Screenshot: Shane Black & The Christmas Action Movie (Video Essay)

Every year, at some point someone trots out the old chestnut that Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie. And it is, objectively speaking, a truly great one. (No one ever picks Prometheus, strangely.) But a new video essay explores the actual inspiration for Die Hard’s Christmas setting: writer-director Shane Black, who, the previous year, had scored a mega-hit with his script for Lethal Weapon.

Over the ensuing decades, Black has proven himself one of the masters of the modern action movie, singlehandedly responsible for many of the conventions that have driven the genre for decades. Patrick H. Willems’ video essay delineates some of Black’s calling cards: “Mismatched partners, shocking violence, profanity, shootouts, one-liners, subverted clichés … and Christmas.” Almost all of the director’s films, including Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and this year’s solid The Nice Guys, take place on or prominently feature Christmas.

Christmas, Willems says, provides an ironic juxtaposition for the violence and depravity on screen, both in their stories (think of the prostitute killing herself to the sound of “Jingle Bell Rock” in the opening scene of Lethal Weapon) and in their visuals (all those holly-jolly Christmas settings, blown to smithereens). All of which, Willems says, applies to holiday-favorite Die Hard just as easily. While Black didn’t write or direct that movie, producer Joel Silver borrowed the setting from him, as well as the title Die Hard itself, which had been a working title for The Last Boy Scout. Black, perhaps in the Christmas spirit, was willing to give it to Silver.

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