Greatest Movie Series
Franchises of All Time
The 'Die Hard' Films

Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard Films
Die Hard (1988) | Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) | Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) | A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

The 'Die Hard' Films - Part 1

Die Hard (1988)
d. John McTiernan, 131 minutes

Film Plot Summary

New York detective/cop Lt. John McClane (Bruce Willis) took a flight to Los Angeles, arriving on Christmas Eve, 1988, with plans to join his estranged wife (of six months) Holly Gennero/McClane (Bonnie Bedelia) at a holiday party in her place of business, the 40 story high-rise Nakatomi Plaza Towers in Century City. A fast-talking, inquisitive limo driver named Argyle (De'voreaux White), paid for by the Nakatomi Corporation, drove him to the building, and promised to wait for him in the underground parking garage, pending the outcome of his renewed reconciliation with Holly. He entered the Christmas Eve party already in progress on the 30th floor, where he met the CEO Joe Takagi (James Shigeta), and was led to Holly's private office - her position was Director of Corporate Affairs. When McClane first saw Holly, Takagi commended her as a successful career woman: "She was made for the business. Tough as nails." McClane also met Holly's obnoxious, cocaine-using, egotistical co-worker Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner).

While washing up in the bathroom, Holly invited him to use the spare bedroom at her house, where she lived with their two daughters, although they bickered about long-standing issues between them, including her use of her maiden name.

After a large Pacific Courier truck pulled into the garage, two individuals exited a separate car and entered the building's downstairs lobby. The first was nasty, long blonde-haired henchman Karl Vreski (Alexander Godunov), who shot the front-desk officer and security guard. A second assailant named Theo (Clarence Gilyard, Jr.), a black technical-computer expert, disabled all the elevators (except one) and sealed off all the outer entrances and exits to the garage and the building.

In the parking area, a Pacific Courier truck opened up with ten other heavily-armed, hi-tech terrorists, led by the classic bad-guy villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), a well-read ex-member of the radical West German Volksfrei movement. As they infiltrated into the building, Karl - who was frustrated by his brother Tony Vreski's (Andreas Wisniewski) slow work, used a chain saw to slice through all the conduits holding the building's phone wiring to prevent any telephone communications.

The gunmen took the sole elevator to the 30th floor and interrupted the party with gunfire. They took all the guests hostage, including McClane's wife. McClane, in a white T-shirt and barefooted, watched from the wash-room and then fled to a stairwell and various upper floors, keeping track of which ones were operational or under-construction. Gruber addressed the frightened party-goers, citing the corporation's greed and power worldwide (with a "legacy of greed"), and then took CEO Takagi away. In Takagi's executive offices and boardroom on the 34th floor (where McClane overheard their conversations), he was threatened to reveal the computer's passcodes, to access the $640 million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds locked in the Japanese corporation's vault. When Takagi refused, Gruber shot him point-blank in the head. The terrorists were forced to try to hack into the vault "the hard way." Theo told Gruber that it would take a half-hour to break the code, and two and a half hours to disable six other mechanical locks on the vault, leaving the seventh and final lock ("the electromagnetic seal") with circuits that could not be cut locally. Gruber replied confidently: "Trust me."

To distract the terrorists and alert outside authorities, McClane activated a fire alarm on the 32nd floor, but the alarm was cancelled and the system deactivated. During a struggle with one of the German terrorists (Karl's brother Tony) sent to investigate, McClane broke his neck and then took his machine-gun, ammunition, radio and lighter from his satchel. He sent the dead body sitting in a chair down to the 30th floor on the elevator (with "Now I Have a Machine Gun - Ho-Ho-Ho" spelled out on his sweatshirt) to alert the terrorists to his presence (and his ability to thwart their efforts), as he stealthily entered the elevator shaft. On the building's roof, he used the two-way CB radio (on a reserved channel) to send out a "May-Day" alert about the terrorist take-over, and although he was not taken seriously, a black-and-white "drive-by" was ordered. While buying snacks at an AM-PM Mini-Mart (gas was 74.9 cents/gallon!), LAPD Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) was notified of a Code 2 at the nearby Nakatomi Building in Century City, and proceeded to the area.

When the terrorists overheard his alert, McClane escaped their gunfire and pursuit by moving through a maze of airducts and ventilation/elevator shafts from the rooftop back to the 35th floor and then to floor 31, in a tense cat-and-mouse sequence. He quipped:"Now I know what a TV dinner feels like."

McClane killed two more terrorists, Heinrich (Gary Roberts) and Marco (Lorenzo Caccialanza), and took detonators from Heinrich's bag. To alert Officer Powell to problems inside (Powell had determined he was on a "wild goose chase"), McClane heaved the dead body of Marco out of the skyscraper onto his patrol car as he pulled away. Powell radioed in: "Police under automatic rifle fire at Nakatomi. I need back-up assistance now!" Sirens sounded from multiple police cars as the building was surrounded by LAPD, although Gruber called it only "inconvenient timing." When McClane radioed Gruber, he was called the "mysterious party crasher" and "Mr. Mystery Guest" - and misidentified as a security guard. For clarity's sake, McClane identified himself, to harrass and taunt him: "Just a fly in the ointment, Hans, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass..." Gruber wasn't satisfied: "You know my name, but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?" McClane responded: "I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really liked those sequined shirts." When Gruber replied: "Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?", McClane delivered his most familiar line: "Yippee-kai-yay, motherf--ker."

On the radio with Powell throughout the remainder of the siege, McClane (calling himself "Roy") described the tense situation on the 30th floor with hostages, calling the terrorists "bad-ass perpetrators." SWAT teams, the FBI in helicopters, and a live-mobile news crew arrived at the scene to report on the incident of international terrorism. (Meanwhile, in the basement garage, limo driver Argyle finally learned of the situation - that the building was under siege, but found he was locked in and trapped).

Cantankerous, stubborn and clueless Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason) ordered an all-out assault of the building by his SWAT team, unaware of the ambush being prepared to greet them, as McClane worriedly called them "macho assholes." The terrorists set up a massive rocket launcher to repel the attack of an LAPD armored R.V. (Theo exclaimed as the vehicle exploded: "Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!"). To prevent further devastation, McClane opened the elevator doors and sent C4 plastic explosives down the shaft ("Geronimo, motherf--ker") - wiping out a few more terrorists (James and Alexander) on the second floor who were firing on the SWAT team.

Calling himself Gruber's "white knight," Harry Ellis negotiated with the lead terrorist, telling him that he could pressure his good friend McClane and get him to cooperate and surrender: "I can give him to you" - Gruber learned McClane's name and occupation (NYPD officer). Ellis, by radio, attempted to convince McClane to "stop messing up the works," and asked him to reveal the location of the detonators so that no one else would get hurt. When Gruber realized that Ellis was lying and didn't really know McClane, Ellis was summarily shot dead. Gruber then spoke to police chief Robinson, falsely demanding the release of "revolutionary brothers and sisters" around the world in prison. If they complied within two hours, he promised that the hostages would be taken to the building's roof to accompany them in helicopters to the Los Angeles International Airport.

When two FBI agents arrived (both named Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush)), they took over responsibility from Robinson for the siege of the building. McClane confronted Gruber face-to-face, not realizing who he was when the terrorist gave him a real pseudonym, Bill Clay, and explained how he was one of the escaped hostages attempting to send a signal from the roof. After McClane had given him a gun to help, Gruber demanded that McClane drop the detonators in his satchel. The gun was not loaded, however, and McClane was enabled to escape (without his satchel) when Gruber's henchmen arrived and peppered him with machine-gun fire (spraying the area with shattered glass) - but he was able to kill two more bad guys (Franco and Fritz). McClane suffered bloodied feet after having to walk through shards of sharp glass from the blasted walls.

The FBI ordered city engineers to cut the building's power (within grid 212, an area encompassing 10 square blocks), exactly what Gruber and Theo wanted, so that the seventh "electromagnetic seal" or lock could be released ("the circuits that cannot be cut are cut automatically in response to a terrorist incident. You asked for miracles. I give you the FBI"). The safe's vault opened, to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" movement from the 9th Symphony, revealing the bonds. The FBI then ordered fully armed helicopter support to approach the rooftop (rather than transports), while Gruber planned to blow the roof when they touched down (and then escape with the bonds in an emergency vehicle readied for him in the basement). McClane confessed to Powell that he wanted to convey to his wife that "she's the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me" and to apologize for not being supportive of her.

Meanwhile, ambitious LA TV reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) tracked down Holly's address and forced his way in to interview Holly and John's two children. McClane confirmed, from investigating the roof, that Gruber had set it to be detonated with C4 explosives - and radioed Powell to warn him of the double-cross: "The whole roof of the building is wired to..." but was seized by Karl before he finished his message. They viciously fought against each other, as the FBI helicopters (now armed with guns) approached, and Gruber learned from Thornburg's exclusive TV report (and a family portrait at Holly's desk) that McClane's wife was Holly Gennero. As he ordered the other hostages to the roof, Gruber kidnapped Holly as his own personal hostage. After their long struggle, McClane presumably killed Karl by strangling him with a heavy chain, and then charged up to the roof where he:

(1) discovered that Holly was missing and had been taken prisoner on the 30th floor, and

(2) ordered the hostages to flee downstairs to escape the wired-to-blow roof.

However, he was misinterpreted as being one of the terrorists by the FBI agents in the helicopters and was shot at ("I'm on your side, you assholes!" he screamed). He then unraveled a long fire hose, tied himself to it, and jumped off the side of the building as he was assaulted a second time by helicopter fire. At the same time, Gruber detonated the roof and destroyed one of the FBI helicopters in the process.

McClane precariously dangled over the face of the skyscraper, then shot out the large pane of glass in front of him, swung himself into another floor, and untied himself before being dragged and reeled out the window to his death. Meanwhile, limo driver Argyle foiled Theo's escape scheme in the basement by driving his limo and ramming it into the emergency ambulance getaway vehicle, driven by Theo (in a paramedic's disguise), that was preparing to take Gruber from the building - he then punched Theo unconscious.

The bloodied and wearied McClane confronted Gruber (holding a gun on hostage Holly in front of him) and one other remaining terrorist, asking about the incredulous robbery that required the destruction of the entire building ("Why'd you have to nuke the entire building, Hans?") - Gruber replied that it was to make it look like everyone died. McClane was forced to drop his gun and admit "You got me," but got into a laughing fit with Gruber (and his thug assistant Eddie (Dennis Hayden)) to distract them. He suddenly reached behind his back and managed to shoot them (with a concealed loaded gun taped to his back, with his last two bullets) - he injured Gruber in the shoulder (he blew on his gun with the farewell: "Happy trails, Hans!") and killed the second remaining terrorist Eddie (Dennis Hayden) by a shot to the forehead. The bullet also broke the window behind Gruber.

In the exciting and climactic confrontation, the injured Gruber stumbled backwards and crashed through a pane of glass while holding onto Holly's arm and metal Rolex watchband, nearly dragging her with him. McClane rushed forward and grabbed her, released or unclapsed the band, and watched as Gruber still threatening with a gun in his right hand, unforgettably fell backwards to his death 30 stories below, while Robinson watched and commented from the ground below: "Oh, I hope that's not a hostage."

Bloodied and exhausted, McClane joyously kissed Holly. As they exited from the front of the building, McClane had his first face-to-face meeting with Powell, and introduced him to his wife (who noticeably identified herself as "Holly McClane"). As Robinson senselessly charged McClane with responsibility for Ellis' murder, property damage, and interfering with police business, terrorist Karl - thought to be dead - suddenly appeared screaming and aiming a machine gun at McClane. Powell drew his gun, the first time he had done so since accidentally killing a 13 year-old boy years earlier, and decisively shot him dead.

Argyle drove his limo through the garage's exit gate to pick up the reunited couple, as TV reporter Thornburg attempted to interview McClane about his "incredible ordeal" - Holly punched him squarely in the face during the live broadcast for earlier revealing her identity (he asked his cameraman: "Did you get that?"). Argyle joked as he prepared to drive the couple away, as they kissed in the limo's backseat: "If this is their idea of Christmas, I've gotta be here for New Year's," to the tune of Bing Crosby's singing of: "Let It Snow."

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

This highly-acclaimed, big-budget action film (and quintessential guy film) was the first in a series of films stretching over a period of 20 years, featuring Bruce Willis as wise-cracking, tough-guy NYC police cop John McClane with real human vulnerabilities, the protagonist in all four films. A fifth film was also added to the series: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013).

11 terrorists were killed (including the chief terrorist who fell off the building).

Based on Roderick Thorp's 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever.

Nominated for four Academy Awards (with no wins), including Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects.

From a production budget of approximately $28 million, the film's box-office was $83 million (domestic) and $140.7 million (worldwide).

The film (and its many sequels) were known for McClane's oft-censored line of dialogue: "Yippee-kai-yay, motherf--ker."

Lt. John McClane (Bruce Willis)

Holly Gennero/McClane
(Bonnie Bedelia)

Limo Driver Argyle (De'voreaux White)

CEO Joseph "Joe" Takagi (James Shigeta)

Lead Terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)

Terrorist Karl Vreski (Alexander Godunov)

Computer Expert/Terrorist Theo (Clarence Gilyard, Jr.)

Holly's Egotistical Co-Worker Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner)

LAPD Sgt. Al Powell
(Reginald VelJohnson)

Deputy Police Chief
Dwayne T. Robinson
(Paul Gleason)

TV Reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton)

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