How 'Die Hard' Became Indy's New Christmas Classic

It’s Christmas! Time to put up the tree, spike the eggnog, and hang the stockings. And to also rewatch that immortal holiday favorite, Die Hard. Yeah, you read right. Die Hard is now a Christmas movie.

You’re almost certainly familiar with the 1988 action classic, in which a not-yet-bald Bruce Willis (as New York cop John McClane) spends Christmas Eve exterminating Eurotrash terrorists barricaded inside an LA office building. But on the off chance that you’ve just come out of a decades-long, Captain America-style stay in suspended animation and haven’t yet caught what Empire Magazine called the 29th greatest movie of all time, the rest of us will take a knee while you get up to speed. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Now you understand the awesomeness that is Die Hard -- and perhaps have an inkling as to why so many Indy residents (and folks around the country) have made Bruce Willis’ breakout hit their new go-to Christmas flick. Now you too can catch Willis on silver screens around the city.

On Dec. 12 DH plays on the top floor of downtown’s Chase Tower, as part of the Indy Film Fest. Move fast if you want tickets, because it’s selling out quicker than that d-bag Harry Ellis did when he betrayed the other hostages. If you miss that showing, you’ve got two more shots on Dec. 17. Die Hard will be offered at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Toby Theater at 7 pm, and on exactly the same date and time in the Old National Centre’s Egyptian Room.

Why should you expend precious gift-wrapping or wreath-hanging time watching a film that seems to have about as much to do with Christmas as Jaws does with fishing? There are lots of reasons, all of which have been covered ad nauseum in a surprisingly large number of articles defending the Die Hard/Christmas connection. Most obviously, the film is packed as tight as a five-year-old’s stocking with yuletide jokes, and the soundtrack is pretty much all Christmas music.

But there’s something else. Something that reaches way beyond the carol-intensive soundtrack and the truly bizarre number of Christmas trees populating its sets (more about that in a moment) -- the hero’s journey.

All Christmas flicks, from the stuff currently showing wall-to-wall on the Hallmark Channel to It’s A Wonderful Life (the genre’s Citizen Kane), follow the same schmaltzy, pine-scented version of this literary narrative. In It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey gets a couple of tough breaks and wanders around feeling sorry for himself until (as in all Christmas movies, everywhere) he has a miraculous epiphany and realizes the importance of looking on the bright side and cherishing the things he has.
Which is fine. If you’re 80.

John McClane takes the same journey, starting out as a loner cop separated from his wife and kids. But then, a couple of hours and several firefights later, he develops a new appreciation for love, family, proper footwear and (we assume) the necessity of always packing your service weapon, even when off duty. He reaches the same place that Bailey did, only—and this is the important part—with about 90% less schmaltz and 110% more stunts, gunplay, and wisecracking.
In other words, Die Hard isn’t boring.

No wonder the film’s still selling out movie theaters almost 30 years after its original release.

If you can’t make any of those Indy big-screen dates, don’t despair. Just Netflix and chill. And if you screen Die Hard at home for your friends, there’s plenty of ways to make it even more fun. Turn it into a drinking game: every time you spot a Christmas tree in the background of a scene, do a shot. You could even gin up your own trivia quiz. For instance, who turned down the movie’s leading role before it was finally given to Willis? The answer is pretty much everybody, including Frank Sinatra, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds and Robert De Niro. Extra points: The role of uber terrorist Hans Gruber was turned down by Sam Neill.

So this holiday season, start a new Christmas tradition and put a little yippee-ki-yay in your yuletide. Oh, and don’t forget, Die Hard 2 also takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

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Sam Stall lives in Indianapolis with his son, James. He’ll be counting Christmas trees and carolling along with Bruce Willis this holiday season.