GBUK Film Classics: ‘Die Hard’

Looking at some all-time favourites…


“I got invited to the Christmas party by mistake…who knew?”

Year:  1988

Starring:  Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald Veljohnson

Director:  John McTernian / Written by:  Jeb Stewart and Steven E. de Souza (based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp)

What’s it about?

Visiting his estranged wife at the Nakatomi Corporation’s Christmas party, New York cop John McClane soon finds he is the only hope when terrorists seize the near vacant Nakatomi Plaza…

In review

Launching both the career of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and a successful film franchise, Die Hard sits comfortably at the top of many an action film fan’s favourites list.

Virtually unknown beyond a starring role in the television series Moonlighting, Bruce Willis truly made his mark here providing audiences with a memorable, likeable and relatable ‘hero’ who is just an average guy thrown unwittingly into extraordinary circumstances.  Willis makes great use of a script that is infused with dry wit and iconic one-liners as he trades verbal blows with Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, an astute terrorist-turned thief who finds himself infuriated by McClane’s relentless ‘interference’.  If Willis gave audiences a memorable screen hero, then Rickman provided a superior breed of villain, setting a new standard for the casting of such roles.

Willis is joined by an eclectic supporting cast – including Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s estranged wife, Holly and Reginald Veljohnson as his Twinkie loving morale support, Sgt. Al Powell.  He also gets to trade punches with Gruber’s right hand man, Karl played by the late Alexander Godunov.  Amongst all of the peril there’s some neatly placed moments of levity from limo driver Argyle (De’voreaux White), Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleeson), Nakatomi Exec Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) and News Reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton).

Beyond casting, Die Hard continues to stand as one of the biggest and most thrilling action films of all time.  Over twenty five years on, the extensive practical effects and pyrotechnics (not to mention some daring stunts) are still impressive and a testament to the achievements and creativity of this brand of ‘old school’ style of filmmaking.  It’s also worth highlighting that Die Hard could not have succeeded without the use of studio 20th Century Fox’s Fox Plaza building which doubles as Nakatomi Plaza – itself one of the film’s stars and integral to the whole of the film’s production.

What makes Die Hard so appealing is its successful (and seamless) combination of numerous crowd-pleasing elements: the performances of its cast, most significantly Willis and Rickman, a script that is both dramatic and funny and the thrilling and literally explosive action expertly executed by director John McTiernan – who would go on to direct 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance.

Whilst Die Hard is assuredly a defining moment in action cinema, it’s also essential Christmas viewing – beyond events taking place on Christmas Eve, the heart of the story focuses on McClane’s desire to reunite with his wife and children at such a special time of year, as he contemplates regrets at allowing their marriage to fall apart.  This paves the way for a satisfying conclusion, aptly complemented by yuletide favourite “Let it Snow!” which plays out as the closing credits roll.

Standout moment

After Hans Gruber’s men thwart the attempts of an armed response team to storm Nakatomi Plaza, McClane decides it’s time to give Gruber his C4 explosives back – but not in the way he might be expecting…

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It’s by far Bruce Willis’s finest hour (well, two hours and eleven minutes).
  1. It set a new benchmark for quality action thrillers, which still sets standards today.
  1. It’s entertaining not just for its impressive action set-pieces but for a script that balances dramatic beats with well-placed moments of levity and dry wit.

Did you know?

The majority of the film’s scenes take place at night as Willis was committed to shooting on television series Moonlighting during the day.

If you like this then watch…

Die Hard 2 : the first (and arguably best) of the Die Hard sequels sees the action shift from the heights of Nakatomi Plaza to the snow covered landscape of Dulles International Airport, with another likeably witty performance from Willis who this time is trading quips with William Sadler’s corrupt Army man, Colonel Stewart.  Director Renny Harlin successfully delivers the expected adrenalin fuelled thrills of this superior action blockbuster.

Under Siege : once cited as Die Hard on a battleship, to simply right off this accomplished Steven Segal action flick as such would do it a disservice.  With strong production values, exciting action set-pieces and delightful villainy from Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey, it’s Die Hard’s lost cousin.

Bruce Willis make his debut as one of action cinema's most iconic characters - John McClane in 'Die Hard'.

Bruce Willis makes his debut as one of action cinema’s most iconic characters – John McClane in ‘Die Hard’.

8 thoughts on “GBUK Film Classics: ‘Die Hard’

    • Thanks for stopping by Ms. Coolsville! Die Hard is essential viewing, there have been numerous action thrillers released in the years since it’s release, but few have rivaled it!

    • Hm, my best to worst would have to go:

      1. Die Hard
      2. Die Hard 2
      3. Die Hard 4.0
      4. Die Hard With a Vengeance
      5. A Good Day to Die Hard

      I think most would rank With a Vengeance higher yet for some reason I’ve never fully taken to it and A Good Day I’m sure is agreeably the worst…let me know your thoughts!

      • 1. Die Hard (great story & action)
        2. Live Free or Die Hard (honestly, more tied with 1)
        3. Good Day to Die Hard (for being so over-the-top)
        4. Die Hard 2 (it’s fun, but shamelessly repetitious)
        5. Die Hard with a Vengeance (too long setting up & not enough story for its running time)

        On any given day my 1 & 2 spots will be flipped.

        They’re all good for their own reasons. I rank them this way only with regards to each other. For example, 2 would be higher if it wasn’t such a clone.

        I liked Good Day. I also secretly hope they’ll do one more where John rescues Holly and the whole family is re-united. Corny, I know. : D

      • A very interesting list! Live Free (which was released as Die Hard 4.0 in the UK) was a pleasant surprise but personally wouldn’t put it on level pegging with the first myself.

        I get what you say about DH2, I’ve always enjoyed it myself – some great action and William Sadler was a decent villain.

        Good Day I just couldn’t get into (my review was pretty scathing), it just didn’t work for me although the premise had potential. Thanks for your thoughts!

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