“Come out to the coast. We’ll get together; have a few laughs,” says an exhausted John McClane.
In 1987, 20th Century Fox released Predator, an excellent science fiction action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader of a group of highly-trained commandos who encounter a lethal extra-terrestrial in a Latin American jungle. The man responsible for the film’s exciting and well-executed action set-pieces was director John McTiernan. The success of Predator led to McTiernan’s next assignment for Fox: an unsuspecting “little” film called Die Hard. Amongst the film’s challenges were a script that needed a major re-write, bringing the incredible special effects to life, and resting a big action film like this on the shoulders of a TV star who was an unproven box office draw. Die Hard could’ve ended up being a big mess, but it didn’t. 25 years later, it is regarded as one of the best action films of all time.
On Christmas Eve, NY Lieutenant John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives at the Nakatomi building in Los Angeles to see his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). During a Christmas office party held by the firm Holly works for, a group of terrorists hijack the building and take all of the partygoers hostage. McClane escapes in time to another floor and tries to get the police to investigate. McClane manages to dispatch one of the terrorists and finally manages to get the police to show up. McClane becomes involved in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the calm and confident leader of the terrorists, as he discovers that there’s much more going on than he realized. McClane must face off against the terrorists, hoping to save his wife and his marriage.
This may hardly sound like the plot of a Christmas movie, but it’s crazy not to think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Besides the Christmas Eve setting, there are a lot of nice Christmas flourishes spread out through the film. One of my favorite moments from the film is when the elevator opens to reveal a dead terrorist, who happens to have a message written in blood on his grey sweatshirt. Hans Gruber walks over and slowly reads the message, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” Then there’s Hans’ reassurances about getting the vault open: “It’s Christmas. It’s a time for miracles.” Rickman plays these scenes so joyfully and confident that you almost want to root for him (then he goes and does something horrible that reminds us that he’s the villain; I’m not saying that anyone had actually stopped rooting for Willis’ McClane, but Rickman is so good as Hans Gruber that it’s no surprise that he’s one of the most popular movie villains of all time). And who can forget Michael Kamen’s terrific score? Christmas bells are included with the orchestra’s performance, letting us know when the yuletide action is about to kick into gear.
To put simply, Die Hard is about a man trying to reconcile with his wife and be with his family for Christmas. To do so, he’s got to stop a lot of bad guys from doing something that would place them near the top of Santa’s naughty list. Then there’s Sgt. Powell (a terrific Reginald VelJohnson), who could be considered an angel (perhaps guardian angel?); he’s the one person that McClane is able to talk to and confide in while trying to evade bad guys (if it wasn’t for Powell, McClane might’ve given up). This sounds like the perfect Christmas movie to me.