A New York City Detective who, when visiting his estranged wife’s office building to reconcile with her, finds himself having to take on organised terrorists. He has a very abrasive personality, but more than makes up for it with determination and a sense of heroism.
Badass: The essence of the character. What made the Die Hard series stand out over other action films, especially the ones from the 1980s, was that McClane is very vulnerable. Just watch his reactions with Hans, especially when he tries to talk Ellis from saying he didn't know who he was just to save Ellis' life in the first movie, or trying his best to signal the plane that Stuart was gonna crash. He could also barely fight when he is badly hurt, and has to relies on hiding and dirty tactics to overcome his enemies and stay alive.
Badass Grandpa: From the fourth film onwards. His own son even lampshades this.
Heartbroken Badass: He still loves his wife, even if they are not married anymore. It becomes a factor in Die Hard 3 where he wants to get back with his wife, only for work to get in the way.
Being Good Sucks: He lives this trope. Over the course of all five movies, his wife has divorced him, his daughter is distant from him, he's completely estranged from his son and when he tries to save him he ends up destroying a secret CIA mission that took three years to plan, and he simply finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at all times. His fellow officers don't seem to care much for him, he's nearly an alcoholic, he's bitter, alone, and depressed, yet time after time, he continues to save the day simply because he's "that guy", as he puts it in his own words.
Determinator: In the first film, he gets beat up, shot at, nearly blown up, jumps himself off a building and crashes through a glass window, his feet get lacerated, and he eventually gets shot in the shoulder. This does not stop him. The third film has him getting pistol-whipped, blown up, beaten, drowned, shot at, beaten, and blown up again. This makes him angry. In the fourth film, he is shot at, blown up, shot at some more, thrown out of a car, beaten up by a hot Asian chick, dropped down an elevator shaft, frozen, beat up again, shot at by a jet fighter, shot, and then shoots himself. He doesn't give up at any point.
He even gives a trope-defining little speech in the fourth movie:
John McClane: You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin'. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can't remember your last name. Your kids don't want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy.
Matt Farrell: Then why you doing this?
John McClane: Because there's nobody else to do it right now, that's why. Believe me, if there were somebody else to do it, I'd let them do it, but there's not. So we're doing it.
Love Cannot Overcome: John and Holly clearly care about each other, but their marriage is already strained in the first movie. While Die Hard ends with them back together, ultimately their relationship can't survive John's Chronic Hero Syndrome. They're officially separated by movie three and divorced by movie four, adding to John's Knight in Sour Armor bitterness.
MacGyvering: His ability to create makeshift gadgets to save the day would make the Trope Maker himself proud.
Made of Iron: Over the course of each Die Hard movie John McClane takes a lot of physical abuse, but he still manages to keep fighting.
Manly Tears: When he fails to save a plane full of innocents from being murdered in Die Harder.
Took a Level in Jerkass: He's considerably grumpier and ruder in the third and fourth movies, but still a good man underneath.
It would be safe to assume that failing to save hundreds of innocent people from a fiery death and watching it happen right in front of him in Die Harder is an experience traumatic enough to turn anyone a bit mean and cynical.
Perhaps more importantly, his marriage breaks down between the second and third movies. His hung-over and depressed condition in the third is directly stated to be a product of Holly leaving him, while in the fourth, he has the entire afore-quoted speech about how alienated he is from his loved ones, and how useless being considered a hero is when compared.
Love Cannot Overcome: John and Holly clearly care about each other, but their marriage is already strained in the first movie. While Die Hard ends with them back together, ultimately their relationship can't survive John's Chronic Hero Syndrome. Before movie three Holly leaves John, and by movie four they're long divorced.
Married to the Job: Moved to the west coast for the sake of her career while John stayed in New York.
Ascended Extra: Small role in the first Die Hard, turns out to have a major one in the fourth one.
Demoted to Extra: At least in the fifth film, where her brother was the one that was taking stage. She only appears taking John to the airport, talking to him on the phone in the extended cut, and picking both of the McClanes from the airport.
Badass Damsel: While Gabriel still kidnaps her, Lucy isn't about to get all upset about it.
Calling the Old Man Out: Considering he goes by "Jack" instead of "John Jr.", he calls his dad "John" and they were estranged for so long that John had no idea where his son even was before learning he was in Russia, let alone being a CIA agent.
Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Jack wanted to be arrested so he could infiltrate The Mafiya/terrorists/Mafiya-terrorists and then his estranged dad suddenly appears to rescues him with a hugely destructive three-way car chase (John (small truck) vs. Jack (large truck) vs. Mafiya (giant armored truck)).
Foil: The HBO making-of seems to indicate that he is — or wants to be — The Chessmaster to John's Indy Ploy master since he's a CIA agent who deliberately puts himself in dangerous situations, is described as "by-the-book", and his secret mission took three years to set up.
A Los Angeles beat cop who becomes McClane’s only ally outside the building in the original Die Hard. He reprises the role for the second film for a short appearance.
The Atoner: Powell shot a 13 year old kid who was holding a realistic-looking toy gun. The guilt he feels over the incident causes him to believe that he'll never again be able to pull his gun on somebody. Thankfully, he proves himself wrong by drawing his gun and killing a terrorist who is about to kill McClane at the very end of the first film.
A sleazy reporter that hounds the McClane family in the first two movies.
Asshole Victim: He deserves all the things that happen to him, be it a punch in the face or an electroshock.
Face Death with Dignity: Averted. He was crying as the plane he was residing in with Mrs. McClane was preparing to crash land since they had no more fuel left in their tanks. (Notably, he was the only one shown crying.)
Nice Job Breaking It, Jerkass: In the first film, he unintentionally makes the villains aware that the woman they've negotiated with is John's wife, thus getting a key-hostage. In the second film he's causing a massive panic on the airport that most likely injured many people and maybe even casualties and tampers John's efforts.
Which makes a lot of sense. We see later that he can do a spot on American accent, which shows that he has a talent for accents and English. As he studied in England, he probably took on a perfect English, the parts of German getting through is the fact that he has been working with a large group of fellow Germans for a while now.
Pet the Dog: Allowing a couch to be moved out to the lobby so that the very pregnant woman could sit on it. But then he sends everybody onto the roof that's wired with explosives.
Karmic Death: Sending a plane full of innocents to their deaths is pretty unforgivable. So it's only fitting that he and his mooks are blown up on a plane.
Knight of Cerebus: Not that the film wasn't already serious, but even Hans Gruber didn't murder a planeful of people just to prove a point. That Stuart managed this despite John's best attempts (and his No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, below) arguably qualify him for Hero Killer status.
Cigar Chomper: He's seen asking his guard to light his up during the flight.
Click Hello: The pilot of Esperanza's plane is being told by Stuart to land at a different runway than he has been instructed to. As he's protesting the change in orders: *CLICK* "Captain, please tell the tower you will proceed as ordered."
Avenging the Villain: He may not like Hans, but that does not mean he lacks basic brotherly love for him: "There's a difference between not liking your brother and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him out a window."
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Simon betrays his Middle Eastern clients by trying to keep the gold instead of blowing it up and then tries to maximise his share. He keeps at least some of his accomplices in the dark about the ultimate fate of the gold, and then kills them when they find out. In the alternate ending, he's killed his girlfriend as well a few months after the movie's over.
Noble Demon: The kind of leader a band of warriors have is reflected in their behavior, for unlike most moustache-twirling one-dimensional villains, Simon's men actually go out of their way to make sure children will not be hurt in their operations, and actually bother to mourn the losses of their brothers before rejoicing in their ill-gotten money. Goes hand-in-hand with Even Evil Has Standards above.
Not So Different: Both he and McClane are suffering from headaches (no thanks to each other) throughout the movie.
Porky Pig Pronunciation: Though out the film, Simon seemed to have a stutter of sorts when talking over the phone when "pushed". However, in the scenes when he wasn't speaking to the NYPD, he talks and speaks perfectly fine and fakes a stutter while calling New York police gullible, indicating it was just a ruse.
Would Not Hurt A Child: An honorable and humane quality that sets Simon apart from normal Hollywood villains such as Colonel Stuart above.
The Voiceless: The original ending to the movie suggests she may be mute, but in the final cut she does yell when shooting at McClane.
She was originally supposed to have a speaking part in the film; however, it was decided that her character would be silent, since it made her appear much more imposing and lethal. This makes the scene where she slices one of the Federal Reserve guards to death much more powerful.
Avenging the Villain: What she tries to do after seeing that Jack had killed her father, while she was losing control of the Mi-26 Halo cargo helicopter she was piloting due to John's interference. It leads to her ramming the Halo right into the building the McClanes, only for them to have already escaped, leading to her death.