“Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”
In the words of the legendary Paul McCartney, “The mood is right, the spirit’s up; We’re here tonight and that’s enough; Simply having a wonderful Christmastime.” Welcome to the fourth edition of The Movie Watcher’s Club, a Holyfield monthly series where our staff discusses their favorite films. Last month, we discussed our favorite movie sequels. This month, we are being cliche (again) and discussing Christmas movies.
However, we decided to add a twist to this edition, asking the oh so important holiday question: is Die Hard a Christmas movie? That’s right, not only are the writers and I discussing our favorite Christmas movies, we are discussing Die Hard, the greatest action movie of all time (don’t @ me). And quite frankly, you’re going to be in for a surprise with some of the answers.
The formula for a good Christmas film is quite simple:
(Family dynamics × Nostalgia) ÷ “The true meaning of Christmas is…” = Perfect Christmas film
Of course, you need the right amounts of each in order for the formula to work. The movies on this list 100% fulfill the requirements needed; they are must-watch films. And I know this is going to sound crazy, but Christmas is less than three weeks away! So, if you haven’t watched the movies on this list, you better, since I’m checking it twice to find out who’s naughty or nice. Without further ado, let’s get into our movie choices!
The Santa Clause (1994)
Director: John Pasquin
Writers: Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick
Stars: Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson
The Santa Clause is the kind of holiday romp that warms my heart with Christmas spirit year after year. Tim Allen in the lead role was perfectly cast; a down on his luck, but lovable goofball thrust into action on the most hectic night of the year. It’s got big laughs, outstanding pacing, and the kind of cheerful climax any worthwhile family comedy should.
While the film’s successors, particularly the off the rails third installment, didn’t quite live up to its high bar, The Santa Clause remains essential holiday viewing 23 years later.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: David Berenbaum
Stars: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart
The most recent of classic Christmas movies, Elf stars Will Ferrell, who plays Buddy, a human being who mistakenly hitches a ride with Santa as a baby, and is raised at the North Pole by elves. Buddy is returning to his biological father, played by James Caan, after he outgrows his surroundings — literally and figuratively. The concept seems crazy, suspect at best, but the innocence of Buddy exploring a brand new life in New York City after his upbringing, delivers so well on the comedic scale. That innocence is also juxtaposed to all of the other characters, especially his father, a workaholic publisher who doesn’t exactly scream Christmas cheer like Buddy does. Or maybe he just isn’t very welcoming to a grown man in yellow tights and a green jacket acting child-like.
Sure, you may question why Buddy’s step-mother welcomes him so easily, or how Buddy finds love in Zooey Deschanel’s Jovie character so quickly. At the heart of the movie and the character, though, is his charm and infectious ability to spread happiness. After all, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.”
The movie is chalk-full of memorable quotes. It changes the way you hear the name Francisco, your understanding of the four major food groups, and the way you answer the phone. Sprinkle in a hugely memorable interaction with Peter Dinklage’s character, who Buddy mistakes for an elf, and you have a classic. To those who don’t have Elf on their top Christmas movies of all time, “you sit on a throne of lies!”
A Christmas Story (1983)
Director: Bob Clark
Writers: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, Bob Clark
Stars: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin
Everyone knows the set-up: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
Everyone knows the punchline: “I shot my eye out!”
A Christmas Story has become ingrained in our holiday rituals. After the breakfast, after the presents, somewhere in between your uncle’s third and fourth glass of wine, A Christmas Story winds up on TV. It’s become a part of Christmas. Does anyone think of this film any other day of the year? Doubtful. It’s not particularly memorable in another other way but its undeniable charm. That’s part of the film’s impressive success. Never relevant for 364 days of the year but it has a guaranteed spotlight for one day a year, every year. Do I want to watch A Christmas Story this Christmas? No. But, much like Christmas music, eating stuffing, and explaining racism to your grandmother, it’s not about what you want. It’s the holiday. It’s about tradition and familial rituals. More-so than any other holiday film, A Christmas Story is a part of that ritual.
Love Actually (2003)
Director: Richard Curtis
Writer: Richard Curtis
Stars: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson
“Love is All Around” was hit song from everyone’s second favorite (behind some guys from Liverpool) mid 60’s English rock band The Troggs. It’s also the central theme behind Richard Curtis’ 2003 romantic comedy hit and my favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually.
The film centers on a dozen characters, each weaving their way into one another’s hearts (in some very funny ways) throughout the course of 6 weeks leading up to a very entertaining Christmas Eve. The cast is star-studded and headlined by the likes of Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, and a relative unknown at the time (and my future celebrity crush), Keira Knightley. Basically, if you were a high profile British actor or an up and comer back in 2003, you were cast in this film.
The film is so effective because we care about the characters and what happens to them. Yes, at times it can be a bit over the top and melodramatic, but who cares — so is love. When you fall in love, it’s almost as if you’re intoxicated 24/7 and not in an alcoholic sense, but sense grounded in reality. This film lives a lot in that world and that’s what makes it so wonderful.
Curtis, who is well known for his penchant towards this genre — Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, About Time, Bridget Jones Diary — once again crafts a film with humor, sadness, love, grief, longing and above all else… heart.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Director: Bill Melendez
Writer: Charles M. Schulz
Stars: Ann Altieri, Chris Doran, Sally Dryer
People often remember a few great details about the classic TV special that has played every year for the past half decade: a half-wilted Christmas tree, Snoopy dancing, and of course that irresistible jazz soundtrack that has just become synonymous with every childhood holiday memory. It’s a classic and for good very good reasons.
But a lot of that is just childhood dazzlings. I would watch Charlie Brown and the gang dance and laugh every Christmas for years. I loved Peanuts. I’ve always had a special attachment to the friends. I even played Snoopy in a musical in high school. But going back to rewatch the special with adult eyes brought a whole new sense of wonder to it when I realized a very crucial element of the story we hardly ever talk about: Charlie Brown clearly has depression.
I’m not saying that to bring some unnecessary edge or ruin a childhood cartoon. It’s actually blatantly stated at the top of the film. Charlie Brown trudges through the snow with Linus as a look of dread on his face the entire time. When they reach their iconic brick fence, Charlie finally says, “I think there’s something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” He starts listing things he LIKES but he’s still not happy. Here in lies the forever struggle with depression.
Once you know these things, other stuff starts making sense. Charlie slams the commercialism of Christmas throughout the film, sees a literal child psychologist, and leans on his friends. The kids let him direct the Christmas play in a show of solidarity but eventually heckle him for getting a lousy tree. The tree eventually standing as a metaphor for not just Charlie’s Christmas experience but serving as a metaphor for the fragility of a depressed mind.
The film ends with Linus giving a speech about Christ being the reason for the season as if to show Charlie Brown that he’s right, Christmas shouldn’t be commercial, but Charlie merely uses the pep talk as a motivator to love his little tree anyway. Jesus doesn’t get another mention until the kids all sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” but they do this AFTER they rally around and fix up the tree. It’s actually a beautiful gesture and shows the innocence of kids. Brown’s depression isn’t magically cured, though. He ends the show with a very hesitant smile, but his friends love, include, and take care of him anyway.
THAT’S the Holiday spirit. Take care of others. Your motivations could be religious or just doing nice things for the sake of doing them, but may we all remember that some people suffer harder than ever during this time of year and now is the time to decorate their wilting tree.
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
Directors: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Writers: William J. Keenan, Phyllis McGinley
Stars: Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn
Nothing about The Year Without A Santa Claus necessarily vaults it into best Christmas movie contention. There’s no Hallmark ugly-cry moment. There are no National Lampoon classic gags. There’s puppets and some really questionably designed ones at that. But what makes TYWSC (It’s a long title, okay?) so significant is that like its puppet counterparts Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, it’s held a strong niche in the market even as millions more Christmas movies are churned out every year.
The movie first circulated on ABC in 1974, and yet as someone born 23 years later, I still know nearly all the words to the Heat Miser and Snow Miser anthems. That’s true staying power. The songs are classics, and the stop-motion animation is Christmas quaintness at its absolute peak. While Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming may have a more classic soundtrack, it’s hard to beat the creativity and uniqueness of The Year Without a Santa Claus.
Home Alone (1990)
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: John Hughes
Stars: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern
My family never celebrated Christmas in the traditional manner. We didn’t get presents; we didn’t have a big family reunion; hell, we rarely even put up a Christmas tree. The one thing we did do, though, was watch holiday movies. One of the few holiday movies that’s stuck to my yearly holiday movie rotation is Home Alone.
Child star Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a boy who’s accidentally left at home as his family goes on vacation for the holidays. From the excitement of being home alone to the boredom of having no one to talk to, Kevin shows all the emotions that I always imagined as a child I’d feel if I were ever in the same situation.
What makes Home Alone one of my all-time favorite holiday movies are the traps Kevin sets around the house to protect the house of the two somehow lovable thieves played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. It was every child’s dream to be Kevin, not just because of the “home alone” fantasy, but we all wanted to be as smart as he was. We admired how he turned action figures and Christmas decorations into harmful traps to catch the thieves. Simply put, he was every child’s hero.
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)
Directors: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Writer: Romeo Muller
Stars: Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn
Trying to select my favorite Christmas stop-motion movie is like trying to pick which one of my cats is my favorite. It’s a tough choice. I love The Year Without a Santa Claus because of the Heat Miser and Cold Miser. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it’s excellent sequel Rudolph’s Shiny New Year are legit. No child wants to play with a Charlie-In-A-Box, but he’s the greatest misfit toy of the bunch. These movies and characters are simply iconic.
But of that group, the one that shines brightest is Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. It’s like Batman: Year One, but with Santa Claus, a penguin who someone got lost from the South Pole, and the freakin’ Burgermeister Meisterburger! We should probably change the name to Santa Claus: Year One and have 1980s Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli write and illustrate it. Now that would be an epic graphic novel.
Though I digress and joke, the movie is about Santa’s first year on the job and the origins of Christmas as we know it today. We also get to see how Kris Kringle meets Jessica, aka Mrs. Claus, but that’s a subplot. Similar to Batman, the main plot of the movie focuses on Kris attempting to circumvent the “no toy” laws of Sombertown established by the aforementioned despot Burgermeister Meisterburger. Santa succeeds in delegitimizing Meisterburger’s authority and rids the town of its toy laws, allowing all the children to receive toys once a year.
This is a must watch for those who not only love Christmas movies, but also origin stories.
Some pretty great films, aren’t they? Like always, don’t forget to check out the Holyfield Letterboxd account to see this list and others we have done. But I’m 95% certain you guys want to hear our thoughts on 1988 Christmas classic Die Hard. Or is it a Christmas classic? Let’s find out!
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? While I run the risk of having my position at Holyfield immediately terminated following this submission, honesty has got the best of me: I’ve never seen it. That being said, for the sake of impacting the vote and feeling like a part of the family, I’ll say yes with almost no confidence.
Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The movie, amongst its intense action, centers on John McClane attempting to make it home for Christmas Eve. There have been plenty of other holiday movies centering around that same goal, just because those others are more wholesome and less action-heavy, doesn’t disqualify Die Hard. Very Jingle All the Way-like. Not only one element of a classic holiday movie recipe, but Die Hard also includes the typical villain trying to thwart holiday plans for the movie’s characters. Very How the Grinch Stole Christmas-esque.
Also, never mind that John’s wife is Holly, or that the script makes constant references to Christmas, the soundtrack is jam-packed with Christmas songs. A movie that features the Run-DMC classic, “Christmas in Hollis,” should be considered a Christmas movie.
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? How do we even define Christmas movies? Is it as simple as being a film set during Christmas? A film that’s actually about Christmas? Or is it a film made to be consumed only on or around Christmas? I’m not a scientist, I don’t have all the answers to these questions — but I have some. Die Hard feels nostalgic. There is a comfort in its familiarity. When I think of Die Hard, I think of getting the first three movies on Christmas Day. I think of curling up in a blanket, with a heater under the blanket, and watching Bruce Willis blow things up. Isn’t that what Christmas is really about in the end? Coming together to watch it all get blown up. It’s absolutely a Christmas movie.
Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas movie. The holiday season is not complete without John McClane battling it out against Hans Gruber and his band of angry German elves on Christmas Eve at Nakatomi Plaza. While many people continue to deny the films its place amongst Christmas movies, the facts are there.
- The film literally takes place on Christmas Eve DURING a Christmas Party.
- John McClane is basically Santa Claus. He brings many “presents” to the angry German elves.
- “Ho ho ho” is included in one of the best scenes in the film.
- If the reasons above weren’t enough, “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC is played in the movie.
I think the better question is how is Die Hard not a Christmas film?
We have to establish a very clear line here: is the fact that Die Hard happens during the holidays a central element of the plot? Is the hero trying to save Christmas or Los Angeles? Is Gruber a Grinch or just a bad dude doing bad dude things at Christmas time? Would this story make sense if it happened on a different holiday or even just any old day? These are the makings of the tried and true Christmas movie.
Die Hard happens DURING Christmas. It’s a setting, not a plot or conflict. Rudolf saves Christmas. Jingle All The Way has a father trying to create a good Christmas. Christmas with the Kranks is about avoiding Christmas. The holiday prevents conflict. Die Hard doesn’t need Christmas for the plot to work. Die Hard could happen on Arbor Day and you’d be just as gripped. Thus: Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. Merely a movie that happens during the holidays. Like Gremlins.
Die Hard is a Christmas movie in the same way that Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a movie about Thanksgiving. Christmas events provide a very striking juxtaposition against the brutality of what’s happening on screen. It also provides the agency for John McClane to even be Los Angeles. Again, like Planes, Christmas is more of an intro and outro to an otherwise-unrelated film. Still, it contains some important motifs that resurface in Christmas movies.
- Money isn’t everything, even though some characters are very desperate for it
- No marriage is beyond saving if you can make it to Christmas
- Crazy things happen on the rooftops Christmas night.
I rest my case.
What makes Die Hard a great holiday movie? I wouldn’t know; I haven’t seen it.
The central argument for Die Hard being a Christmas movie hinges primarily on the fact that it happens on Christmas Eve during a Christmas party. Yes, there are some Christmas jokes, but here is the main question: how does Christmas serve the plot? It doesn’t. And because of that, Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie in the slightest. It’s only recognized as one now because people have taken the meme seriously.
What happens if the events of Die Hard took place on, say, Easter or Grandparents Day? Does simply occurring on a holiday make it a (insert holiday) film? I don’t believe so. There are specific qualities consistent in what we define as “Christmas movies.” We don’t say that any of the Harry Potter films are “Christmas movies” since there is at least one Christmas scene that happens in each movie. Why? Because the holiday isn’t driving or at least helping to drive the central plot. Therefore, Die Hard doesn’t fit the bill.
I don’t know what’s more shocking: two staffers never watching Die Hard (beyond shameful) or that there are dissenting opinions on Die Hard? It’s tough to say. And no matter what your thoughts on the action classic are, don’t forget to watch all the Christmas films mentioned, including Die Hard, and stay tuned for next month’s list. It’s going to be a doozy.