Wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This film started the popular Die Hard
New York City police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis
) has flown out to Los Angeles to meet his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), in an attempt to reconcile their marriage over the Christmas holiday. He meets up with her at a Christman Eve party in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper where she works. During the party, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman
) seize control of the building and turn the party-goers into hostages — except for John, who manages to escape their initial siege. Armed with little more than his wits and extensive police training, John does his best to alert the LA authorities to the attack, stay alive as he picks off the terrorists as best he can, and save his wife from becoming another one of Gruber's victims.
Now it has a trope examples list. Ho ho ho.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Probably the most notable is McClane and Powell trading anecdotes as McClane pulls glass out of his feet.
- There is also the argument between John and Holly early in the story about her using her maiden name for her job and how hurt John is by that gesture.
- Adaptation Distillation: In the original book, there was only a daughter who was hostage, and the book had a Downer Ending.
- Agony of the Feet: John spends the entire Nakatomi events barefoot. The worst part is when he's forced to walk on glass...
A million bad guys in the world, and I kill the one with feet smaller than my sister's.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Hans pretends to be one of the American employees believing John to be one of the terrorists, who begs for his life when confronted by John on the roof of the building.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Played straight (and famously so), but at least they make the vent accurately sized:
McClane: Now I know what a TV Dinner feels like.
- Additionally, crawling through it is appropriately noisy: John nearly gets caught when the terrorists hear him.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Some viewers protested at the opening scene in which John is seen carrying a gun on his flight to LA, finding it unrealistic. In fact, current TSA policy only stipulates that John would have to be A) currently employed as a cop, B) take a "Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed" course, and C) be allowed to carry a gun on a plane by his employing agency's standing policies, in this case the NYPD. It would only apply to his service revolver, and there's no evidence online whether the NYPD endorses armed flying, but it's still possible, even post-9/11.
- Are We Getting This?: Said by Thornburg when he sees the destruction caused by McClane.
- Then again after Holly slugs him for being a Jerkass and endangering herself and John.
- Armed Altruism: Seeing through Hans's charade, John pretends to be doing this when gives him a gun.
- An Ass-Kicking Christmas: A famous example of it. The soundtrack also uses sleigh bells as a memorable hook.
"If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year's."
- Asshole Victim: Ellis, who betrays John to the terrorists. Nonetheless John pleads for Ellis' life and is anguished when he is killed by Gruber.
- It seemed like Ellis honestly thought he could help lower the level of violence by negotiating (in his cocky businessman persona) a truce/surrender between John and the terrorists. He was more naive than he realized, which is why John bothered to plead for his life.
- He also pretended to be a friend of John's so Gruber&Co wouldn't know about Holly, thus keeping her (relatively) safe, and showing that Ellis really did care about her.
- Avenging the Villain: Karl's prime motivation for killing McClane is to avenge his brother's death at McClane's hands early in the film.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: John & Holly.
- Badass Boast: John's:
- "Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho"
- "I figured since I've waxed Tony and Marco and his friend here, I figured you and Karl and Franco might be lonely so I wanted to give you a call."
- Bait the Dog: Hans Gruber's escape plan is to kill the hostages and escape in the confusion.
- Batman Gambit: Hans' plan is dependent on the FBI cutting power to the building, as per standard hostage procedure.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Hans's quote on Alexander the Great. It's actually "Alexander of Macedon, who, upon hearing that there were other worlds, wept that he had not yet conquered one", though this would fit in with his posturing and Delusions Of Grandeur.
- Beard of Evil: Hans sports one.
- Benevolent Boss: Takagi. Throwing his best employees a party, being very gregarious toward John, and refusing to sell out his corporation. Pumping him full of lead demonstrated how evil Hans was.
- Big Bad: Hans Gruber.
- Black and Nerdy: Theo, the upbeat and cheery hacker.
- Black Best Friend: Sgt. Al Powell in the first movie becomes McClane's staunchest ally and best source of moral support. Not as big a role in the second, although he is still John's best friend.
- Black Dude Dies First: Inverted as Theo, the only black member of Gruber's team, is the only bad guy with characterization to survive the movie. Argyle, the black limo driver, also lives. Not only does he live- he has a Crowning Moment of Awesome when he rams the villains' getaway van and knocks out Theo with one punch! In a racial variation, Gruber shows he means business by turning Japanese Takagi into a Sacrificial Lamb early on.
- Among the named characters, the only "black dude" who died in the film was Special Agent Johnson, and he and his white colleague died together.
- Black Helicopter: The FBI copter.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Tony and Karl.
- Bond One-Liner: Said by John after he's dispatched a villain who suggested he never pass on an opportunity to kill his enemy:
McClane: Thanks for the advice.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Karl has a gun pointed at John. He could have easily shot him any time, instead John managed to disarm him and engage in a hand to hand combat.
- Boring Insult: After Hans Gruber and his band of terrorists are revealed to actually be after $600 million in bearer bonds:
Holly McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
- Bottomless Magazines: Present and averted in the same scene: John McClane and two terrorists are blasting away at each other with submachine guns. John's runs out of ammunition, while the terrorists' don't. Since it was one of the first action movies that had the characters carry around spare magazines and the film explicitly shows the terrorists reloading on multiple occasions, implied aversions in which they reload off-screen can be safely assumed.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Alan Rickman put on such a convincing American accent, the director decided to extend the scene where he pretends to be a hostage in order to show it off. Given a Call Back in the third film when his brother (played by fellow Brit Jeremy Irons) puts on a heavy Texas accent.
- By-the-Book Cop:
- Dwayne T. Robinson, at least initially. By the time the FBI show up, he seems to be starting to believe Powell about McClane, and even banters with him about the FBI's stupidity.
- The FBI, following procedure to the letter. Even if it means that the hostages might suffer.
- Car Cushion: John throws a Mook out the window and onto the cop's car below to get his attention.
- Car Fu: Argyle, the limousine driver, is oblivious to the hostage situation for half of the movie, and useless for most of the rest, but in the last 15 minutes or so, he slams his limo into the getaway vehicle, trapping it against the wall of the garage and preventing Theo from escaping.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Holly's Rolex, the removal of which kills the Big Bad.
- And, to be honest, everything that ever appears on-screen. If it shows up at all, it has an impact on the plot. Everything. Lighters. Shoes. Teddy bears. Glass. Detonators. Cigarettes. Heck, the advice John's seatmate on the airplane gives him in the very first scene of the very first movie. You name it.
- Climbing Climax: The fate of Hans Gruber at the end.
- Combat Pragmatist: McClane defeats the villain with packing tape and his wife's watch.
- The film was praised for the Combat Pragmatist approach; in other words, eschewing the concepts of Boring Invincible Hero (by showing McClane legitimately afraid, and later, bleeding and limping by the last stand versus Hans), Bottomless Magazines (by showing people having to reload) and applying Indy Ploy to a hostage situation (i.e. McClane can't just shoot his way out; he has to think fast to save himself and the hostages).
- One particularly notable moment is when Hans in Karl are in a firefight with McClaine. Hans, having seen earlier that McClaine is barefoot, tells Karl to shoot out the panes of glass between them so that McClaine will have to injure himself to get away.
- Concealment Equals Cover: Subverted, as one scene has McClane shoot a mook through a table.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Subverted with Joseph Takagi. At the beginning we're led to believe that he might be one. He's not, though he might appear to be one to casual observers. Gruber knows this, and uses it to convince the police that he's a terrorist rather than a thief.
- Cowboy Cop: Hans actually calls McClane out on this, and then the discussion turns to cowboys in movies, leading to the Catch Phrase.
- The Cracker: Theo is a more realistic black hat: his main displays of cracking skill consist of tapping in to the building's camera system and guessing Takagi's password to defeat the first of seven locks on the Nakatomi Corporation vault. To disable locks 2 through 6, he uses a big drill. He doesn't even know how to open the final electromagnetic time lock on the vault until he learns about Hans' gaming the FBI into shutting off the power to the entire city grid that the building is on, thus disabling the lock and giving them access to the vault.
- Darkened Building Shootout
- The Determinator: John McClane in a nutshell. A Trope Codifier for the non-invincible action movie hero who has to Earn His Happy Ending.
- Deadpan Snarker: Even through trying to kill each other John and Hans actually seem to enjoy their snarky back and forths with each other.
- Didn't Think This Through: In order to get the terrorists off of killing more of the cops, McClane wraps a computer among some C4 and doesn't bother priming it correctly. So, when it explodes and creates a very huge explosion, his reaction says it all:
- Die Hard on an X: The originator and namer of this trope, and many films that fall into the trope purposely homage Die Hard for this reason. Die Hard 2 falls under this trope; interestingly, the other 3 sequels do not.
- Disney Villain Death: Hans's death.
- The Dragon: Karl.
- Dragon with an Agenda: He's deeply affected when McClane kills his brother Tony and subsequently spends the rest of the film hell-bent on killing McClane.
- Dragon Their Feet: Karl.
- The Driver: Argyle.
- Drugs Are Bad: Cocaine-using Ellis is portrayed as a smug loser in relation to this trope. When he meets John he "misses some" cocaine in his nose and John can barely contain his contempt when he points this out to Ellis.
- Dub Name Change: In the German dub of the movie, Hans and Karl are named Jack and Charlie, and all the German lines are replaced by Italian.
- Subverted in later releases, which use the original script.
- Dynamic Entry: When the terrorists enter the Nakatomi, they seem to be casually talking about the Los Angeles Lakers, the discussion is a distraction to let them get close to the receptionist and kill him, along with a Post-Mortem One-Liner:
Theo: Boom, two points!.
- The Eighties: Can you say "smarmy, bearded, Gordon Gekko-type working for a company that has been bought out by the Japanese"? See also the price of gas when Sgt. Powell stops for doughnuts - 74 cents for regular, 77 unleaded (And the existence of leaded gasoline at the station in the first place, as that hasn't been sold since the early nineties). When Theo first enters, he's describing a play involving four members of the remarkable late-eighties L. A. Lakers: James Worthy, A. C. Green, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
- '80s Hair: Holly.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Karl, again.
- Evil Laugh: Hans and his colleague share one right before John reveals what he had taped to his back...
- Exaggerated Trope: Harry Ellis was played as a comically over-the-top version of the sleazy, smarmy executive.
- The Film of the Book: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Die Hard is a surprisingly faithful adaptation. Differences include:
- In the book the cop character is a retiree, and the wife character is actually his estranged daughter (the estranged wife in the book is a Posthumous Character). The children are the protagonist's grandchildren instead, and rather than staying safely at home are at the party with their mother and are also taken hostage.
- The terrorists in the book are not thieves, but sincere terrorists who think the company is evil.
- The novel is a fair bit Darker and Edgier, including a Downer Ending in which the lead terrorist yanks the daughter out the window to her death.
- Fish out of Water: The film features a New York City cop with unpolished social skills (McClane) visiting California for a swank corporate party.
- Genre Deconstruction: Of 80's action movies. Instead of the usual Boring Invincible Hero, we get an average joe police officer who's thrust into the story as visiting his wife and then becomes the only person who can take on Gruber. The bad guys aren't terrorists, only using that as a front for an elaborate robbery. John does his best to avoid confrontations and gets hurt like anyone else would. By the end, John's a limping wreck held together by bandages and determination.
- Genre Savvy: An in-universe example. Hans and the terrorists are clearly more competent than the cops and FBI agents trying to negotiate with them, playing them at every turn and using their own protocol against them because they know exactly how the "good guys" will respond to the situation. In fact the only reason they're not sitting on the beach earning 20% is because they didn't count on a barefoot NYC cop visiting his estranged wife.
- Giving Them the Strip: Hans grabs Holly's wrist as he's about to fall to his Disney Villain Death. John saves her from being dragged down with the villain by unhinging her wristwatch, which makes Hans lose his grip.
- Good Is Not Nice: When the frightened hostages don't listen to John to get off of the boobytrapped roof, he begins firing wildly in their direction with a machine gun to scare them off. Unfortunately it also gets the attention of the FBI agents who think he is one of the terrorists.
- Earlier, when Sgt. Powell is about to drive away and write John's distress signal off as a false alarm, Jon drops one of the dead terrorists bodies onto his hood, then shoots at him to convince him that this is the real deal.
- Fortunately both cases are justified by his desperation, allowing McClane to still be a strongly heroic character.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: John smokes cigs. He's a Bad Ass good guy.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Especially in the Bowdlerised-for-TV second film: "Yipee-ki-yay, Mister Falcon!!!"
- On British television television this was usually dubbed as "Yipee-ki-yay, kimosabe!"
- Gratuitous German: Apparently, German terrorists say things like "mach los, mach schnell!" ("make/do go/fast") whenever they are in a hurry.
- Groin Attack: McClane performs the ultimate Groin Attack by emptying half a pistol magazine into a terrorist's junk from under a table (the rest of the mag is emptied into his chest).
- Hand Signals: One of the terrorists gives another terrorist a "clenched fist" signal just before the SWAT attack begins.
- Heroic Bystander: John's limo driver Argyle... eventually.
- Hero Insurance: Justified by McClane when the Deputy Chief yells at him.
Dwayne T. Robinson:
I don't know who you think you are but you just blew up a BUILDING! I've got a hundred people down here, and they're covered with glass!
- Hollywood CB: Averted, with McClane's talks with Al the cop audible to the terrorists (hence his use of "Roy" instead of his real name), except for one bit where he interrupts Hans at one point, on a walkie talkie.
- Played Straight with the radio's range, however. He contacts police headquarters (located, presumably, in another part of the city) from the roof of a skyscraper. That's one powerful handheld.
- I Am A Humanitarian: John briefly threatens to cook and eat Karl.
- I Surrender, Suckers: In the first film McClane does this to the terrorists/thieves at the end.
- Idiot Ball: Glued to the hands of Deputy Chief Robinson in the first movie, until the FBI agents (who may well qualify for Too Dumb to Live) take it away from him. By the end of the movie Robinson is still an ungrateful and impertinent Da Chief.
- If I Do Not Return: McClane to Sgt. Al Powell during the first film.
- Improbable Cover: McClane builds a homemade bomb and tosses it down an elevator shaft. When it goes off, a blast of fire shoots upword toward him. He survives by stepping to the side of the door.
- Indy Ploy: Practically anything McClane does is without previous planning. He lampshades it frequently: "Oh, John, what the fuck are you doing?" (first, as he ties a fire hose around his waist), "Ah John, what the fuck are you doing out on the wing of this plane?" (second, trying to stop the plane from taking off), "This is a bad idea!" (third, before jumping into a subway train from the sidewalk, and fourth, just before taking down a helicopter with a car.)
- Irony: "Glass? Who gives a shit about glass?"
- Ironic Echo: "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs!" — McClane reciting his wife's invitation while being crammed in a air vent.
- It Works Better with Bullets: "What, do you think I'm fucking stupid, Hans?"
- Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson is callous, obstructive and unnecessarily unpleasant at times. He lightens up when he sees how careless the FBI is.
- "Dick" Thornburg goes for the big scoop in an openly sleazy way.
- Jurisdiction Friction: Between the FBI and the LAPD in the first film. Gruber even predicted it and incorporated it into his plan.
- Just a Stupid Accent: Although the villains often pepper their dialogue with German, almost all plot-critical information is communicated through English, for no adequately explained reason aside from the audience's benefit. It becomes particularly glaring when they persist in speaking English when using walkie-talkies even when they know John can hear everything they're saying.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: Hans Gruber, everybody, give him a hand.
Hans: Nice suit... John Phillips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.
- Mistaken for Terrorist:
- The Mooks in a rare pre-September 11th, non-Muslim example. Invoked as they are posing as terrorists as part of their theft.
- McClane himself is mistaken for one of the "terrorists" when he's trying to get the hostages off the roof with an MP5.
- Last Breath Bullet: Averted when Hans almost gets a shot off before falling to his death.
- The Law of Conservation of Detail: The screenplay is littered with minute details that play a significant role in the plot. The advice given to John by the man sitting next to him on the plane, the watch given to his wife as a reward for her hard work, her using her maiden name rather than her married name, even the nationality of the wife's nanny play into the plot somehow.
- Leave Him to Me: After McClane kills Karl's brother; when Karl is informed by Hans that John is on the roof, he and some Mooks go up in an elevator to get him, and Karl tells the Mooks that "no one kills him but me."
- Also in the climax, Hans keeps the last Mook standing from shooting John right away by saying "Nein! Dies ist mein." which translates to "No! This one is mine."
- Lighter and Softer: The whole film is much lighter than the original Nothing Lasts Forever novel. While both the film and book respectively deal with John/Joe's fear dealing with the overwhelming odds, the book is much harsher about it by also showing the dehumanizing elements he goes through killing all of Gruber's men. In addition to that, the book has a much bigger focus on Grey and Grey Morality with the corporation the terrorists are raiding having been involved in crooked arms deals in the past, Dwayne T. Robinson is an outright Dirty Cop who also becomes an Asshole Victim in the end and Gruber's men manage to claim a lot more lives than in the film, where only Takagi and Ellis are killed, the latter of which has a far more tragic death with him tearfully begging for his life as opposed to the film where it's a result of his own smugness thinking he can control the situation.
- Made of Iron: Karl.
- Magic Bullets: Averted when John kills a Mook by shooting him through a table, almost gets shot himself while hiding in an air duct, and all the other "missed" shots still leaving pretty obvious holes in whatever they hit.
- Played very straight when Takagi is executed.
- Male Gaze: While McClane is battling terrorists, he gives a quick look at a nudie calender on the wall. This is a bit of Fridge Brilliance; he's doing it because he doesn't know his way around the bowels of the building and it's a landmark.
- Meaningful Name:
- The FBI agents named Johnson.
- The Jerkass reporter is actually named Dick. Go figure.
- The movie takes place around Christmas, and John's wife is called Holly.
- Meaningful Rename: John's estranged wife and daughter have adopted the Gennaro surname, but they casually switch to McClane when they reconnect with him.
- More Dakka: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
- Mr. Fanservice: Quite a few of the accomplices were played by male models. In the first, Karl was a tall Russian ballet dancer with blond hair played by Alexander Godunov, and they were all led by Alan Rickman. And in the second film, some of Stuart's soldiers include Robert Patrick (from T2), Franco Nero (Esperanza), and Don Harvey, to name a few.
- My Greatest Failure: Al cannot forgive himself for shooting a kid with a plastic gun. He averts this when he fires on The Dragon to save John at the end of the film in My Greatest Second Chance.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Alan Rickman plays a German with his usual British accent, as does Jeremy Irons.
- Justified in Hans' (Rickman's) case - he mentions getting his suits from a London tailor and alludes to a classical education. It's likely he was educated in England and probably spent a lot of time there.
- Justified in the third movie. Simon was running an East German covert unit that trained operatives to be spies in the UK and US. They specalized in mastering regional accents and adopting comprehensive identities, and were left jobless when the Berlin Wall came down.
- Not Quite Dead: Karl, not until Al puts a few bullets in him, after professing his fear of using his firearm in the line of duty earlier on.
- Nuclear Candle: John's lighter in the air vent.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The 911 dispatchers, the police captain, and the FBI.
- Odd Friendship: A rare villainous one. Towering, stoic bruiser Karl and Theo, the mostly non-action hacker who never shuts up.
- One Bullet Left: Well two, one for each remaining bad guy.
- One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Very pregnant woman motioning at her belly to Holly:
Do you think she can stand a little sip?
She's ready to tend bar!
- One-Liner Echo: Hans tries to turn "Yippe-ki-yay, motherfucker" into his own Pre-Mortem One-Liner. Then John shoots him.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with the two FBI agents Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson. No relation.
- The "No relation" bit is rather amusing given that one's white and the other is black.
- A little later on, while one is on the phone: "This is Agent Johnson. ...No, the other one."
- Only a Model
- Only One: The FBI and the LA police department.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Karl, the terrorist who spends the film trying to avenge his brother's death is "dispatched" by John hanging him with a chain. Despite being hung by his neck, suffocated and presumed dead he still gets one last Not Quite Dead 30 stories below in the lobby.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Karl reminds the other mooks to leave McClane to him.
- The Operators Must Be Crazy: A police dispatcher gives John McClane a hard time when is trying to report a terrorist attack.
- Outrun the Fireball: Somewhat used, as McClane has to leap off before a bomb destroys the skyscraper rooftop.
- Paparazzi: Dick Thornburg.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: Takagi's password is "Red Castle", the translation of his name.
- Police Are Useless: Except for Al and John himself, this is played straight:
Dispatcher: Sir, this frequency is for emergencies only.
McClane: No fuckin' shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza???
- The LAPD (except for Al) succeed in nothing but getting shot at. The FBI has it even worse, actually helping the bad guys get into the vault by shutting down power to the building.
- Pregnant Hostage: One who doesn't give birth during the hostage situation, even.
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Hans has his gun pressed against Holly's head and orders her husband John McClane to put down his gun. John complies. It's a ruse. The submachine gun is empty anyway, and John has his pistol taped to his back.
- Reality Ensues: The franchise did get crazier with each movie, but the first has many occasions of this:
- When the trouble starts, does McClane immediately rise to the occasion? No, he spends much of the movie trying to call for help. In fact, once the police actually arrive, he spends the next 20 minutes of the movie not doing much of anything (the greatest danger he gets into is trying to eat an old Twinkie). He knows he is on the wrong side of a losing equation, and the only reason he takes on the terrorists is because he needs to protect himself and the police are too incompetent. Hell, the very first thing he does after grabbing his gun is run away!
- John subverts the Nerves of Steel and Made of Iron action hero. Spending a night of fighting terrorists without armor or even shoes will leave you a physical and emotional wreck, not to mention scared out of your mind.
- John's firing the gun on the roof to get the hostages off the roof make him a target of the FBI sniper. Had the roof not blown up, John would have been killed.
- Redshirt Army: The SWAT team. A couple of rockets from the terrorists later and they're all dead and gone.
- Relative Button: A super-rare hero on villain example, when McClane taunts Karl during their fight:
"You should've heard your brother squeal when I broke his fuckin' neck!"
- Rescue Romance: While they were already technically a couple, John's marriage was on the rocks and saving Holly also saved their marriage - at least for now. Sometime between the second and third movie it starts falling apart again, and it doesn't recover that time.
- Revealing Cover Up: The Terrorism ruse was used to hide the real crime, the stealing of $650 million in bearer bonds.
- Revenge Before Reason: After McClane kills his brother, Karl nearly blows the plan repeatedly in order to get his revenge.
- Riding into the Sunset: Referenced by Hans Gruber:
- Ripped from the Headlines: Almost literally done in-universe by Hans Gruber in his mischievous demands when he includes the obscure terrorist group "Asian Dawn"... he read about them in "Time Magazine".
- The Right Man in the Wrong Place can seriously derail a perfectly good plan.
- Rooftop Confrontation: Featured, with the plot-relevant roof being special because it doesn't survive the fight.
- Secret Test: Applied to the villain rather than the hero. When Hans introduces himself to John as Bill Clay, civilian employee, John enlists "Bill" as help and gives him a gun. As soon as "Bill" gets the gun he reveals himself as Hans—but John gave him an unloaded gun.
- Shame If Something Happened: When attempting to coerce Takagi to give him the password to his computer, Hans says it would be a shame to ruin his expensive tailored suit.
- Sherlock Scan: John is able to deduce quite a bit about the Mooks inside the office just by picking up on subtle clues in their attire and actions.
- Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Sergeant Al Powell did this to a 13 year old boy. Gave him a Heroic BSOD.
- Shoot Out the Lock
- Shout-Out: Hans Gruber wonders if McClane is trying too hard to be like John Wayne, Rambo or Marshall Dillon. John settles for Roy Rogers.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Karl and his brother, one is hot blooded and strong, the other is calm and craftier.
- Side Bet: In the scene where Hans interrogates Mr. Takagi, Theo says "Told you" and Karl replies "It's not over yet" when Takagi won't talk. When Hans shoots Takagi, Karl hands Theo a bill.
- Smooch of Victory: John and Holly at the end.
- Soft Glass:
- Averted; McClane shoots the window he's swinging towards to weaken it before smashing through, and he looks terrible afterward.
- In one scene, Gruber and Karl shoot out the plate glass in some offices so that barefooted McClane will have to walk across broken glass to reach the door. He does so, but has to tear off his shirt and make a bandage for his bleeding foot, and pull a huge fucking shard of glass from it. Test audiences were horrified when he yanked it out. The windows were made of safety glass, because it looks cooler when it breaks.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: After everything that's happened, including one last hail of bullets less than a minute earlier, as John and Holly drive off with the smoky backdrop behind them, the cheerful lyrics "Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful..."
- Standard Snippet: The film uses Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, most notably when the vault is opened.
- The piece has actually become associated with the entire franchise, appearing in the trailers for almost each movie.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Discussed, averted and the setup to a joke.
- A news report suggests the hostages are entering the first stages, and then the camera pans to the hostages watching a corpse being dragged past them and are terrified of rather than identifying with their captors.
- In an amusing mixup / Take That against media pundits and anchors, the author of a book on the subject refers to it as "Helsinki Syndrome", suggesting that he either got his facts wrong or he is ripping off Stockholm Syndrome. The male newsreader tries to clarify to the viewers that he's referring to "Helsinki, Sweden". Then the shot cuts to a frustrated cameraman rolling his eyes and facepalming in exasperation at the newsreader's ignorance. It's made even funnier considering that the anchor in his blatant mistake is a bit more accurate than the so-called expert (obliquely, as in Sweden = half-right). He is, however, immediately corrected by the 'expert'. "...Finland."
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Tony, Karl's brother, is found dead inside an elevator, with a Santa Claus hat and with a message from John.
- Take That: The dialog between McClane and Gruber about "American cowboys" is an extended Take That by screenwriter Steven de Souza against a number of pretentious European intellectuals and film critics. Gruber's lines about McClane as "Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture..." were actually a close paraphrase of a writer's critique of American movies like de Souza's earlier Commando. McClane's famous Catch Phrase retort is essentially de Souza's response.
- Taking the Kids: Holly leaves for California due to a great career opportunity and takes the children with her, much to McClane's dismay. They argue about her having done this and her going back to her maiden name.
- Taking You with Me: Subverted; Hans nearly shoots John and drags Holly down with him when he's hanging out the window, but John breaks his grip on her in time (see Giving Them the Strip, above).
- Talking to Themself: John talks to himself pretty much any time he's alone.
"Why didn't you try to stop him, John? 'Cause then you'd be dead too, asshole..."
- Technology Marches On: Cell phones and wireless Internet would have made things easier for McClane... if the people on the other line weren't still being so thickheaded.
- Those Two Guys: Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson. No relation.
- Token Black Guy: Averted. Sgt. Al Powell, Argyle, Theo, and Special Agent Johnson are all black. And all great and memorable characters, to boot.
- Too Clever by Half: Harry Ellis is a Smug Snake who decides that he is perfectly capable of handling Gruber himself, and chats with him in a far too casual and egotistical manner. He acts as though he is in charge, not them, they need him, and that he can work things out to everyone's satisfaction because clearly he's smart enough to have them figured out. He does manage to provide them with information, but he doesn't drop the act and keeps on pretending he's a friend of John's when his life is directly threatened. His scheme finally backfires when Gruber calls the bluff and coldly shoots and kills him to prove a point to McClane.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: Argyle, the limo driver. At first, it led to a small Funny Background Event moment when Powell's car is being shot up. He is, however, useful in foiling the robbers.
- Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Takagi and Hans share one.
Nice suit. John Phillips... London. I have two myself. Rumor has it, Arafat buys his there.
- Unstoppable Rage: When McClane kills Karl's brother, Karl flies into a white hot fury, trashing furniture and screaming for McClane's blood. He has to be restrained by Hans for most of the rest of the film from "alter[ing] the plan", but ultimately loses his patience and finally hunts McClane down and beats him within an inch of his life, shooting him in the shoulder, and even surviving being strangled with a chain and making it out of the building for one last attempt on McClane's life, before being shot by Al Powell, all while snarling with the most intense rage imaginable.
- They Just Didn't Care (In-Universe): Gruber asks for the release of a variety of terrorist cells to keep up the image of being a terrorist. When asked by one of his mooks about the one Asian cell out of a list of mostly European terrorist groups, he shrugs and says, "I read about them in Time magazine." Amusingly, it's the Asian terrorists that the police are later shown experiencing red tape with.
Karl: Do you think they will even try to do it?
Hans: Who cares.
- Victory Is Boring: Mentioned by Hans during one of his cultured gloats when he takes over the Nakatomi.
And when Alexander
saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.
- Villainous Breakdown: Hans notably becomes a lot more unhinged as things start to spiral out of his control and he has to quickly make concessions to his plan.
- Western Terrorists: Subverted in that they are not ideological crusaders but mercenaries and thieves who are in it for the money.
Holly :After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
- Wicked Cultured: Hans Gruber. He lampshades this by quoting Plutarch's "Life of Alexander" and then comments, "One of the benefits of a classical education."
- What an Idiot: Lampshaded In-Universe.
(Elevator arrives bringing the mooks Hans just called on his radio)
Gruber: "You were saying?"
- Wrong Genre Savvy: See You Wouldn't Shoot Me.
- Wrong Insult Offence: Hans Gruber claims to be a terrorist, but is later revealed to be after 600 million dollars worth of bearer bonds.
Mrs. McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
Hans: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Tony tries this with McClane when our hero has a gun held against his head, reminding him he's a cop and has rules to obey. McClane concedes, and promptly pistol-whips him.
- Younger and Hipper: The movie is this when compared to Roderick Thorp's Nothing Lasts Forever, the novel it is based on. When the novel was optioned for filming, sixty-something Joe Leland from the book became late-thirty-something John McClane for the movie.