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‘Die Hard’ Isn’t Just a Christmas Movie, It’s a Gen X Christmas Movie

Why the debate over the Bruce Willis holiday classic often overlooks what makes it so special

Illustration showing a scene in the movie where Bruce Willis is hanging from a fire hose off the side of a skyscraper
Damiano Stingone

Fear not, my intention is not to convince you that Die Hard, a 1988 action movie in which John McClane (Bruce Willis) battles terrorists on Christmas Eve, is in fact a Christmas movie. Because this is already a well-documented fact. Even Steven E. de Souza, Die Hard’s co-screenwriter, has admitted as much

However, I’d like to make a case for something that’s rarely mentioned: Die Hard isn’t just a Christmas movie, it’s a Gen X Christmas movie, in the same way It’s a Wonderful Life belongs to the boomers, and Elf is a quintessential millennial film

Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

We’d Rather Spend the Holidays Alone, in the Dark, Avoiding All the Holiday Hostility.

If there’s one thing Gen Xers know, it’s how to isolate themselves. Be it an attic, basement or ill-assembled treehouse, we excel at finding just the right spot to be hidden away from absolutely everyone. As McClane plots his rebellion against Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his henchmen, he is every Gen Xer who didn’t want to deal with their uncle’s annual drunken blather about foreign cars and secret societies. 

Sarcasm Is Gen X’s Love Language.

As America’s neglected middle child, we eschew toxic positivity. For us, it was the perfectly biting comeback or scathing remark that endeared us to someone. Which is why we cringe at most holiday cinema, with its saccharine, cutesy one-liners like “No man is a failure who has friends” and “I’m a cotton-headed ninny-muggins!” Where’s the irony? And the hostility? Die Hard lets us celebrate the season with gruff indifference, the way we prefer it. They can have their “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind” sentiments. We’ll stick with “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho” and “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*****!”

We Walk It Off.

Christmas movies are littered with obstacles: A flight’s been canceled, the parents aren’t a fan of the new fiancé, the old general’s inn is being foreclosed on. While these all present some degree of challenges, not one of them comes remotely close to doing a shoeless sprint over shattered glass. The beating McClane takes — without voicing a single complaint to anyone, mind you — is Gen X to its core. We were on our own, and when horseplay resulted in predictable and repeated calamity, we did what one does: We walked it off and cleaned up the evidence before our parents got home. 

Imagination Is Our Avocation.

As latchkey kids with nowhere to go, our basements quickly became our playgrounds. Long before The Floor Is Lava became a Netflix game show, it was a Gen X rite of passage as we bounded across furniture onto strategically placed cushions. The corners of couches became turnbuckles to leap from in championship wrestling matches, cardboard bricks formed impenetrable fortresses, and used-up wrapping paper rolls became indestructible Samurai swords. This was just the sort of imaginative ingenuity McClane employed to turn a fire hose into a bungee cord, a chain into a noose, and seasonal packing tape into a hidden gun holster on his back.

McClane Fought Bad Guys but Not Back Tears.

For many Gen Xers, McClane was the first man we’d seen (not just on screen, mind you, but literally anywhere) cry to a friend about how much he loved his wife. He joined a slew of Gen Xers who would come to relinquish previously held misguided notions of masculinity that had kept them from expressing themselves honestly and authentically. Sure, we employed sarcasm at levels never before seen, but we also put our entire heart into making our secret crush the perfect mixtape. Like McClane, we contain multitudes.

Bruce Willis Says It’s Not a Christmas Movie.

When Bruce Willis publicly declared in 2018 that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, every true Gen Xer took this as validation. Because is there anything more Gen X than disagreeing with the mainstream? It felt like when Eddie Vedder growled, “This is not for you!” Of course Die Hard is a Christmas movie. But what Willis was really saying (or at least what we believe he was saying) is, “It’s not your Christmas movie.”