This film started the popular Die Hard franchise. #39 on AFI "Thrills" list.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 in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper where she works, thanks to a Christmas party held by the company for which 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.
"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.
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 the only black member of Gruber's team (see Black and Nerdy above) 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 villians' getaway van and knocks out Black and Nerdy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Holly: There's a pregnant woman out there. [alarmed looks from the bad guys] Don't worry, she's not due for a couple of weeks. But the constant standing isn't doing her back any favors. I'd like to request she be moved to a room with a sofa.
Hans: ...No, but I'll have one brought out to her. Good enough?
Holly: Good enough.
Doesn't quite count as Pet the Dog, because he was planning to murder all the hostages - including her - anyway.
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.
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!"
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.
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".
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.
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.
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..."
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.
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.
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.
Hans: 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."
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.