If John McTiernan says so, then it must be true.
The annual cultural debate over the merits of considering “Die Hard” a Christmas movie has returned, only this time director John McTiernan has stepped in to provide the tie-breaking vote. According to the veteran filmmaker, “Die Hard” is not only a Christmas movie, but it is also a Christmas movie that borrowed from the greatest Christmas movie of all time: “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
In a 12-minute video posted by the American Film Institute last week, McTiernan said that even though he never intended it to become a Christmas movie, “the joy that came from it is what turned it into a Christmas movie.” By McTiernan’s account, the original script followed the basic plot of the original book “Nothing Lasts Forever” almost exactly until he advised producer Joel Silver to change it.
“Joel Silver sent me the script three, four times. And it was about these horrible leftist terrorists that come into the sort of Valhalla of capitalism, Los Angeles, and they bring their guns and their evil ways and they shoot up people just celebrating Christmas, terrible people, awful. And it was really about the stern face of authority stepping into put things right again, you know? And I kept saying to Joel, I don’t want to make that,” he said.
McTiernan said he used “It’s A Wonderful Life” as a source of inspiration for the direction he wanted the movie to go, primarily its critique on unfettered capitalism.
“I went to Joel. And I said, ‘Okay, if you want me to make this terrorist movie, I want to make it where the hero in the first scene when the limo driver apologizes that he’s never been in a limo before,” he said. “The hero says it’s alright. I’ve never ridden in a limo before. Okay, working class hero.”
“And Joel understood what I meant. And he said okay. And so we started to work on it,” he continued. “And in fact, everybody, as they came to work on the movie began to get, as I said, this idea of this movie as an escapee. And there was a joy in it. Because we were, we’ve had changed the content. And that is how ‘Die Hard’ became, we hadn’t intended it to be a Christmas movie, but the joy that came from it is what turned it into a Christmas movie. And that’s really the best I can tell you about it.”
McTiernan even ended the video with a Christmas message of his own by warning about authoritarians.
“My hope at Christmas this year is that you will all remember that authoritarians are low-status, angry men who have gone to rich people and said, ‘If you give us power, we will make sure nobody takes your stuff.’ And their obsessions with guns and boots and uniforms and squad cars and all that stuff,” he noted. “And all those things you amass with power meant to scare us, meant to shut us up so we don’t kick them to the side of the road and decent people of the world get on with building a future.”
Despite Bruce Willis’ insistence to contrary, a poll from The Hollywood Reporter last year showed that a majority of audiences — 86% to 14% – consider “Die Hard” a Christmas movie and regularly feature it in their holiday programming.
Released in the summer of 1988, “Die Hard” grossed $139 million worldwide and solidified Bruce Willis as a bankable action star. The movie earned its place in cinematic history by launching what quickly became known as the “Die-On-A-Something” action movie, a popular staple in the 1990s. “Under Siege,” “Passenger 57,” “Executive Decision,” “Speed,” “Air Force One,” and so many others followed this trend.