YEAR: 1988
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
KEY ACTORS: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

SEX SCORE: 3.5/5
✔️Proving quite how easily it can be done even with very few female characters, this does pass the Bechdel Test!
✔️ It’s also incredibly rewatchable and I would watch it every day if I could!
✔️ And I do want to fuck the cast. Whether looking at peak Bruce Willis hotness or the not insignificant appeal of Alan Rickman, there is a lot here to enjoy!
❌ But it didn’t inspire any fantasies! It’s not really a sexual film and I’d rather avoid being involved in a hostage situation.
❓And I’d argue that this is a sex neutral film due to the very limited qualifying content, so it gets a half mark..

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

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Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. Die Hard absolutely definitely deserves to be here as both a Christmas movie and as a necessary and important edition on my sex and relationships blog. It is so much more than just an action film!

For a start, we need to finally put aside the argument about whether Die Hard is Christmas movie or not. Die Hard is definitely a Christmas movie – it’s set at Christmas, it contains Christmas music, the plot revolves around a Christmas party, and there is more than one joke that wouldn’t work at any other season. More importantly, Christmas is all about tradition and the arguments about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie is as much as part of Christmas as the shock at mince pies appearing on the shelves in October or the anger some feel towards their neighbours who dare to decorate their tree in November. I’m sorry doubters, it’s a no win situation for you. The more you protest, the more angrily someone (me) will respond and the bigger the Christmas tradition it becomes! It’s too late; it’s a Christmas movie.

A gif showing a dead man in a Christmas hat with ‘Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho!’

And asking whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie isn’t the real question. It’s been asked ad nauseum and it’s dull. The real question concerns whether Die Hard is a feminist movie.

Because, once again, writing this blog has allowed me to gain a new perspective on a film that I thought I knew everything about!

Die Hard tells the story of John McClane (Willis), a New York cop who is visiting his estranged wife, Holly (Bedelia), in LA. He meets her at her office Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza and is freshening up in the bathroom when a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (the fabulous Alan Rickman), crash the party and take everyone hostage in order to steal from the safe. Free to roam around the building, McClane causes havoc for the terrorists, disturbing their plans, killing most of them and eventually saving the day! It is an action film that changed cinema forever, pitching a normal guy who does abnormal things as the hero rather than the musclebound hulks of its predecessors, played by the likes of Schwarznegger and Stallone. It catapulted Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman into the spotlight and is one of my top six favourite films ever!

Die Hard is also the film that sits on the top of my list of my favourite ever movie watching experiences. Film4 Summer Screen outdoor cinema is one of the best parts of summer in London, and Die Hard was on the billing in 2011. In his welcome speech, David Cox, the programmer, mentioned how Die Hard was almost more important for introducing the world to Alan Rickman than it was for Bruce Willis. At which point, to rapturous applause, he ushered Alan Rickman himself onto the stage and I got to participate in a standing ovation to thank Alan Rickman for his role in Die Hard. It got very emotional and is a hard movie viewing experience to top!

But, emotional attachment aside, on initial viewing (and if I’m honest, on many many other viewings since then), Die Hard doesn’t seem like a feminist movie. In fact, Hadley Freeman picked it as one of the top 10 movies from the 1980s that has aged badly post-#MeToo and considering how truly awful the representation of sex is in some of those (rapey is an understatement), that is quite a damning statement! Freeman describes it as an example of an ‘80s Anti-Feminism Movie,’ where McClane follows his wife to LA, angry at her successful career and use of her maiden name, and then acts up, throwing his masculinity around to save the day. ‘But don’t worry, by the end of the film [Holly] is tamed and she insists, to her husband’s delight, to be addressed as “Mrs McClane”. That’s right, Bruce. You keep the little woman in line.’

Except that this might be a much too superficial way to view this unexpectedly complex movie. There really is a chance that Die Hard is a feminist movie!

There are two main arms to this argument. The first simply involves how freaking incredible Holly is! Her career required her to move to LA and, rather than stay in New York with her husband, she chooses to move away to follow her own ambition. Although not clear yet, subsequent films will show that McClane isn’t exactly a model cop and it’s unlikely that significant promotions are in his future, but Holly is clearly very good at her job and has the opportunity to go far. Considering the difficulties faced by working mothers, particularly in 1980s, it is admirable that Holly makes the decision that is best for her instead of staying to support her husband as would otherwise be expected. Of course she goes back to using her maiden name – this move and this job have nothing to do with McClane, and she deserves all of the credit for her achievement.

A black and white image from Die Hard of Gruber and Holly

And I love love love that she chose to invite McClane to her office Christmas party when he has come to visit her to attempt a reconciliation, which, to quote Tom Burns in Your Tango, is ‘a BALLER MOVE.’ What better way to show off how successful and important she is than to bring her husband to this fancy party surrounded by people who think she is amazing! Because there is no doubt that she is very good at her job – her colleague Ellis may claim to be this great negotiator but it is Holly who immediately takes charge after the appearance of the terrorists, looking after her team and is actually successfully in her negotiations with Hans to make sure that his hostages are well looked after. She is a legend and this film is a celebration of her!

But more importantly, Die Hard is a celebration of how McClane learns to appreciate her: ‘Holly might not even fire a gun, and her husband does save her in the end, but one could argue that the entire film is just about John McClane’s personal journey to prove himself worthy to the wife he neglected.’ The McClane at the start of the film is not exactly a good person – the way he looks at the air hostess and then the young woman who rushes past him at the airport is more than a little pervy (not in a good way!), and his reaction at discovering Holly is working under her maiden name is pure misogyny. He’s framed as the victim of his wife’s ambition and we’re supposed to be sympathetic, but he actually just looks like uncompromising and unsupportive; the personification of toxic masculinity as he gets angry about the threat to his role as patriarch and breadwinner in his family.

An image from Die Hard showing McClane hanging from the skyscraper

This McClane is one of a number of crappy toxic men in this film, but he is the only one who changes. Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson are caricatures of themselves, swinging their dicks and stamping their authority; Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson is incompetent and completely unaware of it, making everything worse in his vain attempts to keep control; Richard Thornburg, the journalist, is such a twat…I could go on! But by the end of the movie, McClane isn’t one of them anymore. All of the others are mocked and often killed and their weaknesses exposed, but McClane learns. He is better by the end. He happily introduces his wife to his new friend, Al, using her chosen name – Holly Gennero. He is finally able to respect her choices. And I don’t agree with Hadley Freeman that he shows delight at Holly correcting him and choosing to call herself McClane – I think he is just surprised at Holly’s choice to now take his name.

I read one article that takes this idea of McClane’s feminist redemption even further. It claims that McClane succeeds where the other male characters fail because he discovers that ‘feminine problem-solving tactics are…demonstrably more successful than more masculine approaches.’ Rather than aggressive direct action, he communicates and seeks help. He negotiates and acts more indirectly with distraction and disruption. Another Angry Woman states that, ‘in an experience familiar to any woman, he is repeatedly not taken seriously.’ The brusque attempts at communication he tries early in the hostage situation don’t work; he has to change his approach, he has to learn and adjust. Admittedly, he ends up throwing a dead man out of a window to get attention, but it certainly solved the problem!

An image from Die Hard showing McClane looking out of a broken window

What do you think? Too much of a stretch? Perhaps, but it does all fit. And I think it turns Die Hard into a stronger film. McClane really is a better man by the end of the film – one who communicates better and has greater control of his emotions, qualities that are traditionally considered more feminine, and it’s almost a shame that the later iterations of this franchise move him back towards the more traditional aggressive and direct action hero.

McClane running forward screaming and brandishing a gun

And it means that I can feel less like a guilty feminist for having such a crush on action heroes! Admittedly, it’s not just John McClane – I love Keanu Reeves as Jack Traven in Speed (OMG, that bullet proof vest), Indiana Jones, and other such heroes who may not have a feminist pedigree. With their strong muscular arms covered in dirt, sweat and blood, I like to think my crush was just on their raw power, ‘impeccably chiselled physique’ and literal filthiness rather than because I wanted to be that damsel in distress all set to be saved, but it is true that most action heroes are more akin to white knights, rescuing helpless women, than feminist icons. Maybe I should research these films to find out if they have redeeming features as well!

So I hope I’ve convinced you – Die Hard is both a Christmas movie and a feminist film.

Yippee-ki-yay motherfuckers!

Next week: Love Actually

All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only. Gifs from Giphy.