It was a whopping thirty-five years ago when Die Hard burst onto the big screen and, today, it’s often hailed as one of the best action movies ever. This cinematic juggernaut dominated the box office in 1988 and catapulted Bruce Willis into the coveted realm of movie stardom. While some cherish the movie as a significant milestone in Willis’s illustrious career, others remain locked in a spirited debate over its holiday movie credentials. With the film recently marking its 35th anniversary, a fascinating fact may tip the scales in the ongoing discussion about its place in the Christmas movie pantheon.
The film exploded into cinemas more than three decades ago, on July 15th, to be exact. Yes, you read that correctly, July 15th. As reported by Fox News, it celebrated its anniversary a little over a month ago. Still, it has somehow become an integral part of holiday movie discussions, despite its summer birth and the Pulp Fiction actor claiming to “settle” the debate some years ago. In some ways, it’s still hard to believe it’s been so long since audiences were introduced to the storied franchise. The 35th anniversary of the film’s summer release date certainly won’t end the ongoing debate. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some fans reconsider their positions based on that release window.
Under the direction of John McTiernan, the high-octane movie features Bruce Willis in the role of John McClane, a New York City police officer thrust into an unforeseen battle. His mission: To rescue his estranged wife, Holly Gennaro McClane, portrayed by Bonnie Bedelia, along with her colleagues. Their perilous situation unfolds as a group of terrorists, masterminded by one of the best 80s movie villains, the formidable Hans Gruber. Played by the late legendary actor Alan Rickman, the terrorist and his goons seize control during an office Yultide celebration at the towering Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.
In terms of the debate surrounding it, those championing the film’s holiday movie status point to its Xmas setting and the inclusion of several festive songs on the soundtrack as compelling evidence. On the other side of the debate, adamant detractors highlight specific key points. They emphasize the film’s R-rating, the abundance of on-screen violence and bloodshed, and the notion that, while it carries holiday themes, Christmas isn’t the linchpin of the plot.
Following its initial release, the movie didn’t just make a splash—it created a cinematic tidal wave, setting the stage for not just one but four Die Hard sequels, some ranking better than others. Interestingly, the second installment, Die Hard 2, also maintained the holiday theme despite its July release date. Subsequent films in the franchise, however, steered away from the holiday season, embarking on a different narrative journey.
The debate surrounding the film’s holiday classification becomes even more complex when considering the director’s perspective. In a special 2020 interview with the American Film Institute, John McTiernan shed light on his rather unique inspiration for the blockbuster. He revealed that his entry point into the story of terrorists infiltrating a festive party in the heart of capitalism drew from none other than the legendary Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, you read that correctly—Jimmy Stewart’s timeless classic shaped Bruce Willis’s iconic franchise. And despite not being the original intention, McTiernan believes that the action classic has become a holiday film and should indeed be considered a delightful addition to your holiday season. He further explained:
Over the years, a chorus of voices, including John McTiernan, the film’s stars Bruce Willis, Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, and writers Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, have shared their thoughts on this subject. But, as you can see, no one can seem to agree like the fans.
Regardless of your stance in this discussion, whether you deem the movie a holiday classic due to its festive setting or a summer watch due to its July release, there’s one undeniable truth we can all rally behind: Die Hard is a badass movie that holds a special place in our hearts. So, feel free to celebrate its recent anniversary and its legacy as a whole in your own unique way.
For those itching to revisit the adventures of John McClane and his cohorts to celebrate its 35 anniversary, you’re in luck. The action-packed masterpiece is now available for streaming for anyone with a Hulu subscription.