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Is “Die Hard” a Xmas Movie? The Story and the Definitive Answer!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 9, 2022 3:02 am

Is “Die Hard” a Xmas Movie? The Story and the Definitive Answer!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 9, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, here to settle this question once and for all is Stephen Follows. Stephen is an established data researcher in the film industry and wrote the widely circulated answer to this hotly debated question on his website,

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Visit or our stores for details. Terms and restrictions may apply. And we continue with Our American Stories and we're bringing Christmas stories around the Christmas season because that's what we do. We all have our favorite movies to cuddle up with at Christmas time from It's a Wonderful Life to Miracle on 34th Street. But for many people, Die Hard is one such film that makes the festive playlist.

But is it actually a Christmas movie? Here to settle this question once and for all is Stephen Follows. Stephen is an established data researcher in the film industry and wrote the widely circulated answer to this hotly debated question on his website, Here's Stephen with the story of how he came up with a definitive answer.

Hi, my name is Stephen Follows and I am a film data analyst. Every week I do a new bit of research into the film industry and sometimes it's sort of very crunchy and other times it's kind of lighter and fun and, you know, we've tested different types of popcorn in different theater chains and discovered who's got the same supplier and, you know, all sorts of fun, interesting, strange things. And so a few years ago I was talking to some students and I was trying to get them to engage with the idea of what a movie is and in doing so I stumbled upon an argument that I did not expect to be quite as visceral as it turned out to be. I asked them whether they thought Die Hard was a Christmas movie or not. That's it.

That's the question. That was the simple question that I asked them and I thought it would be a quick entry point and honestly it took the entire day because there was about 30 students and they all started throwing in questions and obviously it is a Christmas movie, obviously it's not a Christmas movie and so I ended up splitting them into different groups, they did different bits of research and at the end of that day we had a fairly satisfying answer and so then I went home and that next week I did some more data research, I got a bit further into it and I wrote it up as a blog article thinking okay well this is a fun exploration of movies and a nice thing to do at Christmas. Since then the question has become a bigger and bigger cultural moment and also my article which I think is the one that people, I don't think anyone's got into more detail than I have, that's not necessarily a good thing for me but certainly I think I have the most comprehensive data exploration of the question and so that's what I wanted to share with you today was what I did to try and answer this question and what the data tells us and then at the end we can properly answer is Die Hard a Christmas movie or not. So the first thing to clear up is what is Die Hard? Well I'm not going to go into too much detail but essentially it is an action thriller from 1988 which I highly recommend it's a terrific film Christmas or no and it's about a grizzled New York cop becomes a one-man army to take on a group of German bank robbers who are holding the cop's wife and her unlucky colleagues hostage in a high-rise building. The film takes place at Christmas and has Christmassy bits but as we'll see this is it's right on the biting point of is it Christmassy enough but it certainly happens at Christmas and there's a Christmas party in it. Interestingly the plot of the movie comes from a book called Nothing Lasts Forever which is itself a sequel to another book called The Detective and in 1968 there was a movie adaptation of The Detective starring Frank Sinatra. Still using the junk huh?

She's a pusher, she's an addict and she's 19 years old. This town's crawling with kids the same age all going the same route part of the great society. So bizarrely when the production team came to make Die Hard they contractually had to offer the main role of Die Hard to a 73 year old Frank Sinatra. Fortunately for us he turned it down and so the role of John Mcbain went to Bruce Willis and it became one of his defining action films and arguably one of the defining action films of the genre. So loads of people love Die Hard it's a very fun movie, it's got great action, it's got some wit, some charm, it's got some great set pieces and all in all it's just one of those movies that really came together and also helped define a genre because it was sort of late 80s leading into the 90s of one of those huge explosion heavy action films and it's just it's just great fun. This is very kind of you. It's also got Alan Rickman doing a fantastic turn and loads of secondary characters that are interesting it's a it's a fun watch.

So let's start with creative. If we go into the script and we just simply have a look at the how many times the word Christmas appears then it appears 18 times in a script. Well is that a lot?

Is that not a lot? Let's compare it to other words so explode only appears four times, die five times, hard eleven times, shoot twelve, kill thirteen, blood thirteen. So all of Christmas is more present in the script in a text form than those words but there are words like gun which appears 73 times in a script, terrorist 51 times which is interesting on a couple of levels one because of the prevalence of it but second of all they're not terrorists.

Alan Rickman and his band are bank robbers they they're using terrorism as their sort of cover but they're just robbing the bank. It's interesting how we even the script calls them terrorists when they're not but and then the word suddenly appears 45 times so we can say that Christmas is definitely present but it's not you know in text form the most important thing. Interestingly there is actually a reference within it that's talking about Run DMC's Christmas in the Hollis as whether that's Christmasy enough so there is actually a meta conversation in in the movie but we will put that to one side because I don't think we can go into more detail. We can look at the people who made the movie and see what they think so there's two writers credited on it and one of them is Steven D'Souza and he was quoted as saying if Die Hard is not a Christmas movie then White Christmas is not a Christmas movie and he pointed out that it takes place at Christmas, features a Christmas party and the Christ-like sacrifice of John McLean walking on broken glass. I would argue that's perhaps uh artistic license I'm not saying it's not true it's just that is a poetic reading of it and if we want a poetic reading of the other side of the argument then we only have to go to Bruce Willis who said Die Hard is not a Christmas movie it's a Bruce Willis movie.

So I think both of those two balance each other out because I don't think either of them are using a lot of evidence but they're definitely expressing opinion from key people involved. One of the nice things about doing research around movies is that you get to watch a lot of movies and so I had to watch Die Hard I had to I got to watch Die Hard again and again for this research and uh one of the things I did was I went and looked at all the Christmasy elements so Santa hats and ho ho ho and Christmas trees and things like that and I found 21 distinct Christmasy elements which is quite a lot. I can't do a visual analysis of every movie released over the last 30 years as a comparison.

I looked at the running time of all movies over the last 30 years and it would take 1,356,242 hours to watch them and my wife said I wasn't allowed to. One thing that we can do in looking at the creative part of the movie is to look at the songs that are in the movie and there are quite a lot of Christmasy songs in the movie. So in Die Hard we've got Christmas in the Hollies, we've got Winter Wonderland, a whistled section of Jingle Bells and Let it Snow is over the end credits. That's a lot of Christmasy songs. I went back and did some data research into the databases that are online around songs in movies and I found that Die Hard is more Christmasy music wise than 99.2% of all movies released over the last 30 years.

So that's quite a lot. Most movies do not have Christmas songs in them and the ones that do only really have one Christmasy song in there. So that makes Die Hard a very Christmasy film just from a music perspective. Incidentally the most commonly used Christmas song in movies over the last 30 years is Jingle Bells which is in about a third of movies that have at least one Christmas song. They feature Jingle Bells and here is your bonus fact trivia for today. Jingle Bells is not actually a Christmas song and was meant to be about Thanksgiving but over time it's changed. So there is an interesting thing. Something that we now think of as Christmasy is the most Christmasy you can imagine. It is the most cited Christmas song actually wasn't created as something that's Christmasy but culture has changed over the years. And you're listening to Stephen Follows telling the story of how he and his class tried to answer the question is Die Hard a Christmas movie? I already think it's answered but what do you think when we come back?

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Visit a Mattress Firm store near you or go to And we continue with our American stories and our Christmas season storytelling. And we're going to return now to Stephen Follows, who is telling the story of how he and his family lived together. Stephen, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for having us. Thank you so much for having us. Thank you so much for having us. And we're going to return now to Stephen Follows, who is telling the story of how he and his class tried to answer the question, the burning question of the day, is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

Let's return to Stephen. Secondly, we could look at it as a piece of commerce. It's a commercial product, right? There's an IP there and it's made by a major studio and is being sold commercially.

So we're focusing on it as a commercial product, you know, to fuel capitalist industry, which is propelled by marketing and responds to consumer demands. So one of the first questions I ask if someone says, yes, Die Hard was definitely a Christmas movie. I say, well, when do Christmas movies come out? People say November and December.

And by the way, they're absolutely right. I did some data analysis and found that almost every movies with Christmas in the title, about 55% come out in November, about 30% come out in December. And most of the others come out in October. So Christmas movies definitely come out around Christmas.

No shock there. But when did Die Hard come out? Well, it came out in July or February, depending on whether you're where you are in the world, because it came out in July 88 in America and February 89 in the UK. So both very distinctly not Christmas periods and very clearly not. So this sort of indicates to us that the studio at the time did not see this as a Christmassy movie. We can look at how the movie was marketed to moviegoers as well. So movies that are explicitly Christmas movies tend to have a lot of very clear patterns to them.

We'll see red, we'll see green, we see Santa hats, we see presents, we see snow, we see Santa Claus himself. You know, there's lots of elements that are very, very clearly Christmassy. But if we look at the Die Hard poster, we just see two buildings with an explosion and John McClane's face and some text.

That is not Christmassy. And then finally, within the commercial intent, we can look at what the tagline was because the poster has lots of text. And certainly, there is a huge amount of information on the poster. So there were different posters and they had different taglines. So if we first start by looking at Christmas movies, Christmas movies tend to have taglines that are around Christmas. So there's a horror film called Krampus and the tagline is you better watch out. For elf, it was this holiday, discover your inner elf. The Polar Express had this holiday season, believe. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation had you'll crack up, which is a pun I rather enjoy.

And then finally, Home Alone had when the McAllisters went on holiday, they forgot one minor detail, Kevin. So now we sort of centered ourselves into what a Christmas related tagline might be. Let's go back to Die Hard and see what the Die Hard taglines are. The shortest one just says 40 stories of sheer adventure and an exclamation mark is all in capital letters as well.

So I think it needs to be shouted. 40 stories of sheer adventure. Well, that's not very Christmassy. The slightly longer one was 12 terrorists, one cop. The odds are against John McClane.

And that's just the way he likes it. And then finally, the longest text that I found on a Die Hard poster used at the time said high above the city of L.A., a team of terrorists have seized a building, taken hostages and declared war. One man has managed to escape. An off duty cop hiding somewhere inside.

He's alone, tired and the only chance anyone has got. So I think it's exceptionally clear that at the time, contemporaneously when the movie came out, it was not regarded as a Christmas movie. It was not sold that way. And I'm absolutely positive that if 20th Century Fox thought they could make money selling it as a Christmas movie, they would have done so.

And they didn't. So let's move to the final lens, which is the cultural lens. And this becomes more and more important because over time, this can shift and change and becomes our interpretation, our shared interpretation of what the movie is. So the intent of a piece of art becomes less and less important. And if you think about paintings, famous paintings or sculptures from way back when, we don't really necessarily know or even care why they were created. We care more about what they mean to us. And also the commercial lens, we really don't care. Like who commissioned the piece of art is not that important to us.

What we really care about is what we think of it now, what it means for us. So you could argue the cultural lens is the most important. So one fun thing to do is that IMDb have these user generated lists where anyone who signs up for free to IMDb can create a list of movies or actors or crew members and say, here's my list of my favorite movies. Interestingly, IMDb started way back when as a Usenet list of actresses with nice eyes. So IMDb lists have been at the core of IMDb before there really even was an IMDb.

So it's really integral to what IMDb is. And there are huge numbers of lists. I mean, I found just over 2000 public lists, which had Christmas in the title. So things like the top 10 Christmas movies of all time or Christmas movies or a hundred movies set in Christmas time.

And so I gathered data on all of those lists and all of the movies within those lists. And because a lot of people are citing the same movies, I ended up with a list of 1,320 movies, which various numbers of people are happy to publicly declare these are Christmassy. So what was the number one cited Christmas movie? Here's a piece of trivia.

You can have a think while I'm setting this up. What movie is the most frequently cited on lists of Christmas movies on IMDb? And I can tell you that the top movie was on two thirds of everyone's list.

So that's not only is it cited very often, it's cited by most people. It's Home Alone. Home Alone is the most frequently cited Christmas movie on IMDb lists, followed closely by Elf, then The Santa Claus, Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. So where does Die Hard sit on this list? Out of the 1,320 movies that were ever cited as Christmas movies, Die Hard is the 22nd most cited Christmas movie. So there are only 21 movies in all of history, which IMDb users together think are more Christmassy than Die Hard. That's quite a strong connection in the cultural realm to do with Christmas and Die Hard.

Okay, let's take a different angle into trying to measure culture. One of the things that we can look at is the interest in the movie and how it changes over time. Because if something is a very Christmassy movie, you would imagine that people get more interested in it around Christmas time. And so one thing we can do to check this is Wikipedia has all of its page views available. So you can see how many people are looking at each article on each day. And so I went in and had a look at the viewing figures for movies that we know are Christmassy. And as you'd expect, they get between 30 and 50% of all their views in December.

Fine, we now have a benchmark. I went back and then had a look at other action films to see if there was any kind of pattern there. So I looked at Lethal Weapon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Seven Samurai, Aliens, all just sort of movies that are very good, highly rated action movies.

And their spread is throughout the year. There's no one month when everyone looks at action movies. So how does Die Hard fit this pattern?

Well, neatly it fits kind of in the middle. So about a quarter of all the views for Die Hard happen in December. So that's quite a significant uptick.

However, it's not as extreme as you find with other Christmas movies. So there's still interest throughout the rest of the year. And then finally, we can look at Google Trends. So Google Trends measure what people are searching for.

It doesn't tell us how many people are searching, but it gives us a relative interest. So when was the most popular over the time period we're looking at for that term and everything else is then based on that. So if like two years before that it was half as popular, it'll get half the rating. Well, if we look at the data between the beginning of 2004 and Christmas 2021, so we're looking at a very long period of time, we can see that for the first 10 years or so of this time period, there was nothing special around Christmas and Die Hard. Die Hard wasn't searched more around the Christmas period, really until say 2011, 2012.

Then once we get to around 2014, they start to see a very noticeable bump around Christmas time. And that bump increases and increases and increases to the extent to which in the high point of searching for Die Hard across the last almost 20 years of data is Christmas 2020. So what we can see from here is not only are people thinking about Die Hard a lot more over Christmas periods, they're actually doing more so each year. So when I wrote the original version of this article, it was in 2018, and it was much more of a is Die Hard a Christmas movie, yes or no. Whereas now it's seen as a completely inevitable question by many people, like why would you even question this the way that you might say is Elle for Christmas movie? This is something that's been growing over time. And I have no reason to think that it will stop growing over time, especially as I've already noticed that it's already on sort of a lot of these streaming services that have Die Hard will put it in the Christmas package, partly because people want it in there. And partly because they all know it'll create controversy.

And that's what they want. So I think what we can say is that Die Hard may or may not have been a Christmas movie, but it definitely is now. And will be more so in the future. But in the meantime, have a very Merry Christmas, and a great job on the storytelling and production by Greg. And a special thanks to Steven Follows.

My goodness, there's so much good stuff here. But the idea that the soundtrack played so much Christmas music was a dealmaker for me at 99% more than every other film. But I also think that his article created more interest.

But the American people, the world has spoken. When you're ranked number 22 in history for being considered a Christmas movie, well, then you're a Christmas movie. By the way, if you have movie questions for Steven or are looking for film data and answers, go to That's S-T-E-P-H-E-N. The story of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

Answered definitively, I think, here on Our American Story. Amazon Fire TV and select Samsung TVs. So stream what you love and turn up the cheer with iHeartRadio on the Roku channel. Happy streaming.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-09 05:26:46 / 2022-12-09 05:36:56 / 10

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