Die Hard


“You can walk out of here or be carried out, but have no illusions. We are in charge. So, decide now, each of you. And please remember: we have left nothing to chance.”

Die Hard, directed by John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and Bonnie Bedelia, is the quintessential action movie. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of the action genre, which is known for its contrived plots, shallow characters, and excessive fan service. Die Hard stands out for being a bit different. The imperfect and realistic character of John McClane keeps this movie tethered to reality much more than other action movies of that time, or since. That grounding is a big reason why the movie has stood the test of time and remains great even to this day.

Die Hard tells the story of John McClane, a New York cop, as he travels to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife and kids for Christmas. When he shows up at his wife’s office for the Christmas party, bad guy Hans Gruber and his cronies storm in and take the company hostage. John has to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it before Hans kills too many people and escapes.

Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the ass.

By 1988, when Die Hard was released, action movies and heroes had evolved to this larger than life caricature of the real world. Schwarzenegger in Predator and Stallone in Rambo: First Blood exemplified this. The character of John McClane is a normal guy. He’s nervous about flying on planes, he ran his marriage into the ground, and when things go wrong, he doesn’t have a solid plan for dealing with it. John spends most of the movie improvising and reacting to the villain’s moves rather than launching his own brilliant scheme and carrying it out flawlessly. We see the struggle, and we see John take quite a few hits himself, both physically and emotionally. This gives Die Hard a very real, relatable feeling that’s missing in most action movies, and even later movies in the Die Hard franchise.

Hans Gruber points a gun at John McClane in Die Hard
Nothing comes easy for either the hero or the villain in this movie.

But even with the relatable characters and down-to-earth setting, the main draw for Die Hard is pure, badass 80s action. This is a very fun movie to watch. It won’t make you think about the human condition and it probably won’t expose you to foreign viewpoints, but it will keep you on the edge of your seat. While the basic final outcome is fairly predictable, each step along the way is not. John has to get very creative as the game of cat and mouse between him and villain Hans Gruber plays out, and it’s quite entertaining.

Die Hard is definitely a movie to watch if you want to unwind, not if you want to think, although it won’t insult your intelligence. With the Christmas setting, it can be great around the holidays when stress is higher and you need to unwind. It also makes for a great movie night with friends. It stands as one of the best and most enduring action films of all time, and it’s worth checking out.

Academy Awards

Nominations: Best Sound (Don J. Bassman, Kevin F. Cleary, Richard Overton, Al Overton Jr.), Best Film Editing (Frank J. Urioste, John F. Link), Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Stephen Hunter Flick, Richard Shorr), Best Effects, Visual Effects (Richard Edlund, Al Di Sarro, Brent Boates, Thaine Morris)

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 2:12
Director: John McTiernan
Year: 1988
Genres: action, Christmas
Rating: R

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