Our writers duke it out in a Battle Royale for the title of the greatest ever Christmas film… (Warning: contains spoilers)
Why is it that the 1988 action film DIE HARD is played at Christmas so regularly that it’s now regarded more a Christmas classic than IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE?
Well for starters, it’s often considered the finest action film ever, with Bruce Willis’ iconic role as John McClane, an everyman New York cop who must fight the terrorists holding hostage to half a dozen innocent citizens. DIE HARD is also a perfect mixture of high octane action and great characters, particularly Alan Rickman as the wonderfully conniving lead terrorist Hans Gruber, as well as William Atherton as scrupulous reporter Richard Thornburg, and Reginald VelJohnson’s role as McClane’s buddy on the ‘outside’, Al Powell.
Set against the backdrop of what would be an enchanting Christmas Eve, frequent festive references are prevalent throughout, such as McClane’s not-so subtle disguise as Santa in order to taunt his nemesis, Hans Gruber. Additionally, when McClane, bloodied and broken, is finally reunited with his wife, we’re given a happy ending easily on par with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’s George Bailey returning home with a renewed zest for life; McClane, following his success in capturing the terrorists is reminded of the the things that are most important to him in life: his wife.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a long, sentimental story,which not only borders on schmaltz, but which also takes far too long getting to the film’s main plot rolling, as protagonist George’s life starts taking a turn for the worse.
Yet why watch a good-hearted fella make a forced U-turn into a reprobate when you can watch the more evocative elevator bomb sequence, or keep up to speed with Willis’ quick witted lines, or eve follow his jump from an exploding rooftop? Sure, you’ve seen terrorists killed in various, gruesome ways, but you’ve also seen a great action movie full of twists and turns whilst also feeling, surprising as it may sound, that warm Christmas glow as the limo drives off down the street from the flame-engulfed Nakatomi Plaza, burning like a Christmas tree.
It’s A Wonderful Life
Setting a film at Christmas does not make a Christmas film. If the bitter, cynical wisecracks of John McClane are a cold winter shower, then the warm, Southern drawl of George Bailey is a comforting, roaring fire. You can keep your DIE HARD this Christmas Eve; I’ll be watching Frank Capra’s seminal 1946 movie, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
Do-gooder George Bailey (James Stewart) suffers a crisis of faith towards the town he’s dedicated his life to helping. Losing his business and fearing a jail sentence, George feels the world will be better off without him. Standing on the edge of a snow coated overpass, George’s prayers for salvation are answered when he’s approached by his guardian angel Clarence, who takes George on a magical journey showing him just how the town would cope without him.
Without IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the Christmas film would not exist as we know it. Themes of family, friendship, redemption and the all-important ‘Christmas miracle’ are what make IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE a classic. It’s a film that makes you appreciative of what you have and a reminder that no matter how bad things get, “No man who has friends is a failure.” DIE HARD is a reminder that no matter how bad things get, “Killing is always a solution.”
The town of Bedford Falls is a mystical one, the blanketing snow covering the streets and rooftops is the perfect Christmas setting, especially when compared to the inside of an air duct. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE remains warming and inspirational. Over 50 years later, DIE HARD remains a cold, hard punch to the face. I know what I’d prefer this Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas, and happy trails.