Die Hard Director John McTiernan Reveals How the Action Film Became A Christmas Movie

Every year, without fail, the tired discussion of if Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is) begins [...]

Every year, without fail, the tired discussion of if Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is) begins to make the rounds. As if the film itself wasn't proof enough that the movie counts as being in the canon of Christmas movies, the director of the movie is here to break it all down and reveal the long and complicated reason why the movie became a Christmas classic before it was even released. Speaking in a video posted on the American Film Institute YouTube channel, John McTiernan presents a full thesis on how Die Hard became Die Hard, complete with a history lesson about painters.

"Joel Silver sent me the script three, four times," McTiernan said. "And it was about these horrible leftist terrorists that come into the sort of Valhalla of capitalism, Los Angeles, and they bring their guns and their evil ways and they shoot up people just celebrating Christmas, terrible people, awful. And it was really about the stern face of authority stepping into put things right again, you know? And I kept saying to Joel, I don't want to make that."

Rather than do a re-hash of Dirty Harry, which McTiernan doesn't name specifically but seems to indicate the original drafts were more heavily influenced by, the director came up with a plan for infusing it with Christmas by taking its cues from It's a Wonderful Life and the film's "Pottersville" sequence where "the evil banker gets to do what he wants in the community without George, Jimmy Stewart, getting in a way to stop it."

"So I went to Joel. And I said, 'Okay, if you want me to make this terrorist movie, I want to make it where the hero in the first scene when the limo driver apologizes that he's never been in a limo before. The hero says it's alright. I've never ridden in a limo before. Okay, working class hero. And Joel understood what I meant. And he said, Okay. And so we started to work on it....And in fact, everybody, as they came to work on the movie began to get, as I said, this idea of this movie as an escapee. And there was a joy in it. Because we were, we've had changed the content. And that is how Die Hard became, we hadn't intended it to be a Christmas movie, but the joy that came from it is what turned it in to a Christmas movie. And that's really the best I can tell you about it."

McTiernan's full explanation goes in some wild, wild places, and definitely requires viewing. You can find it in full in the player above, and stream it on HBO Max.