Home Alone- Photo by Alsu Vershinina on Unsplash

A Top 5 List… and why Die Hard is one of them!

Lincoln Geraghty

4 min read

Every year film critics, TV personalities and your best friend down the pub put together their list of top Christmas movies. I won’t say “best” as such an undertaking often comes down to a subjective choice between established classics and personal favourites. But whether or not said list reflects quality or taste, the fact that people want to classify and quantify what makes the ultimate Christmas movie tells us something more important about them: they get us talking, they bring us together, they act as cultural touchstones that demonstrate the power of popular film.

Is there a formula for what makes a good Christmas movie?

That is a topic that would create its own debate. However, there are clearly some commonalities across the range of potential candidates.  For example, in It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946) and White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954) there is a warmth and sense of nostalgia for the past that helps remind audiences we are all connected. The many adaptations of A Christmas Carol  highlight the need for kindness and charity. Even comedic turns like Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003) and Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003) serve to instill a festive spirit despite their overtly corporate and criminal messages. 

Of course, thinking more cynically, Hollywood has always used Christmas movies to boost box office receipts at a time when families are more interested in being with each other than going to the cinema. But, again, that’s why Christmas movies are mainly family orientated. They bring children and adults together to watch the same story, albeit perhaps getting slightly different things out of the experience. For the kids, they create enthusiasm for what is yet to come and, for parents, they remind them of a time when such enthusiasm was once their own. 

The latest offering from Apple TV, Spirited (Sean Anders, 2022) starring Christmas regular Will Ferrell and perennial heartthrob Ryan Reynolds, highlights the fact that the magical formula is still good value. Another musical comedy adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the film does more to be inclusive during the festive period and alters the story enough to breathe new life into the genre so that it doesn’t feel overdone and irrelevant. 

While mainstream Christmas movies swerve the Christian origins of the festive celebration it does not mean that they are overtly non religious. Messages of love, family, charity, kindness and the like are often played out through supernatural means, serving morality tales to an increasingly secular audience. Movies often use Christmas as an important context for a range of narratives that speak to our times, comment on social issues and critique the inequalities in society that become so acute over the holiday period. The best Christmas movies do something that perhaps normal Hollywood films struggle to achieve the rest of the year, they represent the best elements that unite audiences rather than divide them. However low the production values or poor the script, the overall message cannot be criticized. Christmas movies are about values we all share. So, whether it's A Christmas Carol or Spirited, they are all the same.  

My Top Recommendations:

Home Alone (Christophe Columbus, 1990): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEDaVHmw7r4

A film that appeals to children and adults alike; the kid is the hero and grown-ups can feel like a kid again!


Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBEVwaJEgaA

The blending of horror tropes offers audiences a twist on the usual tale of receiving the ultimate Christmas gift: a Mogwai is for life, not just for Christmas!


The Muppets Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNo-Q0IDJi0

This musical version of Dickens’s story offers humour and heart because The Muppets span the generations: Here comes Mr Humbug but goodbye festive blues!


Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OLRQfMOXOw

And Dickens’s warnings about the fleeting nature of wealth and power are brought to a crashing realization in Bill Murray’s performance as Frank Cross: Sometimes the truth is painful

Is Die Hard a must-watch on Christmas?

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaJuwKCmJbY

Why is this film on the list? Is Die Hard even a Christmas movie? Certainly, a contentious choice for some. Looking at the basic story, the film is set at Christmas, it revolves around an office Christmas party and there are definitely a lot of fireworks, crackers and festive tunes to lift the spirits. Bruce Willis’ John McClane character literally saves Christmas for the employees of the Nakatomi Corporation and brings an end to the nefarious schemes of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber - the perfect Christmas villain. More importantly, however, is the resolution that such heroics bring. McClane is able to reunite with his wife and family. Separation caused by choice of career for both parties is overcome by reminding them what is really important, their life together.

The stresses of the festive period, intensified by the violence and threat of Gruber’s henchmen, are literally blown-away through sheer sweat and determination - a message that most parents would find encouraging. And, like in Home Alone, being allowed to blow up things to bring down the bad guys at Christmas is a message that makes adults feel young again. The festive connections are ramped up even more in Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin, 1990) where McClane gets stuck at Dulles Airport during the Christmas rush for people traveling home for the holidays.

While Die Hard may not have an overt moral story to tell like the usual Christmas classics, it is on my list because it does what all great Christmas movies do: it gets us talking, brings us together in fervent debate, and it acts as a cultural barometer. It reminds us that films have the power to not only entertain but get us to think about what is important in our lives