Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the release of Die Hard. Know how much it made in it’s opening weekend? $601,851. Of course, that was from only 21 screens in 20 cities. Can you imagine an action movie like this getting such a limited debut today? Well, nobody saw the movie coming, at least not on the level we see it at today, though Fox also hoped the slower roll-out would spark buzz. A modern day take on the western, with a lot of allusion to drive that idea home, the first Die Hard sort of originated a new subgenre of the right place, right time (and wrong place, wrong time) hero that has the action drop in his lap.
It’s a real classic, one that truly needs to be added to the National Film Registry (nominate it here), thanks to its influence on the next three decades of cinema (and beyond, since even this year we had a few more Die Hard knockoffs in Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down) as well as its own distinct craftwork (especially the team of director John McTiernan, cinematographer Jan De Bont and screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, along with the Oscar nominated editing by Frank J. Urioste and John F. Link and the Oscar-nominated sound and visual effects, etc…) and its perfect representation of the time in which it was made (including the reflexive significance of the building it was shot at).
It’s another movie that is so memorable and consistently thrilling and funny that it’s difficult to cut it up into isolated scenes and choose only a handful of those moments. But it’s worth the effort. We stuck to scenes that can be watched online, and that means this week is almost more a list of “lines we love from Die Hard.”
Check out our picks below and let us know your own favorites.
“This is Christmas music”
When John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in Los Angeles, he’s met with a limousine and its newbie driver Argyle (De’voreaux White). The drive to Nakatomi Plaza provides a good outlet for exposition and a bit of quick character development for the New York cop out on the West Coast to see his wife and kids. John is so blue collar he can’t bear to sit in the back, offering an immediate contrast to the out of water setting he’s about to enter. After the necessary foundation dialogue, it’s time for Argyle to pump the soundtrack up with some Run DMC. John asks for some Christmas music instead. The driver says this is Christmas music, of a new breed. It not only quickly reminds us that this is a Christmas movie but it’s a new breed of Christmas movie. Maybe something from California would have been more appropriate than “Christmas in Hollis,” but did any rappers out there do a holiday track by then?
“Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.”
It’s easy to occasionally forget Die Hard is set during Christmas even while watching it, save for a few moments. Maybe a decorated tree can be seen in the background here and there. But it definitely comes back in the scene after John kills Tony and delivers his body back to Hans and company. The corpse itself might have been enough of a message, but our hero wants it literally spelled out that he now has a machine gun. The “ho ho ho” and Santa hat are what make it an unforgettable shot, especially since it shows that John is sort of twisted and disrespectful of the dead.
“Welcome to the party, pal.”
While Die Hard is a total one-man-army kind of action movie, it is inspired by westerns and so John has to have some sort of deputy. He doesn’t get to meet the guy until the end, but he finds a kind of sidekick Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). Before they can be pals, though, John has to get his attention by pretending to be one of the bad guys, dropping a body on Al’s police cruiser and firing his machine gun into the air. If it wasn’t sad enough that we’re introduced to the overweight cop as he buys a ton of Twinkies, we then watch him in panic mode as he backs his car out into a ditch. Eventually we get to know the real Al, including a touching story about his accidental shooting of a kid with a ray gun toy, which was especially noteworthy a year after the big deal surrounding the death of Leonard Falcon, whose Laser Tag prop was mistaken for a real weapon by an officer in Eastern California.
The most famous line of the movie, which has been watered down through its overuse as a catchphrase over the course of the franchise, lifts a lyric from “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande),” a satirical tune written for the 1936 Bing Crosby film Rhythm on the Range, and adds some R-rated flourish. The exchange before it has surely been as helpful as movies get for cinema studies students wishing to write papers on their favorite action movies. When else have we had a movie villain give such an analysis of a hero’s identity as it relates to film history and pop culture? Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) totally could have been a movie critic if he wasn’t so interested in money.
“Your White Knight”
Hey, bubby, you know you love this complicated moment starring the coked up, million-dollar-dealing sleazeball Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner). What he does is both greedy and stupid, but it’s still a shame seeing him die. For one thing, at least he didn’t reveal that John’s wife is sitting with the rest of the hostages. He very well could have. For another thing, it’s hard not to take into consideration that John did pretty much just let him die. Would both of them be dead if he’d given himself up? Probably. At least in movies, the dirtbag who goes over to the side of the bad guys seeking personal gain is always killed, usually by the bad guys who see him as just a temporarily useful tool. Then again, Hans is relatively reasonable. And he works with men who are a lot less intelligent. Maybe he would have spared Ellis out of gratitude.
The stunt of the movie has John leaping off the Nakatomi tower strapped to a fire hose as the top of the building explodes. It was a quickly iconic moment in action film history. But as unbelievably ridiculous as it is, there is some feeling of realism in the way John views the stunt. He knows it’s crazy. He knows he might not survive it. You can sense he’s a little nervous, scared, ultimately nuts. And all his grunting and yelling makes you understand it’s not easy, nor painless. The best, though, is the bloody footprints on the glass, further reminding us of his vulnerability following his run through broken glass. It’s one of the best scenes of its kind because of how much it’s depicted as a real effort and a miraculous feat.
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…” John McClane is one of the only characters that seems really natural talking to himself, even when it’s him over and over emphasizing his own situation for comic relief. This is another iconic moment, more than truly a great scene it’s a famous shot, one that Fox recently honored with a mural on the studio’s lot. Just watching John crawl and run and jump around and squeeze through spaces and navigate the building like an architectural genius is enough to enjoy Die Hard. In fact, someone turned all these solo scenes into a great short paranoia thriller called “Nakatomi Plaza” (watch it on Vimeo).