A pretty big ongoing online debate round about Christmas time is whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas film. For me personally, it just depends on your definition of ‘Christmas film’. If you classify ‘Christmas film’ as any film that is set at Christmas, then it is 100% a Christmas film. But if, like many, your ‘Christmas film’ definition requires some appearance of Santa, elves and Christmas magic, or at least a healthy dose of Christmas cheer, then it possibly won’t make your list.

I’m kind of somewhere inbetween, and to be honest I don’t really care. Each to their own. I just get a bit frustrated when people argue fiercely about something when they’re actually arguing about different things because they have different definitions of the term ‘Christmas movie’. It’s very subjective. Any film that I enjoy watching around Christmas time can be called a Christmas movie in my book. I will watch Die Hard in December, but I will also watch Die Hard at any time of the year. If you were to ask me what my favourite Christmas movies are I would probably lean more towards films that involve Santa, Christmas cheer, or are only normally watched at Christmas time. But that still doesn’t stop me watching Die Hard at Christmas time.

My nerdy brain was intrigued to have a quick closer look at how I subconsciously rank the ‘Christmas-ness’ of movies. I guess I kind of lump films into three levels of ‘Christmas-ness’.

Level 1 – Christmas Magic
These are the hardcore Christmas films that were released at Christmas, can only really be watched at Christmas, and actually have Christmas as the major plot premise. Santa, elves and reindeers will abound in these movies. When people say ‘Christmas movie’ these are what I normally think of.
ExamplesElf, Miracle on 34th St, Santa Claus: The Movie, The Christmas Chronicles, The Santa Clause, Santa Paws, Arthur Christmas etc

Level 2 – Christmas Cheer
The actual premise of these films is based around Christmas and/or they have a good dose of Christmas cheer. It would either be impossible to shoot these films at another time of year or they would certainly lose something. The majority of these films were released at Christmas time.
ExamplesHome Alone, Deck the Halls, Four Christmases, Jingle All The Way, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually, The Holiday,

Level 3 – Christmas Setting
These films just happen to be set at Christmas and the Christmas element doesn’t really affect anything. They could be set at any time of the year and it wouldn’t hugely affect the plot. Most of these were not released at Christmas time.
ExamplesDie Hard, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, Trading Places, Iron Man 3, Batman Returns, Rocky IV, Eyes Wide Shut, Edward Scissorhands, Look Who’s Talking Now, Brazil

It’s this Level 3 that normally starts the arguments. And it’s not just Die Hard that falls into this camp of course. There are several others as listed above.

But to look at Die Hard quickly, here are the sorts of totally valid arguments for and against it being a Christmas movie.


  • It takes place on Christmas Eve
  • There are Christmas decorations all over the place
  • His wife’s name is Holly
  • There are a few Christmas references throughout the film
  • There are two Christmas songs played in the movie – one right at the end of the movie
  • There is a Santa hat and a Ho-Ho-Ho joke


  • The film was originally released in July
  • The plot doesn’t rely on it being Christmas Eve. It’s a terrorist hijacking plot that could have taken place anytime (or perhaps on another national holiday when the building is quiet, like Thanksgiving or New Year’s)
  • The film can easily be watched at any time of the year
  • There is no Santa, elves or reindeer and not a lot of Christmas cheer

So it really can be argued either way and it just depends on your view of what a ‘Christmas movie is’. Like I said earlier, I happily watch Die Hard at any time of the year, but I would only watch Elf at Christmas. So that makes Elf more of a Christmas movie for me. But it doesn’t mean that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie. What I tend to do is watch the Level 3 Christmas films at the start of December, move onto Level 2 during the middle of December and then watch all the Level 1 Christmas Magic films involving Santa in the final week and on Christmas Eve. That’s what works for me. Ramping up the ‘Christmas-ness’ throughout December! But I know the whole holiday of Christmas means very different things to different people, so each to their own.

But, in the interest of seeing just how Christmassy some of these Level 3 movies are, this past week I’ve rewatched the main contenders and made a note of every Christmas reference in them, because why not?

Lethal Weapon
(Released in March)

  • Intro music – Jingle Bell Rock – I love that this movie kicks off right away with one of my favourite Christmas songs. Perfect start.
  • Another Christmas song at the end – uncredited and I didn’t recognise it
  • Cocaine raid at the Christmas tree farm
  • Bugs bunny Christmas cartoon says Merry Christmas
  • Police are practising carol singing in at least one scene
  • Christmas decorations on houses and in police station and bank etc
  • Santa hat on hot dog guy
  • Hunsaker is drinking Egg Nog when he gets shot
  • Lots of view of the Christmas tree in Murtaugh’s house
  • A Christmas Carol appears on the TV and Mr Joshua shouts “It’s damn Christmas”
  • “Merry Christmas” is said as a greeting in different scenes 5 times I believe


Die Hard
(Released in July)

  • It all takes place on Christmas Eve
  • Mulled wine and Scrooge are mentioned right at the start
  • Holly’s name is Holly
  • Holly tells her daughter “We’ll see what Santa and mummy can do”
  • The setting is a Christmas party
  • “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC plays in Argyle’s car
  • McClain whistles Christmas tune
  • Reference about Japan not celebrating Christmas
  • This one might be a stretch but to me the score sounds ever so slightly like ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, when the bad guys arrive in the building. It’s almost the only bit where the score isn’t a variation of ‘Ode to Joy’
  • Santa hat on bad guy with the message “Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho”
  • Al Powell singing Christmas tunes whilst buying Twinkies
  • Techy guy makes up a new version of “Twas the night before Christmas…”
  • Hans says “It’s Christmas, it’s the time for miracles”
  • Christmas Eve mentioned when they are about to shut down 10 square blocks of electricity
  • “Merry Christmas” said when the safe opens
  • Argyle at the end says “If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s.”
  • Outro song – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
  • “Merry Christmas” is said as a greeting in different scenes 4 times I believe


(Released in June)

  • Title sequence has ‘Christmas (Baby please come home)’. Great song
  • The dad mentions he has to buy his son something for Christmas
  • There are Christmas decorations everywhere in this movie
  • There is snow everywhere in this movie
  • Mrs Beagle is carrying a big snowman head into the bank
  • “But Mrs Beagle it’s Christmas!”
  • Scene in a Christmas tree lot
  • ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is on the TV
  • Santa hat on Gizmo
  • Carol singing
  • After the Gremlins hatch they put on “Do you hear what I hear” by Johnny Mathis on the record player. Great scene
  • Local doctor is decorating his tree
  • Radio DJ saying “ Hey kid it’s Christmas not Halloween!”
  • Kate talks about how she hates Christmas and gives one big ass Santa spoiler!
  • ‘Silent Night’ is playing in the toy shop
  • Announcement plays over the PA in the toy shop about Santa coming to the store
  • Very Christmassy living room at the end and a beatiful snow covered matte painting as the final shot
  • “Merry Christmas” is said as a greeting in different scenes 2 times I believe


Trading Places
(Released in June)

  • Merry Christmas sign is up in the benefits office at the beginning
  • Santa outside Dukes building
  • Christmas tree and decorations in Dukes building
  • Christmas trees in the park
  • Christmas tree and decorations in Winthorpe’s home
  • The bar has ‘Xmas’ sprayed on the mirror
  • Santa poster and decorations in Jamie Lee Curtis’s apartment
  • Billy Ray says pork belly prices are falling because it’s Christmas
  • One of the Dukes (I think) says “Nobody works on Christmas Eve”
  • Winthorpe says “I’ll give him a Christmas he’ll never forget!”
  • Christmas party with Winthorpe as drunk santa
  • Someone says “Egg nogg?”
  • “Merry Christmas” is said as a greeting in different scenes 5 times I believe (and a “Merry New Year” too!)

Die Hard 2
(Release in June)

  • It’s snowing
  • It’s Christmas week
  • Big Christmas tree in the airport
  • ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ is playing at the airport
  • Captain Lorenzo talks about how he can’t shut down the airport during Christmas week and he’s got a reindeer from the petting zoo coming through the airport
  • McClane makes his little speech about “Just once I’d like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a f***ing Christmas tree, a little turkey…”
  • Outro song – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow (same as the first movie)
  • “Merry Christmas” is said as a greeting in different scenes 2 times I believe

Iron Man 3

  • Tony plays ‘Jingle Bells’ in his workshop
  • Christmas Decorations in several places
  • Holiday greeting to the Mandarin from Tony Stark
  • ‘It’s Christmas Time’ song playing in bar
  • Christmas morning is mentioned in one of Mandarin’s messages
  • The Vice President is having a Christmas dinner round the Christmas tree etc
  • There’s a guy wearing Santa hat on Air Force One
  • Lots of Christmas lights near the end of the film on the ship when Pepper uses the armour arm
  • Tony says “Screw it, it’s Christmas” before destroying his suits
  • Tony’s final narrative continues… “And so as Christmas morning began…”

Here are some interesting links I spotted between all of these movies.

  • Mary Ellen Trainor is in Lethal Weapon and Die Hard
  • Al Leong is in Lethal Weapon and Die Hard
  • Paul Gleason is in Die Hard and Trading Places
  • William Sadler is in Die Hard 2 and Iron Man 3
  • Lethal Weapon 2 (not a Christmas film) is referenced in Die Hard 2
  • Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon and Iron Man 3

I like a good ranking of course, so if I had to rank these ‘alternative’ Christmas movies, here is how I list them. This is a combination of how much I enjoy them combined with how Christmassy they are. If I was just ranking them as movies the ranking might be slightly different. But this is my December viewing ranking.

10. Brazil
Not exactly a cheery film but quite a few Christmas references.
9. Iron Man 3
God bless Shane Black for adding some Christmas-ness to the Marvel-verse
8. Rocky IV
Lots of snow, and the fight takes place on Christmas Day? Who would attend that? Great film though
7. Look Who’s Talking Now
A dog isn’t just for Christmas. But a talking dog? Hmm.
6. Batman Returns
Loads of Christmas stuff in this movie
5. Die Hard 2
Not a tonne of Christmas references to be honest but it’s got enough and it’s a great film
4. Gremlins
This one probably has the most Christmas references of the whole lot actually. But the ‘horror’ aspect gets it pushed down to no.4
3. Trading Places
A heart-warming story, a drunk Santa, it feels cold in New York and they say Merry Christmas a lot. I love this film so much
2. Lethal Weapon
More Christmas references in this movie than people remember. They say Merry Christmas a lot too. And it’s one of my favourite films.
1. Die Hard
If we weren’t taking into account the Christmas-ness I would probably rank Lethal Weapon above Die Hard. Both great films though. But as Die Hard actually takes place on Christmas Eve it edges it for me.

And to close, if you do have doubt (like I sometimes do) whether or not Die Hard is a true ‘Christmas movie’, check out this great spoof trailer (thanks to Last Exit to Nowhere for the link).