Summer of Action: Die Hard (1988)
Last week we started a new blog series about some of the greatest action films. We started off by looking at Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and this week we are looking at the 1988 film, Die Hard. The movie was directed by John McTiernan and written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. It follows off-duty New York cop John McClane who is caught in a heist in Los Angeles during Christmas Eve. The movie stars Bruce Willis as John McClane and Alan Rickman as the villainous Hans Gruber. The cast also features performances from Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, and Paul Gleason. Die Hard went on to earn over $140 million in theaters and became a staple for action movies that feature one hero fighting against overwhelming odds.
So, why does Die Hard manage to rank so highly in the world of action/adventure films?
1) Lots of Small Spaces
What big action movie would be complete without the hero finding himself or herself in some confined spaces? Die Hard refuses to disappoint on this front. Early on in the movie McClane finds himself riding on top of elevators and trying to avoid being squashed in the process. He passes through small spaces and under tables, and of course, he also has the iconic crawl through the air shaft with his lighter in hand.
Of course, John McClane doesn’t just find himself in small spaces. He also finds himself running a lot down smokey corridors with a machine gun, which is action movie gold.
2) The Creative Eliminations
Another point in Die Hard’s favor is that McClane is able to get creative in his elimination of Hans Gruber’s gang. Honestly, for a man that is faced with a dozen foes, his creativity is pretty amazing. He shoots one guy through a table. He takes out one guy by taking out his knees. He has fist fights with the hulking Karl. He even sends the first guy he kills back down in the elevator with a shirt that includes the words, “Ho, Ho, Ho.” The shirt also informs Hans and his team that McClane now has a machine gun, but Santa’s catchphrase really brings it all together.
3) Cheesy One Liners
What 80’s action film would be complete with a few cheesy one-liners? This movie leans into that with John McClane’s numerous remarks. He mentions getting invited to the Christmas party by mistake and a little quip about welcoming Sergeant Powell to the party. He also has that little line about coming to the West Coast, but I suppose none is more iconic than his exclamation of “Yippee Ki-Yay” and what follows. Of course, he’s not the only one with cheesy lines; Holly Gennero’s comment about only John being able to drive someone that crazy also ranks pretty highly on the list.
Of course, it’s not just cheesy lines; there are some remarkably cheesy moments as well. The best one is obviously that slow motion fall at the end. Nothing says 1988 quite like that Hans Gruber fall.
4) A Clever Villain & Willing Hero
Sure, this movie is exciting with its ridiculous death-defying stunts and intense action sequences, but the success of the film lies in its villain and hero. John McClane is the hero all action movies require with his skills and motivation to keep a loved one alive; however, he would not be nearly as compelling without a villain to stand against. Alan Rickman’s portrayal as the cool and calculating Hans Gruber is perfect, and he is a villain that has no trouble thinking on his feet. He doesn’t hesitate to eliminate someone who is standing in his way, and he has a clear plan to get what he wants. He misdirects with the bombs on the roof, and his trick with the glass in regards to McClane’s bare feet shows just how observant he can be. It is rather refreshing to have a cold and clever villain in one of these action films, and it really does make the movie.
So, is Die Hard on your list of favorite action films? What are some of your favorite moments?
Be sure to share them in the comments below, and be on the lookout next Friday as we explore another action film favorite.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.