It’s hard to think of a more definitive, big-budget American action film than Die Hard. The movies, which kicked off in 1988, starred a lone police officer, often dubbed “the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time,” who’s left to take out terrorist after terrorist in installment after installment.
We first meet John McClane (a role that, in retrospect, could only be Bruce Willis) on his way to a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza—it’s the reason why many people (myself included) swear up and down that Die Hard is acceptable to watch on the holidays. A quarter into the film, after he lays out his first of many kills, we know a few things: McClane isn’t as vein-bulgingly buff or as macho as his peers in the late ‘80s, but he’s pumped full of personality, wit and smarty-pants comments that Ah-nold or Stallone couldn’t dream of delivering.
Although his motives and commentary might be a little off, main bad guy Hans Gruber does get one thing right: McClane is a modern, handgun-toting cowboy. And from that declaration on out, it’s a special brand of action history: Dozens of hostages are saved, FBI agents are belittled, reporters are punched (yes, we got that), glass is picked out of feet, laughs are had and so many pesky terrorists die.
With Die Hard’s fifth installment out as of yesterday, we’re taking a look back at 10 of our favorite McClane moments (and discovering that nothing truly compares to the first along the way). Yippee-ki-yay, readers.
Perched on a desk above John McClane, one of the terrorists in the original Die Hard tries to deliver some tough truth on what he thinks is an easy kill: “Next time you have the chance to kill someone, don’t hesitate,” he sneers.
It’s a fair enough statement, considering McClane nearly spared him his life a few minutes before, but that doesn’t stop some well-placed bullets and an even better-placed one-liner: “Thanks for the advice.”
Die Hard 2
Normally any person pinned down to the ground in an airport would accept defeat, but not John McClane, who used a moving sidewalk to make his handgun come to him. Aside from big explosions and snarky comebacks, our hero’s utilization of his surroundings is one of the biggest staples in the Die Hard series, something that was still very intact in the second installment. The move isn’t quite The Force or anything, but it put the weapon he needed into his hand just in time to take out a nasty terrorist.
If this scene is iconic enough to be the inspiration for a Die Hard mural, here’s why: It’s McClane’s character all wrapped up—ahem, cellophane style, in a TV dinner. Here we see McClane as a man of espionage, a down-and-dirty blue-collar hero and most importantly, a smartass all in a few seconds.
John McClane learns early on in the Die Hard series that taking the advice of strangers isn’t always a great idea. Take for example, his plane partner’s advice that whenever he arrives at a destination, he should take off his shoes and ball his toes up like a fist. It’s comforting, maybe, but that’s no help when he’s unexpectedly surrounded by broken glass and international terrorist Hans Gruber’s best and burliest.
Although seeing McClane’s plucking of the glass out of his feet isn’t easy to watch, it’s one of the things that makes the original Die Hard completely separate from the rest. Sure, there are 13 terrorists against one rogue New York cop who is low on ammo, rest and patience. But why not throw in a set of torn-up tootsies to make the victory all the sweeter?
Although Die Hard 2 (often billed as Die Harder) didn’t come close to living up to the first film, there were plenty of self-aware pokes at its existence to begin with (and that it’s happening around Christmas again, no less). Hell, they even just tacked “er” on the title as the tagline of the movie. Here are some of our favorite quotes:
“I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement. Another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
“[Muttering] Egg nog, Christmas tree, but no, I have to crawl around this motherfucking tin can!”
With Die Hard’s fifth installment out as of yesterday, we’re taking a look back at 10 of our favorite McClane moments. Yippee-ki-yay, readers.
Live Free or Die Hard
Say what you will about Live Free or Die Hard’s blissful action movie excess, but this scene is what big screens are made for.
After a film filled with walkie talkie back-and-forth between McClane and Reginald VelJohnson’s character, Sgt. Al Powell, we find out he’s been avoiding street duty for some time after an accidental run-in that ended the life of a young boy. But when we see a terrorist make a final, dramatic attempt at raising the body count, Powell’s the only one left to step up. We see his panicked face, but the officer reacts the way he has to in order to save lives. And for what it’s worth, it’s kind of awesome to see Carl Winslow take down a baddie.
Die Hard With A Vengeance
After what’s a pretty lackluster sequel in Die Hard 2, Samuel L. Jackson breathes new life into the franchise with his character, Zeus Carver. He’s a Harlem shop owner with a massive presence in his community, but that doesn’t hold back his foul mouth and big attitude. Upon hearing a street gang say “Hey, Zeus,” to the character, McClane mistakes his name as “Jesus,” resulting in the following rant:
“He didn’t say Jesus, he said ‘Hey, Zeus!’ My name is Zeus, as in father of Apollo, Mt. Olympus, don’t fuck with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass, Zeus!”
He’s quick-witted with a fiery temper, but Zeus is the perfect pairing for the trigger-happy McClane, and part of the reason Die Hard With A Vengeance was a huge step-up from the second film.
Although McClane’s often bound to the rules of terrorists’ games, that doesn’t mean he can’t make them sweat it out. Case in point: one of his most effective, anxiety-producing statements to Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard was the big reveal of a white-shirted terrorist bound to a chair, with McClane’s statement—er, threat—scrawled across it: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.” It’s high-five inspiring enough, but hearing Alan Rickman as Hans read the whole thing off makes it doubly enjoyable.
Every Die Hard until the end of time
From the first appearance of the infamous quote in Die Hard 1 (It’s not necessarily a massive catchphrase the first time, with McClane whispering it into a walkie-talkie to Hans Gruber) to the gunshot that muffles an f-bomb and qualifies the fourth movie as PG-13, to the time he’s having yuks with Sam Jackson or if he’s lighting an airplane on fire from a stream of jet fuel, this is the definitive Die Hard moment. It’s what qualifies John McClane as our own modern John Wayne—er, Roy Rogers—a rogue badass hero who’s the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time.