“Is Die Hard a Christmas film?”
It’s a debate that has raged and swirled around this most wonderful time of year like a snowstorm for decades, and it’s one that is unlikely to be comprehensively solved anytime soon.
If you ask us though, it’s definitely a Christmas film (So is its sequel and Lethal Weapon for that matter, but we’ll save that one for another year). It’s set on Christmas Eve, there are multiple references to the holidays throughout, and a rendition of “Let It Snow” being crooned out at its conclusion provides a bigger festive thrill than Clarence getting his wings.
But while John McClane, Hans Gruber and his merry band of thieves find themselves the subject of this annual argument at an increasingly frequent rate, we’d like to pay tribute to a different film that could easily find itself in the same discourse: Rocky IV.
The fourth instalment of the Rocky franchise remains one of the most beloved sports films ever and for good reason. Sylvester Stallone’s magnum opus went on to gross approximately $300m worldwide, making it the highest-grossing sports film of all time until The Blind Side surpassed it nearly a quarter of a century later.
Why does it belong to Christmas? Well for starters, the film’s climactic showdown between the titular Rocky Balboa and human PED dispenser Ivan Drago takes place on Christmas Day, 1985. That’s right, history fans; 37 years to this very day, ‘The Italian Stallion’ effectively ended the Cold War with a 15th round knockout win over ‘the Siberian Express’ on Soviet soil.
Then there’s the setting, of course. To get over the death of his frenemy Apollo Creed, killed at the steel fists of Drago at the beginning of the film, and to prepare himself for a showdown with his new nemesis, a man who eats anabolic steroids with his Weetabix, he descends to the Siberian wilderness. The snowy backdrop as Balboa indulges us with the 38th training montage of the film is undeniably Christmassy. Even Die Hard doesn’t have snow!
After Rocky conquers the seemingly invincible Drago, delivering the USSR a humiliating blow, the film ends with a speech that would rival Her Majesty’s. If you don’t fancy tuning into the King’s Speech this year, fire up Rocky IV (it’s currently on Amazon Prime in the UK) and listen to Balboa tell his now adoring Russian audience, “If I can change, you can change” before wishing his son, watching on TV at home, a “Merry Christmas.”
Think we’re stretching the “Rocky IV is a Christmas film” spiel a bit? Well buckle up for more. There are gifts; the literal gift of freedom in one case, a talking robot in another. And what’s more festive than fighting at Christmas? You might not uppercut a family member for taking the last Quality Street, but there’s no doubt things often get heated. Rocky IV understands that better than any Crimbo classic could.
Christmas film traditions are part of the very fabric of this special season. For some, it’s seeing Kevin McCallister torture two hapless burglars in Home Alone, to others it’s watching Alan Rickman cheat on his wife in Love Actually. For us though, it’s witnessing Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago beat the living hell out of each other. Merry bloody Christmas.