The Best Non-Traditional Christmas Movie: "Die Hard"

What would the holidays be without John McClane and his trusty Beretta 9mm?

UPDATE 12/14/18

Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, meaning, hopefully, your job is nice enough to give you Christmas Eve off so you can have an extra long weekend—which could mean that in the midst of all that holiday stuff that needs doing, you might get some couch time with your favorite Christmas movies.

Since we did this post on Die Hard being a holiday movie, it kind of became a thing on the Internet, as many people from the right generation realized they consider it a Christmas Movie, if an unconventional one. Other are vehemently opposed to this characterization, saying that Die Hard is just an action movie that happens to take place at Christmas, and does not belong in the same category as say Miracle on 34th Street.

One could also argue that a movie about a guy named George Bailey, his childhood, his education, marriage, and life events with the last 30 minutes taking place on Christmas Eve does not a "Christmas Movie" make either. But just try to pry that tradition away from some people.

Regardless, Die Hard is on our holiday watch list. So make up a hot toddy, curl up on the couch with the tree lights glowing, and get reacquainted with your favorite surly detective.

It's always nice when the Christmas holiday falls on a Friday. The long weekend might even mean that in the midst of family visits, presents, running to the range to try out those presents, and everything else the season brings, you might actually get some time to chill on the couch with some nog and watch a few Christmas movies.

There are the old staples: "It's A Wonderful Life," "Miracle on 34th Street," or one of the dozens of adaptations of "A Christmas Carol," but a lot of people like less-traditional Christmas movies, often with a little bang-bang in the mix. You'll find lists of them online and one such movie, or its direct sequel, end up on nearly every one: "Die Hard."

John McClane firing his Beretta 92F in the original *Die Hard*.
John McClane firing his Beretta 92F in the original Die Hard.web photo

Hard-as-nails New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) comes out to L.A. on Christmas Eve to see his family after his wife Holly had taken a great job at Nakatomi Tower and took the kids with her, but stubborn John wouldn't leave New York.

Just as they reunite and get into a solid argument, the company holiday party is crashed by Hans Gruber and his gang of thieves posing as terrorists, leaving McClane to foil their plans from the inside with nothing but his wits, his pants, and his Beretta. Seriously, he’s rocking a tank-top and bare feet through most of this movie.

Newer poster art for the original movie, prominently featuring McClane's Beretta.
Newer poster art for the original movie, prominently featuring McClane's Beretta.web photo

McClane wears a Galco leather shoulder rig with a magazine carrier and a holster for his Beretta 92F, which in 1988 was a state-of-the-art 9mm handgun that had just been adopted by the U.S. Military to replace the M1911 two years before. In fact, Die Hard was one of the first American movies to ever feature the Beretta 92F, before it became a go-to handgun for Hollywood and shooters everywhere.

Plot spoiler ahead (as if you haven't seen it): McClane carries it all the way through the film, right until the final shot is fired (it’s literally his last round) and the last bad guy goes down—in this case, way down— with the classic and often-spoofed Beretta-taped-behind-the-back trick to save his wife and the day. “Happy trails, Hans!”

The screen-used Beretta was actually modified with an extended slide release that made it easier for Bruce Willis to operate left-handed.

Incidentally, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) carries an interesting little pistol, a Heckler & Koch P7M13 in 9mm. The compact gun holds 13 rounds in a double-stack magazine, and a distinctive grip that acted as a cocking lever, requiring it to be squeezed to fire, acting like a backward 1911-style grip safety.

The first Die Hard is an oddity. It was a wholly original idea for an action movie when it was released, and blended a holiday atmosphere with gunplay in a way that somehow feels natural. The entire movie incorporates holiday songs into the soundtrack and the score includes little touches like the chimes of sleigh bells worked into the score.

Plus, who can forget the first terrorist McClane takes out being decorated with a Santa hat and "Now I Have a Machine Gun. Ho. Ho. Ho." written on his sweatshirt in red marker? In case you want a post-Christmas present to yourself, you can buy that sweatshirt, as a hoodie.

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) carries a compact Heckler & Koch P7M13 pistol threaded for a suppressor.
Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) carries a compact Heckler & Koch P7M13 pistol threaded for a suppressor.web photo
The Heckler & Koch P7M13 has a distinctive cocking lever built into the front of the grip.
The Heckler & Koch P7M13 has a distinctive cocking lever built into the front of the grip.web photo

With film producers firmly adhering to the sequel rule of “make it the same as the first one, but different,” "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" saw McClane return, this time with the slightly updated Beretta 92FS and without an extended slide-release this time, but a reversed magazine-release button, and fighting terrorists at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. with his wife in one of the planes being held hostage.

The Beretta 92FS used in "Lethal Weapon 2" as well as four installments of the Die Hard film series, starting with "Die Hard 2: Die Harder."
The Beretta 92FS used in "Lethal Weapon 2" as well as four installments of the Die Hard film series, starting with "Die Hard 2: Die Harder."web photo

Another 80s action-movie staple that took place during the Christmas season actually beat Die Hard to the punch in featuring the Beretta 92F, and that was "Lethal Weapon," (1987) in which Sgt. Martin Riggs of the LAPD famously carried the modern high-capacity 9mm, while his partner still carried a six-gun. (The idea of blending Christmas and action in the 1980s could be credited first to Sylvester Stallone's "Cobra" (1986), at least for introducing Los Angeles during the holidays as a backdrop for an action movie.)

Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs in "Lethal Weapon" (1987).
Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs in "Lethal Weapon" (1987).web photo

For "Lethal Weapon 2," Riggs also switched to a Beretta 92FS. Oddly enough, that same gun was used for the filming of Die Hard 2, which also takes place at Christmas, as well as the subsequent four films in the Die Hard series, along with numerous other movies and TV shows.

The original Lethal Weapon has another similarity with Die Hard, in that it also uses the juxtaposition of the holidays season with action. Bobby Helms' old-school version of "Jingle Bell Rock" plays over the opening credits, which are a slow fly-by of downtown Los Angeles.

Plus, there's a gunfight in a Christmas tree lot and lots of classic Christmas specials on TVs and holiday songs playing in the background.

In "Die Hard 2: Die Harder," John McClane (Bruce Willis) reloads his Beretta 92FS, as the extremely fake Christmas snow falls around him.
In "Die Hard 2: Die Harder," John McClane (Bruce Willis) reloads his Beretta 92FS, as the extremely fake Christmas snow falls around him.web photo

So as you settle in for a respite from the holiday madness, head out to the coast, get together with friends and family, have a few laughs—and remember, at least you’re not crawling around in a ventilation duct.

"Just once, I'd like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a $%#n' Christmas tree, a little turkey. But no. I gotta crawl around in this m&$#&(%n' tin can." —John McClane.

Happy Holidays!

BONUS:

Check out the always hilarious PG13 dub of Die Hard 2. "Yippee ki yay, Mister Falcon!"