends that he and John are old friends and is eventually shot by Hans when McClane claims to barely know him. So how is that a redemption?
At no point does Harry sell out Holly, John’s wife. He could have used her as leverage but doesn’t. He may love drugs, money and rolex watches but at his heart, he’s a gentleman. Harry’s okay by us.
10. That ending! They were released around the same time, so it’s hard to say that Lethal Weapon or Die Hard ripped each other off but just as Lethal Weapon’s last action scene was a blonde lead henchman (Mr. Joshua, played by a toothy Gary Busey) coming back to consciousness after getting knocked out in a hand-to-hand fight by the maverick white cop (Riggs, played by a not-yet-a-religious-nutcase Mel Gibson) before getting shot by the more reserved black cop (Murtagh, played by the too-old-for-this-shit Danny Glover), Die Hard ends in a very similar fashion with the blonde lead henchman (Karl) coming back to consciousness after getting suffocated in a hand-to-hand fight by the maverick white cop (McClane) before getting shot by the more reserved black cop (Powell). I say reserved but Powell puts five bullets into the man.
It’s all part of a wonderful scene where McClane and Powell see each other for the first time after several conversations that range from McClane relaying as many details about the bad guys to Powell helping McClane stay calm when the situation looks to be at its bleakest.
It’s enough to make a young ’80s movie club cry.
Die Hard, people. It’s a perfect movie.