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Is “Die Hard” a Christmas Movie? Cinematographer Convinced It’s a Holiday Classic

Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard' and Peter Billingsley in 'A Christmas Story.'. PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX/KOBAL/SHUTTERSTOCK; COURTESY EVERETT
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As a veteran holiday-movie star, Peter Billingsley, best known for his role as Ralphie in A Christmas Story, has his own take on whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas film. Despite the ongoing debate among fans and critics, Billingsley believes that the action-packed thriller set during the holiday season has become an unconventional yet beloved addition to the Christmas movie genre. With its unique blend of explosive action and festive elements, Die Hard continues to captivate audiences and spark spirited discussions about what truly defines a Christmas film.

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During an episode of the podcast A Cinematic Christmas Journey, the 52-year-old actor, renowned for his role in A Christmas Story and appearances in other holiday favorites like Elf and Four Christmases, engaged in a captivating discussion about everything related to Die Hard. Joined by the film’s cinematographer, Jan de Bont, the actor and co-host Steve Byrne delved into the intricacies of the iconic movie. Discover the art of crafting monster Christmas cookies while delighting in the timeless charm of classic Christmas movies.

“You know Jan de Bont’s work — he directed Twister and Speed,” Billingsley. “I had seen some quotes of him that he did not believe that Die Hard was a Christmas movie. He said, ‘I just don’t see it.’ So I said, ‘Would you mind if I try to convince you of why this is a Christmas movie? I know you made it. I know you’ve lived with it for a very long time, since 1988.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ ”  

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Although Die Hard came out in theaters during the summer of 1988, the film’s plot — about a New York City police detective played by Bruce Willis who gets caught up in a terrorist takeover of a Los Angeles skyscraper — takes place on Christmas Eve. 

“I think what sold [de Bont] is I said, ‘That relationship between John McClane and his estranged wife, they’re fractured, but by the end, they learn to forgive each other. There’s hope, there’s joy, and they’re going to go and have a great Christmas morning with their kids,” Billingsley says.

“Not to mention there’s Christmas songs, and they have the snow falling. In my opinion it is a Christmas movie,” he adds. 

Die Hard director John McTiernan agrees he mastermind behind “Die Hard,” aligns himself with the fans and critics who classify the film as a holiday classic. “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,” he told the American Film Institute in 2020. 

Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?
Jan de Bont, John McTiernan and Bruce Willis. 20TH CENTURY FOX/KOBAL/SHUTTERSTOCK 

However, at Comedy Central’s 2018 Roast of Bruce Willis the star finally weighed in on the Die Hard debate, three decades after the film’s release. “I did this roast for one reason and for one reason only, to settle something once and for all,” said Willis. “Now, please listen very carefully: Die Hard is not a Christmas movie! It’s a goddamn Bruce Willis movie.” 

Contrary to Willis’ opinion, Billingsley successfully persuaded de Bont to think differently.

“I went through my criterion,” Billingsley. ”And he said, ‘I’ve never thought about it that way.’ He said, ‘You have now convinced me it is a Christmas movie.’ And I was like, ‘Yes!’ So I was able to change a filmmaker’s mind, which was cool.”