It’s the season of Die Hard. The season of “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie.” Or, at the very least, “did you know Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”
Die Hard is, inarguably, a Christmas Movie. This is an accepted reality in our zeitgeist. Many have argued for it, with the majority of the arguments tracing their roots back to a simple Cracked article from 2009.
But what troubles me is that, lost in the shuffle of this omnipresent conversation is that its sequel, Die Hard 2, is everything that Die Hard is and more. More Christmas movie. More ’90s action movie. More Die Hard. Hence the subtitle, Die Harder.
So, let’s investigate how Die Hard 2 is everything that Die Hard is, and more.
Like Die Hard, Die Hard 2 set during Christmas. Unlike the first film, DIE Hard 2 looks like Christmas.
The original Die Hard might be set during the archetypal office Christmas party, but the film features few of the tropes of your typical Christmas film. As it’s set in LA, there is no falling snow. No evergreen trees in the landscape. No bulky parkas, no hats, no mittens, no cable-knit sweaters. Hardly any Christmas lights or garlands.
Die Hard 2 has all this and more. Trade a Los Angeles skyscraper for a snowbound Dulles airport–where everyone, even the villains, are carrying bow-adorned Christmas presents–and suddenly you’ve got something that looks a lot like Christmas.
Where he went barefoot and undershirted throughout the majority of Die Hard, this time he’s wearing a sweater that looks like it’s exactly as festive as John McClane is willing to be for a Christmas with his East Coast in-laws.
Die Hard 2 has the best Christmas-inspired action scenes
Die Hard might have the bare-feet-on-glass scenes and the hanging-out-of-the-skyscraper-windows fights, but there isn’t something specifically Christmas-y about any of these.
In the sequel, Bruce Willis stabs a guy with an icicle, in the eye. He fights two bad guys (who he blatantly refers to as bad guys) with Christmas luggage on conveyor belts all around them.
Finally, toward the start of the third act we are treated to an action scene on snowmobiles, amidst evergreens and freshly fallen snow. Not only is it a great scene, but it’s the first example in cinema of a snowmobile shootout chase scene. (And yes, there’s a list on IMDB entitled “Movies with Snowmobile Chase Scenes” to verify this.)
The suspension of disbelief required to enjoy Die Hard 2 is infinitely larger than that of the first Die Hard.
Sure, the original Die Hard has some real leaps of faith required to get through it. Most of them center around: how are the bad guys so smart and why are the authorities so stupid, and why is John McClane the only brave and competent good guy?
The second one kicks it up a notch. As described by Roger Ebert in his 1990 review:
For example, how about the scene where the tower informs the circling airplanes that they’ll be out of radio contact for a couple of hours, and the jets should just keep circling? Why can’t those planes simply establish radio contact with other ground transmitters, and be diverted to alternate airports?
While one could argue that this kind of storytelling weakens films, by shifting them from gritty action to fantastical Bond-esque shoot-em-ups, in this case it makes perfect sense: we are watching a film in the tradition of Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street and It’s a Wonderful Life.
And while the first Die Hard is a proud member of this tradition, the second one fulfills it to a greater degree. The entire airport bureaucracy can do nothing during a scene where a plane crashes into the runway. Only John McClane has the courage and faith in himself to do something daring and attempt to change the fates of the innocents.
There is a stronger sense of Christmas optimism throughout Die Hard 2.
Sure, it contains the same cynicism regarding bureaucrats, government officials, and most newscasters. McClane is the only hero from start to finish in this film, just like the first.
However, this is the only Die Hard in which the McClanes are happily married throughout the entire film.
It’s also the only Die Hard in which John McClane has made and maintained a friendship, in the form of his buddy Sargeant Al Powell back in LA (Reginald VelJohnson, reprising his role from the first one.)
Finally, a few of the bumbling and calloused characters are allowed to redeem themselves through their moments of grace and Christmastime kindness. In particular, Captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz of NYPD Blue fame) who goes from doubting and fighting McClane to empowering him, and the reporter Samantha Coleman (Sheila McCarthy), who shifts from a bloodsucking journalist to the kind of noble reporter who refuses to film the reunion of the McClanes at the end of the film.
Die Hard 2 introduced the airport as a key trope in Christmas films
The first Die Hard gave us one of the most American Christmas settings imaginable: an office Christmas party on Christmas Eve, in which children are left at home with babysitters, corporate yes-men do cocaine in their offices, and last minute deals are closed before the stroke of midnight.
How to top this in the sequel? An airport, the place of holiday stress, comings-and-goings, and McClane’s mother-in-law’s car getting towed in the opening scene by an incompetent airport cop.
This wasn’t the first time an airport and air travel was used in a movie as a major plot device. But this was the first example I can find in which a Christmas film used an airport as a crucial settings. Not only did it introduce this trope, but it introduced a trope that would become a major player throughout the 1990s and into today, in tons of Christmas movies. Consider the Home Alone films, Nicholas Cage’s The Family Man, the Christmas rom-com The Holiday, and, of course, Love Actually.
The Love Actually opening monologue (delivered by an ever-smug Hugh Grant) contains the same level of optimism-triumphing-hate contained throughout Die Hard 2:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.
I wouldn’t mind if someone recut this into the closing monologue of Die Hard 2:
Not that John McClane would ever use so many words at once.
“I got a fuckin’ reindeer flying in here from the fuckin’ petting zoo.” – Captain Lorenzo
Okay, I don’t have a long explanation for how this line proves Die Hard 2 is the ultimate Christmas movie, as I think it speaks for itself.
So, Is Die Hard 2 a Christmas Movie?
Yes. Not only is Die Hard 2 a Christmas movie, but it’s more of a Christmas movie than its predecessor.
To finally bring the point home, please note that Die Hard 2: Die Harder has the same closing credits song as the original: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” The difference is that in the sequel, it’s snowing this time.
Update: Let’s Put it Through the “Is it a Christmas movie?” test
I first wrote this article in 2017, but in 2020 I unveiled my own set of metrics meant to determine whether or not a film is a Christmas movie. Here is the list of questions, along with answers meant to determine whether any film is or is not a Christmas movie—and the answers for Die Hard 2: Die Harder.
Before we get into the questions themselves, here’s how to grade it:
- Less than 60: Not a Christmas Movie Unless You’re Really Trying to Prove Some Kind of Point About Something
- 60-109 Points: Arguably a Christmas Movie
- 110-174 Points: Definitely A Christmas Movie
- 175+ Points: Entirely a Christmas Movie, to the Point Where It’s Weird to Watch it in During Other Parts of the Year
Now, let’s put Die Hard to my totally scientific and arbitrary Christmas movie test:
- Is Christmas literally in the title? (80 points) No.
- Does the title not include Christmas, but there is a direct allusion to Christmas in the title (i.e. Jingle All the Way) (60 points) No.
- Does the plot synopsis mention Christmas? (30 points) Surprisingly, usually no, it does not.
- Does the theme or plot of the film revolve around Christmas? (20) Yes.
- It has at least one scene relevant to Christmas itself. (20) Yes.
- Is there more than one scene set at Christmas? (10) Yes.
- Does at least 50% of the film take place during the Christmas season? (10) Yes.
- Does at least 90% of the film take place during the Christmas season (10) Yes.
- Was the film originally released during the Christmas season? (10) Yes.
- Does the film have a history of being played on television networks—or heavily promoted on streaming—during the Christmas season, thus cementing its association with Christmas? (15) Not really.
- Is there Christmas music on the soundtrack? (20) Yes.
- Does the film have various classic Christmas motifs in more than once scene, i.e. poinsettias, Christmas trees, and mistletoe? (20) Yes.
- Is the narrative family friendly? (5) In most families, no.
- Is there a redemption narrative? (5) Arguably.
- Does it seem weird to watch it during other parts of the year? (30) No.
- Do you feel a sense of obligation to watch it every Christmas season? (20) For most people, no.
- If you’re going to watch only one movie this Christmas, do you feel comfortable choosing this one? (20) Maybe? Depends on the year?
Die Hard 2 scores 125 points based on these questions, making it “Definitely A Christmas Movie”. But not to the point where it’s weird to watch it during other seasons (which should make Bruce Willis and others happy.)