The greatest story ever told

Official 1988 poster for Die Hard.

Photo used with permission from Wikimedia Commons

Official 1988 poster for Die Hard.

Die Hard turns 33 this July. In those 33 years, we’ve seen four sequels with a prequel on the way, countless pop culture references and, most impressively, hundreds of copycat movies varying in locales (boat, plane, bus, sports arena, prison, White House, etc). The film turned a balding sitcom star and an unknown London theater actor into action icons.

We follow workaholic New York City cop John McClain, played by Bruce Willis, as he travels to Los Angeles to attempt to patch up his relationship with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Holly Gennero, played by Bonnie Bedelia, at her office Christmas party in the state-of-the-art Nakatomi Plaza. The party is soon crashed by a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. Luckily McClain evades his captors by sneaking into the staircase however, he’s outnumbered and outmatched by the large and heavily armed associates of Gruber. Will McClain be able to save the day or will his efforts be foiled?

The film is an action-packed ride full of twists and turns with plenty of shootouts, fights and explosions. As exciting as all that is, this film would be nothing without its cast. Willis sells the role of a man entirely out of his element and totally outmatched by the enemy. Rickman is also amazing as the cold and calculated Gruber. The supporting cast makes the most out of their limited screen time as Gennero has to step up and become the representative for the hostages. Amid the action, McClain gains the attention of nearby officer Sgt. Al Powell, played by Reginald VelJohnson. Powell becomes McClain’s outside eyes and ears as the takeover gains national coverage.

The movie is also driven by the script and direction. Director John McTiernan showed his eye for filming action while humanizing the usually stoic and fearless macho action star. The story seamlessly weaves multiple storylines together as every character is given multiple layers. As heroic as McClain is, he also demonstrates large amounts of vulnerability, which can be seen when he’s communicating with Powell via walkie-talkie. Gruber wears a suit and tie and is remarkably well-educated, however he is quick to anger when his demeanor comes into question.

With the success and praise the film received, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was announced. This time McClain would face ex-soldiers in Washington Dulles International Airport. Shockingly, Die Hard 2 was even more successful, paving the way for a third film, Die Hard: With a Vengeance. This time McClain teams up with a neighborhood electrician named Zeus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, to take down Hans’ brother Simon Gruber. Live Free or Die Hard was released a full 12 years after the third. This is generally cited as the series downfall as the McClain we see has become the exact character archetype the first three films were parodying. A Good Day to Die Hard was the most recent entry in the series. It was panned critically but did well enough financially to greenlight a sixth and seventh entry in the series, one of which will be a prequel detailing his exploits before the events at Nakatomi Plaza. I give Die Hard a 10/10 and a must-watch for any movie fan. It’s available to stream on HBO Max till the end of March and will move to Hulu in April.