I know I'm going to catch some flack for saying this, but Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever made. I should preface this by stating clearly that I do not go for the saccharine sentimentality of many so-called Christmas classics so naturally it would make sense that I would gravitate more towards something like this. And beyond the gunfights and explosions contained within, there is some genuine holiday spirit.
The film centers on New York cop John McClane who has traveled to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids. He arrives in LA on Christmas Eve and is met by a limo driver, Argyle (played by D'evereoux White) who takes him to meet his wife at her office Christmas party. Holly works as an executive for the Nakatomi corporation in their office high rise.
Unbeknownst to them, a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman in a star making performance), have set their sights on the building for a holiday heist of the 640 million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds they have locked in their vault. They take the party hostage and John manages to get away in the confusion.
From there, a battle starts between John and the terrorists. John uses his wits and everything he can get his hands on to win and rescue his wife. This proves to be extremely challenging for poor John as he takes quite beating in the process.
What truly makes this film memorable is how well it sets up it's characters, especially John McClane. There is an Everyman quality to him that makes him more relatable than the usual movie action hero. He's scared, tired and vulnerable, but yet he fights because he know he's the only one in any position to do so. Among the growing group of cops on the ground below, led by the stupidest police chief ever (played by Paul Gleason), he finds an ally in Al (played by Reginald Vel Johnson) who helps keep his spirits up through the crisis as the two talk over the radio.
The Holiday setting of Die Hard is not just arbitrary, but actually reinforces the themes of the film. This is most evident in the theme of renewing familial ties, as seen between John and Holly. Christmas runs throughout the film, from sights of decorated trees and garlands to taunting messages John leaves for the terrorists.
Both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman gave star making turns in this and they make perfect adversaries. Willis went on to reprise the role four more times. The film itself went on to inspire it's own sub genre known as "Die Hard on a..." with locations such as a bus (Speed), a Battleship (Under Siege), a plane (Passenger 57, Executive Decision and Air Force One), a train (Under Siege 2), and Alcatraz (The Rock).
But none quite matched the original Die Hard. It's a fantastically crafted thriller that just keeps winding itself up tighter and tighter until the end when all hell is breaking loose. For those interested in a little Holiday cheer but just can't take any more saccharine sentimentality, look no further.