The inaugural entries for both the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises are widely considered by action aficionados as pinnacles for the genre, and both films – and their subsequent sequels – are great for different reasons. The former is one of the best examples of a buddy film you’re ever likely to see, as the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is infectious. The bond between their characters, despite their contrasting personalities, is the heart of the story, and throughout the series they provide us with plenty of laughs, thrills and reasons to care about their fates as their relationship grows. The brilliant action sequences don’t hurt either.
Die Hard, on the other hand, is a different kind of beast. In the Lethal Weapon series the threat to our protagonists well-beings are constant, but comfort can be taken in the knowing that they have strength in numbers. In Die Hard, however, Bruce Willis’ John McClane has to go up against the odds by himself when he finds himself in a skyscraper overrun by terrorists. All he has in his arsenal to defeat them is his smarts, sneakiness and a whole lot of luck. Unlike Lethal Weapon, Die Hard is very simplistic and self-contained. It also has one of the greatest villains in cinema history with Hans Gruber, played by the late, great Alan Rickman.
As both films are set at Christmas (which if you haven’t heard already is only two days away), we thought this would be the perfect time to assemble some of our writers with differing viewpoints regarding which film is better – in terms of its festive feel and overall quality – and let them battle it out in the Thunderdome.
Which film is better? And which one is the better Christmas movie?
ERIN MISKELL (DIE HARD)
The motto in my house is that it’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber fallS off of Nakatomi Plaza. Die Hard is a Christmas tradition, and it’s not without good cause. Most people will tell you that they believe it’s a Christmas film because it takes place around Christmas; after all, it features an oversized gift of a bear, a family trying to reconnect amidst a separation (what 80s film didn’t have divorcing parents?), and an office Christmas party in desperate need of saving. The thing is, though, that Die Hard represents quite a bit once the surface is scratched: it’s the need to battle the bullshit of the holidays. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is a greedy creature that’s willing to kill a company full of people on Christmas in pursuit of the almighty dollar; his henchmen are equally violent and uncaring, and the battle seems hopeless. How is this dealt with? Enter Bruce Willis’s John McClane, the resident smart ass. John dispatches the baddies at first with his quick wits and bare hands, literally walking across glass in an effort to save the woman he loves – the mother of his children – around the holidays.
If you take a step back, you can see that it’s not just a matter of John saving good ol’ Holly. John’s fighting those who are out to mess up his holiday, and he’s doing it by being smarter, faster, and more sarcastic than anyone else in the room. He works out how to get around the building undetected (hooray for air vents). He fires off rounds quicker. He attaches notes to dead bodies with a gallows flare. Therein lies the rub: John never loses his sense of humor, which is something that the holidays are all about. Most days, it’s not about having a present at the ready or a perfect meal prepared. It’s not even about pocketing a quick buck like Hans. It’s about trying to make it out alive, and having a good laugh at the carnage around you while it’s burning.
That’s why Die Hard is the ultimate Christmas movie. Die Hard gets it: we’re all just trying to save the ones we love from the sheer madness that is the megalomaniac trying to steal millions while holding us all hostage. Because let’s face it, the lines at the stores are indeed a hostage situation to which we can all relate.
MIKE IMBODEN (DIE HARD)
What makes a “Christmas movie” a “Christmas movie”? It’s a simple, although sometimes misused, distinction from other movies. The only real criteria is that it must revolve around December 25th – Christmas. If you can take the “Christmas” out of the movie and still have a movie, it’s NOT a Christmas movie. Can you take the “sci” away from the “fi” and still have a science-fiction movie? Can you take the zombies out of a zombie movie and have it still be a zombie movie? If you take the “rom” away from the “com” it’s just a funny movie without all sorts of kissin’ and stuff. So, saying that a “Christmas movie” needs to have Christmas as a central plot device is not a huge stretch.
For instance, take It’s a Wonderful Life; a beloved Christmas classic that is NOT an actual Christmas movie. Sure, it happens at Christmas and it’s a very touching and moving film, but… NOT a Christmas movie. Uncle Billy could have lost that $8000 wrapped in a newspaper any day of the year and the resulting fallout would still happen. George Bailey would wish he had never been born, Clarence the angel would have shown him how badly that would have affected everyone and George would have still come out of the other side a man full of hope. The bell his daughter hears that signifies and angel getting its wings? Coulda’ been hanging off a cat’s collar. Bottom line, not a “Christmas movie”.
Which brings us to our debate.
Die Hard is most assuredly a “Christmas movie”. Using the above logic and argument, Christmas plays THE single most important role in the movie. If it weren’t Christmas, Holly Genarro-McClane wouldn’t have invited her estranged husband, NYC cop John McClane, out to Los Angeles so that their kids could see him ON CHRISTMAS. There would have been no Christmas party in the Nakatomi Corporation offices of Nakatomi Plaza, which means the building wouldn’t have been empty when Hans Gruber planned the heist to steal $640 million in bearer bonds. Basically, by taking Christmas (specifically Christmas Eve), out of the equation, there is no movie. Gruber knew that the building would be totally empty aside from the Nakatomi employees, a security guard and a custodian, making it pretty simple to get in and out. But more importantly, because the spirit of Christmas inspired Holly to invite John out so that they and their kids could spend Christmas together as a family, McClane was there to foil Gruber’s plans. Take Christmas out of the story and, well, it’s a movie where dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent people are gunned down in a firefight between the LAPD’s SWAT department and a bunch of thugs in the lobby of Nakatomi Plaza.
On the other hand, Lethal Weapon, a very excellent buddy-cop movie, is a very NOT-excellent Christmas movie. Yes, it happens around Christmas, but it’s not important what day or time of year it occurs. Take Christmas out of the mix and you’re left with a very excellent buddy-cop movie that happens on a Tuesday. The fact that it cannot be defined as a “Christmas movie” easily settles the debate as to which, Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, is the better Christmas movie. Yippee ki-yay.
RACHEL BELLWOAR (LETHAL WEAPON)
Like the great action movie that it is, everything in Die Hard is big. Big gesture of John saving his wife from extreme circumstances. Big teddy bear, the gift you buy your kids when you don’t actually know what they want, so conclude bigger must be better (and that is no slight against the teddy bear—only McClane’s motives for buying it). But Christmas isn’t about bigger. Neither is a marriage. Commercials run on that premise, but when I remember the holidays it’s the small gestures that meant the most. That’s why Lethal Weapon is the ultimate Christmas movie.
Murtaugh didn’t save his daughter because he happened to be in the area when things got bad. Murtaugh is always around for his family. Through ill cooked meals and everyday tizzies, a police schedule isn’t friendly to good hours in any city but Murtaugh makes the most of the ones he’s got.
Murtaugh is too old for this shit. Maybe he doesn’t crawl through air ducts or walk on glass but he’s also not in the shape of 80’s Bruce Willis. But when it matters he is just as prepared as McClane to put his life on the line for the people he cares about. Then there’s Riggs, who is the farthest thing from the idealized hero, McClane. He’s the human hero we can relate to, who feels depression over the holidays and doesn’t care if people think he’s crazy.
McClane has a personal reason for wanting to save the people at Nakatomi Plaza—the mother of his children. He has a professional reason, through the career he prioritized over his family, to always protect the innocent. Does one (however stunt-filled) gesture make everything else forgiven, just like that?
Murtaugh doesn’t have a personal reason to help Riggs. Professionally, Riggs’ death wish makes him a danger to them both. But family isn’t limited to blood in Lethal Weapon and that is exactly what the partners become over the course of this movie: family.
Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are both Christmas movies. At the end of the day, though, it’s Murtaugh and Riggs who I’d want to spend that holiday with.
KIERAN FISHER (LETHAL WEAPON)
First and foremost I’d just like to state just how much I love Die Hard. I REALLY love Die Hard. There, I stated it, and now that we’ve got that out of the way, I want to discuss why Lethal Weapon is just a little bit better.
Both Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are Christmas movies; both are unconventional Christmas movies, but in terms of more ‘traditional’ fare then Die Hard is more overtly Christmassy. Overcoming struggle has been the core theme of many a festive tale; whether it’s Arnie racing all over the city for the last Turbo-Man for his son or John McClane taking out a group of terrorists to save his wife and her colleagues, both represent the traditional characters who go that extra mile for their family. This theme has been the cornerstone of many a holiday tale, in various guises. But not everybody can relate to that…
The fairytale idea of Christmas is a time of giving and sharing; a time where we spend time with family, friends and colleagues and celebrate the relationships we have for them. But some people don’t have that luxury, and for the lonely it’s not the most wonderful time of year at all. When we meet Riggs in Lethal Weapon, he’s lost the one person he loves and, as a result, his own will to live. Suicide rates at Christmas are known to spike due to an array of factors – loneliness, poverty, etc – and Riggs symbolises the unfortunate black sheep of society’s perfect holiday notion.
Roger, on the other hand, is living the life most of us want. We know that if he doesn’t end up getting killed on the job that he’s going to be celebrating the occasion with his family. As the relationship between him and Riggs grows stronger and he accepts his unstable partner into his home, we see Riggs become a part of the family and build towards his road to recovery.
Even though it’s not as openly Christmassy as Die Hard in aesthetics, it does explore thematic elements which are commonplace in holiday fare: friendship, family and inclusion. It just explores them from a much darker place, through the viewpoint of a man who represents those who don’t see the tinsel and lights because they’re on the brink. We can’t say that Riggs comes out of Lethal Weapon completely better, but he’s in a much better place by the end than he was at the start.
I prefer Lethal Weapon because it’s just more enjoyable overall for me for various reasons, but in terms of what’s a better Christmas movie it works better because it embodies the spirit of being truly giving to those who need it more. McClane had to go through a night of hell for his family, but for Riggs the hell was always with him because he didn’t have a family to save – that was until Roger let him into his family. That’s the true message underneath the guns, criminals and Joe Pesci’s, and that’s what makes it the better Xmas movie for this guy