It wouldn’t be right if I left Die Hard off of my 31 Days of Christmas list. I’m not quite sure when the film first achieved the status of “holiday favorite,” the 1988 movie was a box-office success even before it became popular during the holidays. It stars Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, and a supporting cast consisting of Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Gleason, Clarence Gilyard, and others. It is based on the book “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp and was directed by John McTiernan with Jan DeBont as the cinematographer.
It’s Christmas Eve and New York City cop John McLane (Bruce Willis) arrives in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly and his two young kids. Holly is at her place of work, The Nakatomi Corporation for the annual Christmas party so his limo driver Argyle takes him there. Upon entering, he finds out Holly is using her maiden name, further showing their relationship is probably over. While he is cleaning up after the flight, a German radical, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and a group of companions break in, take over the building and demand $640 million in bonds located in the company’s safe. The president of the corporation refuses and is killed.
While one of the men tries to break into the vault, McClane triggers a fire alarm hoping to get the police to check the situation out, but one of the men mans the front desk and calls to say it is a false alarm. McClane kills one of the men and steals his gun, radio, and lighter. McClane uses the radio to contact the police but is told to use the phone since it is a restricted frequency. The dispatch officer sends Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) to investigate and just as Powell is about to leave, McClane throws the body of one of the men on his police car and Powell calls for backup.
One of Holly’s coworkers tries to convince Hans he is an old friend of McClane’s but is killed. Meanwhile, a reporter (William Atherton) goes to Holly’s house and interviews their kids and Gruber realizes he is married to Holly and takes her hostage, calling John on the radio. After evading being caught in the building while picking off Hans’s men, he finds Gruber who pretends he is one of the hostages, but McClane gives him an empty gun and the chase is on again. The FBI is called in but bumble the entire operation and talk amongst themselves that a casualty rate of 20-25% among the hostages would be acceptable.
McClane thwarts Gruber’s plot of blowing up the roof (and the hostages) to make it look like his men died as well and the FBI shut down power to the entire grid opening the safe. McClane goes to confront Hans and managed to almost throw him out the window, but Hans grabs a hold of holly and won’t let go. John unbuckles Holly’s watch and Grube is sent to his demise. Everything seems like it is over, but one of Hans’s men, Karl, is still alive and Powell fires his gun for the first time since killing a child, ending the fight. Argyle breaks out of the parking garage and gives the McClane’s a ride back to their house.
The film was a success when it was released for a reason. Willis, who at this time was not really a big action star – far from it – carries off the part of a desperate husband very convincingly. We see his pain several times in the film. Noth in terms of his marriage, and stepping on broken glass. Alan Rickman likewise is a perfect villain and gives a convincing portrayal as Hans. The film has many memorable scenes from John using the lighter in the air ducts to the infamous “Yippee Ki Yay. Director Jan De Bont got quite the career boost from Die Hard and went on to be the cinematographer on The Hunt for Red October, Flatliners, Basic Instinct, and more.
While the film is an action movie first, and a Christmas movie second, the two are certainly intertwined today. The only times the film seems to lose its charm are with the scenes with the bumbling police chief who refuses to believe anything bad is actually going on and the FBI agents. The film has enough funny scenes without those 3 characters and their scenes could have been edited down to bring the action back to Willis faster.
All in all a great action movie, a really fun Christmas movie, and an overall great film. If you have Netflix, be sure to check out The Movies that Made Us which gives a lot of insight into the film coming to life. You can find Die Hard streaming on HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and on the Cinemax app.