Director John McTiernan Thinks He Knows How Die Hard Became A 'Christmas Movie'

The whole "'Die Hard' is a Christmas movie" conversation has been stale for years. The perennial tongue-in-cheek war of words over the 1988 action staple has gone beyond meme status to occupy a space in the discourse between "not funny anymore" and "was kinda boring to begin with." There was even a poll conducted back in 2018, when the crucial issue was still debated hotly, over whether "Die Hard" was considered a Christmas movie by the public (the outcome was a resounding "no"). Then, none other than John McClane himself weighed in, with Bruce Willis responding to the nagging question emphatically in the negative.

That seemed to put the question to rest, for the most part. That is, until director John McTiernan spoke to the American Film Institute last year and reignited the whole thing. The director, who's best known outside of "Die Hard" for 1987's "Predator" and his return to the John McClane story in 1995 with "Die Hard With A Vengeance," evidently has some thoughts on the seemingly never-ending "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" question.

The human appeal of John McClane

"Die Hard" isn't the only adult-themed film to become a festive favorite. There's actually a whole host of alternative Christmas movies, with Tim Burton's nightmare fairytale "Batman Returns" being an oft-cited favorite. And while these movies clearly lack the familiar, heartwarming charm of your traditional holiday film, they have a certain charm of their own.

According to McTiernan, that charm in "Die Hard" comes from the fact that its central character is unmistakably human. As the director explained in his interview, the movie is ostensibly an action thriller about terrorists getting their European butts handed to them by a gruff, everyman cop:

"Die Hard was a terrorist movie ... it was about these horrible leftist terrorists who come in to the Valhalla of capitalism — Los Angeles — and they bring their guns and their evil ways and they shoot up on people just celebrating Christmas ... and it was really about the stern face of authority stepping in to put things right again."

What really gives the film its own heartwarming cheer, as McTiernan sees it, is John McClane himself. The NYPD cop who gets caught up in the elaborate terrorist siege of Nakatomi Plaza is the antithesis of the stern authority types who stumble their way through blunder after blunder trying to save the day. As McTiernan put it, "This was a movie where the hero was a real human being and the people of authority ... were all portrayed as kind of foolish." The filmmaker makes clear that this isn't how he intended the original installment to be received, but that the eventual "joy" that came from McClane's appeal "is what turned it into a Christmas movie."

Beyond nostalgia

Aside from the nostalgia factor and the fact that the movie is literally set at Christmas, it does seem McClane's competence and distinct human quality gave "Die Hard" (and the "Die Hard" movies as whole) a festive appeal. The answer to whether the film is in fact a Christmas movie is, of course, subjective. If you watch it at Christmas, then it's a Christmas movie for you. That could be down to the charm that comes from a nostalgia hit, or indeed from the humanistic qualities embodied by its central character. While the debate itself is kind of unimportant — "Die Hard" is a great movie no matter what time of year you watch it — McTiernan's point is an interesting one. It's also one that goes beyond the whole silly debate and speaks to the appeal of characters such as John McClane.

The balding everyman action star isn't as common an archetype these days. "Die Hard" aside, you can't imagine a live-wire, Michael Keaton type being cast as Batman in 2022. In fact, both Keaton and Willis had backgrounds in comedy before they made the jump to action. Perhaps that's why so many modern action films seem to lack the charm of those '80s and '90s blockbusters. It's a shame, because as McTiernan points out, that type of character is what gave many of those films their unmistakable charm and allowed them to persist for so long in popular culture. Maybe instead of debating whether "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie, then, we should be petitioning to make Tim Robinson the next Marvel film star.