) 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 Christmas Eve party in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper where she works. During the party, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (
) 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.
- The '80s: 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.
- 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.
- Adaptational Heroism: The entire Takagi corporation, it seems. In the original novel the terrorists were genuine about their goals and their plans included uncovering documents about the company's dealings with Chile's Junta. Nothing unsavory is shown about the Takagi corporation. The head of the company personally is much more noble in the film as well.
- Adaptation Distillation: In the original book, there was only a daughter who was hostage, and the book had a Downer Ending.
- Age Lift: In the novel the main character is a retired police officer (and a WW2 veteran!) and it is his daughter who is working at the skyscraper.
- 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 in the boiler room under the roof.
- 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.
- Apparently, it also stains your shirt, so it will go from white to brown.
- 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 he gives him a gun.
- 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.
- An Asskicking 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."
- 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."
- Baddie Flattery: Hans Gruber compliments Mr. Takagi, while holding him hostage.
Hans Gruber: Nice suit. John Phillips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.
- Bait the Dog: Hans Gruber's escape plan is to kill the hostages and escape in the confusion.
- Ballroom Blitz: Hans Gruber and his terrorist interrupt the Nakatomi company's Christmas party to take everyone hostage.
- Batman Gambit: Hans' plan is dependent on the FBI cutting power to the building, as per standard hostage procedure.
- Beard of Evil: Hans sports one.
- Beeping Computers: The security computer Theo hacks is producing beeping sounds when being operated.
- Benevolent Boss: Takagi. Throwing his best employees a party, being very gregarious toward John, and refusing to sell out his corporation. Killing him demonstrated how evil Hans was.
- Big Bad: Hans Gruber.
- Big Labyrinthine Building: Nakatomi Plaza. Here's a rundown of some of the places visited during the film:
- Parking garage: Partially below main building, Argyle trapped here, Theo knocked out by Argyle here
- 1st floor: Entrance
- 3rd floor: Under construction, Alexander (one of the terrorists) stationed here, he and James are killed here
- 30th floor: Office party
- 31st floor: Vault, since the office party was on the 30th floor and Eddie is seen wherever the vault is, watching the hostages run back down to the 30th floor from about one floor above
- 32nd floor: Under construction, Tony killed here
- 33rd floor: Computer rooms, Bill Clay works here, Fritz and Franco killed here
- 34th floor: Conference room, Takagi executed here, Heinrich and Marco killed here
- 35th floor: Explosives placed here, Uli killed here
- Roof: helipad and fire hose
- Black and Nerdy: Theo, the upbeat and cheery hacker.
- Black Best Friend: Sgt. Al Powell 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.
- Black Humor: When getting back into his car, Sgt. Powell starts singing "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". Cue a mook body crashing onto his hood.
- Bluffing the Authorities: After John McClain calls the Los Angeles Police Department for help, sergeant Al Powell stops by the building to check out his claim. One of the terrorists pretends to be a security guard and allays his suspicions, so Powell starts to leave. McClain has to throw a body through a window so it drops on the front of the police car to alert Powell to the fact that something is seriously wrong.
- Bluff the Impostor: John encounters Hans alone on one of the upper floors. Hans quickly pretends to be an escaped hostage, speaking in a convincing American accent instead of his usual British (well, German-ish). Though John wasn't that convinced by the accent, since it sounded too state-neutral to be real. John says it sounded like he should be on television with it.
- 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 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.
- John starts with only a single magazine for his pistol, as he doesn't take any spares with him when he grabs it. He doesn't use it until he dispatches a Mook with an MP5, which conveniently uses the same ammo.
- 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.
- Building of Adventure: Most of the film is set in or around a conveniently empty high rise office building in Los Angeles' Century City district.
- 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. He does begin to chew John out for his actions at the end of the film, but is interrupted by Karl.
- 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.
- Cassandra Truth: John McClane is unable to get the police radio operator to believe his report that heavily-armed terrorists have taken at least 30 people hostage at the Nakatomi Plaza. She just informs him that he's on a channel reserved for emergency callsa ; that he should call 911 on his telephoneb ; and that if he keeps talking on that channel, he'll be reported for an FCC violationc . The call is promptly ended by live gunfire—and even then, it takes scaring an active-duty officer by throwing a terrorist's corpse on his car for John to get the police assistance he wants.
- Chekhov's Armory: Holly's Rolex, the removal of which kills the Big Bad. Holly's decision to use her maiden name, which means Gruber doesn't connect her with John McClane. The advice John's seatmate gives him in the first scene, followed by John's taking off his shoes in Holly's office. The CB device in the limo later comes in handy. To be honest, everything that ever appears on-screen. If it shows up at all, it has an impact on the plot. Everything. Lighters. Teddy bears. Glass. Detonators. Cigarettes—all important.
- Christmas Miracle: Parodied. Theo, the hacker/tech guy, tells Hans that while he can get through the first six locks on the vault, the seventh one can't be cut locally. Hans tells him, "Relax...It's Christmas, the time for miracles." Later, the Feds cuts power to the building and the safe's Fail Open protocol opens the vault automatically. Gruber then tells him, "You asked for a miracle, I give you the F.B.I."
- *Click* Hello:
- When Job hands Hans his pistol to help defend himself, Hans promptly pulls a Click Hello on McClane when he turns his back.
- A silent version occurs when Karl points his gun into John's face from Behind the Black, right when the latter is about to warn the cops about the double cross on the roof.
- 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 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).
- McLane's pragmatism is clear right from the start. When the terrorists initially take over the building, McClane instantly realizes he is hopelessly outnumbered. His first goal is to escape from them without being detected. His next objective is to call the police for help.
- One particularly notable moment is when Hans and Karl are in a firefight with McClane. Having seen earlier that McClaine is barefoot, Hans tells Karl to shoot out the panes of glass between them so that McClaine will have to injure himself to get away.
- Come with Me If You Want to Live: John says this to Hans in the scene where the latter poses as a hostage.
- Concealment Equals Cover: Subverted, as one scene has McClane shoot a mook through a table.
- Contagious Laughter: During the final confrontation, John starts laughing which gets Huber and the other henchman to laugh along. The scene culminates with John pulling his hidden weapon from behind his back and shooting both villains.
- Conveniently Empty Building: Nobody is in the building except the folks partying on Holly's floor. Justified, since the building is still under construction.
- Conversation Casualty: 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!.
- Cool Car: The LAPD's armored RV certainly counts. (It doesn't last long though.)
- Cool Gun: Karl's Steyr AUG is given quite a bit of screentime and makes him stand out from his MP5 wielding comrades.
- Counting to Three: Gruber likes this trope. First he uses the count-up on the Japanese executive. When the latter doesn't give him the access code on three, he gets a head shot. Later Gruber does the counting on John but this time his weapon wasn't loaded.
- 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.
- Cut Phone Lines: The first thing the baddies do is cutting the building's phone lines.
- Cut the Juice: The FBI cuts all power to the building (and a big chunk of the surrounding area) during the hostage situation. This is exactly what Gruber has been relying on to deactivate the otherwise insurmountable final lock on the vault.
- Darkened Building Shootout: A number of them within unfinished sections of the Plaza, especially when the power is cut.
- Deadpan Snarker: Even through trying to kill each other John and Hans actually seem to enjoy their snarky back and forth with each other.
- Death Glare: Hans shoots John a chilling one at the end of their final confrontation, right after being shot and as he's hanging out the window no less!
- Description Cut: Description and reality clash at least twice:
- When the villains crash the Christmas party and shoot in the air, John comments he can only hope Agyle heard the shots from the garage and is contacting Police. Cut to Agyle in his limo, listening to loud music and chatting to some girl on the phone.
- A Black Humor scene later when the psychologist predicts on TV that the hostages are currently going through stage where "a strange sort of trust and bond develops" between them and the terrorists, and the scene cuts to the office building where the villains drag Ellis' body out and the hostages are heard wailing in the background.
- Desk Jockey: McClane and Sergeant Al Powell have a conversation that jokingly derides desk jockey cops, up until Powell reveals why he's now a desk jockey instead of patrolling the streets: because he made the horrible mistake of shooting a kid with a fake gun. He still proves he can get the job done when Karl comes back from the dead for one last shot at McClane.
- Destination Defenestration: What happens to Gruber by the end.
- The Determinator: John McClane in a nutshell. A Trope Codifier for the non-invincible action movie hero who has to Earn His Happy Ending.
- Didn't Think This Through: In order to get the terrorists off of killing more of the cops, McClane wraps a computer with some C4 and doesn't bother priming it correctly. So, when it explodes and creates a very huge explosion, his reaction says it all:
- Didn't Want an Adventure: John is huddled in an air vent, thinking about how he's going to try to beat a whole gang of bad guys and why he's even in the building: "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..."
- "Die Hard" on an X: The Trope Codifier and Trope Namer, 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.
- Distracted by the Sexy: The only reason John is able to escape the initial takeover of the party is the searching unit sweeping through the offices are distracted by a topless woman being pulled away in mid-coitus with another office worker, allowing John to slip away to the stairwell unnoticed.
- Donut Mess with a Cop: Sergeant
Carl Winslow Al Powell buys a massive pile of Twinkies for his pregnant wife. The store clerk harasses him about it.
Clerk: I thought you guys just ate donuts.
- 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. Though this was subverted in later releases, which use the original script.
- Dutch Angle: Masterfully used by John McTiernan in the scene when Hans and John meet face to face for the first time. John McClane is unaware (or unsure) of Hans' identity, while Hans perfectly knows who John is. John decides to give Hans a gun to protect himself. For the whole movie McTiernan uses a straight angle for anything Hans-related (symbolizing Hans' straight, thought-out plan), and a Dutch angle for John (symbolizing his role as a fly in the ointment and his love for improvisation). Of course, Hans plans to shoot John, but you know before him that the gun is empty... because the camera slowly tilts in the shot of Hans aiming at John.
- Easing into the Adventure: From the start of the film, it takes 14 minutes for the villains (or rather, their vehicles) to appear for the first time, 18 minutes before they start their infiltration and lockdown of the plaza, and 23 minutes before they actually make their presence known to the occupants and take them hostage.
- Endangering News Broadcast: The TV reporter goes to John McClane's house and talks to his children. Hans Gruber sees that the children match the photos in Holly's office, and realized that Holly was John's wife, giving him a valuable hostage.
- Enforced Method Acting: In-universe. The trope is brought up by Ellis when he sees Hans drawing his gun on him in the office.
Ellis: Hey, what am I, a method actor, Hans? Babe, put away the gun. This is radio, not television.
- Entertainingly Wrong: The author of a book about the Helsinki Syndrome totally nails the situation.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Hans' group is made up of several cultures: German (Hans, Karl, Tony, Fritz, Heinrich, Alexander, and James), American (Theo and Eddie), French (Franco and Kristoff), Chinese (Uli), and Italian (Marco). Theo, Eddie, and Uli are particularly important members (Theo is breaking into the vault full of bearer bonds, Eddie mans the security desk at the front and deals with anyone who enters, and Uli does most of the work for wiring the roof to explode.).
- Eureka Moment:
- After his heart-to-heart with Powell, asking him to deliver a message to his wife:
Powell: But you can tell her that yourself. You just watch your ass and you'll make it out. You hear me?
McClane: I guess that's up to the man upstairs.... What were you doing upstairs, Hans?
- Gruber has one of his own when he sees Holly reacting to her daughter on TV while the reporter notes that her mom and dad are missing. Cue Gruber turning over the family photo.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Karl grieves over McClane killing his brother. He spends the rest of the movie into full Roaring Rampage of Revenge mode.
- Evil Laugh: Hans and his colleague share one right before John reveals what he had taped to his back...
- Evil Plan: One of the best in Hollywood action movie history: Invade the Nakatomi building and take hostages under the guise of being terrorists and then pull Mr. Takagi aside to make him divulge the access codes to the vault with the $640 million bearer bonds inside. If he doesn't cooperate, kill him and break into the vault yourself both through computer savvy, careful drilling and manipulating the authorities through their own standard operating procedures to make that possible. When the robbery is finished, put the hostages on the roof, then blow it up to fake the gang's deaths and get away in an ambulance you took along in the truck. Unfortunately, Gruber didn't count on John McClane interfering.
- Exaggerated Trope: Harry Ellis was played as a comically over-the-top version of the sleazy, smarmy executive.
- Excessive Steam Syndrome: Excessive steam is produced in the boiler room under the roof, obviously added for suspense.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The action takes place almost in Real Time, spanning no more than three or four hours at the most.
- False Innocence Trick: Hans Gruber attempts to pass himself off as an escaped hostage when meeting John McClane for the first time.
- Fascinating Eyebrow: Hans pulls some cool eye brow raises. After all, Alan Rickman IS Mr Eye Brow.
- 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.
- Genre Deconstruction: Of 80s action movies. Instead of the usual Invincible Hero, we get an average joe police officer who's thrust into the story while 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—his first goal is to get help from the local police—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.
- Upon finding Tony's body, Uli speculates this may be the work of a "security guard they missed." Hans instantly recognizes that this was the work of someone much more... dangerous.
- 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.
- Global Ignorance: The psychiatrist interviewed on the news brings up his book on "Helsinki Syndrome". The newsreader cuts into clarify that Helsinki is in Sweden, and is quickly corrected - "Finland."
- Gonna Need More X: after the helicopter explodes, police chief Duane T. Robinson says, "We're gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess."
- 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 over their heads 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, John drops one of the dead terrorists' bodies onto his hood to convince him that this is the real deal. A live terrorist shooting at the car as a result seals the 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 badass good guy.
- John sees through "Bill Clay's" ruse in part because he holds his cigarette the "European" way, between his thumb and forefinger, rather than between his forefinger and middle finger.
- 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.
- Hand Signals: One of the terrorists gives another terrorist a "clenched fist" signal just before the SWAT attack begins.
- Hellish Copter: One of the helicopters meets its end due to the bomb explosion on the rooftop.
- 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!
- Hidden Weapons: John goes to confront the bad guys by feigning surrender and dropping his his submachine gun, and then defeats them with his Beretta 92 pistol, which he had secured to the back of his neck with duct tape.
- Hollywood CB: Averted with McClane's talks with Powell which are perfectly audible to the terrorists (hence his use of "Roy" instead of his real name). Except for one point where he interrupts Hans 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 Can Live With That:
FBI Special Agent Johnson: Figure we take out the terrorists. Lose 20, 25 percent of the hostages, tops.
FBI Agent Johnson: I can live with that.
- Idiot Ball: Glued to the hands of Deputy Chief Robinson, 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. Considering the fact that, by the second movie, John ends up working for the LAPD, it looks like he was ultimately forgiven in the end.
- The entire LAPD in general, from the radio operating officer who fails to grasp the urgency of John's pleas for backup even after hearing gunfire over the receiver to the SWAT teams that continue their advance on the building and open themselves up to enemy fire.
- If I Do Not Return: McClane to Sgt. Al Powell:
McClane: Tell her [Holly] that she's the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me. She's heard me say "I love you" a thousand times. She never heard me say "I'm sorry". I want you to tell her that, Al. Tell her that John said that he was sorry.
- I Have Your Wife: Hans tries to send this threat over the radio to John when he captures Holly, but John is a bit pre-occupied with Karl to respond.
- Immediate Self-Contradiction: Tony, when promising John not to hurt him, right before opening fire.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The bad guys have John at close range several time but always miss him. He gets hit in the shoulder still.
- Improbable Cover: McClane builds a homemade bomb and tosses it down an elevator shaft. When it goes off, a blast of fire shoots upward toward him. He survives by stepping to the side of the door.
- Incredibly Obvious Bomb: The C4 bomb John discovers on the roof has a red blinking light and an audible beeper.
- Indestructible Edible: John finds a Twinkie that he says is years old, and asks what these things are made of.
- 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.)
- Also Gruber's attempt to pass off as one of the hostages when John sneaks up on him in the boiler room.
- Invulnerable Knuckles: Inverted. Argyle finally gets in on the action and punches out the getaway driver...then shakes his hand, obviously in pain.
- 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.
- Ironic Name: The terrorists arrive in a truck labeled "Pacific Courier" which translates to "Bringer of Peace".
- Irony: "Glass? Who gives a shit about glass?"
- I Surrender, Suckers: McClane does this to the terrorists/thieves at the end.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: After Holly calls Hans a "common thief," Hans refers to himself as an exceptional thief.
- It's Personal with the Dragon: Karl has a personal vendetta with McClane after his brother Tony is killed. And while McClane hates both Hans and Karl, there's no doubt that his encounters with Karl are far more intense and just filled with hate and bile.
- It Works Better with Bullets: "What, do you think I'm fucking stupid, Hans?"
- Japan Takes Over the World: In the original book the corporation was an American oil company. In the film it is a Japanese tech company booming enough to have a brand new skyscraper in Los Angeles' Century City business district.
- 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. 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.
- A particularly silly example of this occurs when Hans and Karl get into a firefight with John and Hans tells Karl to shoot the glass around John to prevent his escape. On hearing Hans' order in German, Karl gives him a confused look, to which Hans rolls his eyes and repeats the order in English.
- Keep It Foreign: The German dub of Die Hard (the first one) changed the German terrorist team to an international one, and the main villain Hans Gruber was renamed Jack Gruber. During the scene where Bruce Willis' character writes the names of two of the bad guys on his hand, this is explained by him calling them after giants from a fairy tale. Later on, he still refers to them as Jack and Charlie.
- 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."
- 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.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Hans Gruber tries to pass himself off as an innocent employee. John McClane surreptitiously checks the building directory while asking Hans' name, but Hans had apparently already seen it and gives the name "Bill Clay", which John spots in the directory.
- 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.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: Hans Gruber, everybody, give him a hand. (See also Sharp-Dressed Man below)
- Married to the Job: The "workaholic cop, frustrated wife" relationship is inverted, as at the beginning of the movie, police officer John McClane's complaint was that the devotion his wife had to her job was ruining their marriage.
- 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.
- It's subtle, but the only time Al directly addresses John as "John" (instead of the "Roy" alias they had been using up to that point) it was a heartfelt word of support at John's lowest moment.
- Mistaken for Prank Call: John uses the radio he steals from the villains to contact the police on an emergency frequency and call for help. The dispatcher doesn't believe him, especially after confirming that there had already been a "prank" fire alarm from the same location.
- Mistaken for Terrorist: John winds up being mistaken for one of the terrorists and Big Johnson tries to kill him.
John: I'm on your side, you assholes!
- More Dakka: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
- Motive Misidentification: McClane, the LAPD and FBI are led to believe Hans Gruber and his men are terrorists, holding the Nakatomi Plaza building hostage in exchange for numerous terrorist prisoners being released. In reality, Hans is deliberately leading the FBI to believe this, as the FBI's protocols for dealing with a terrorist threat are exactly what he needs to rob the place, and get away with the cash.
- Mutilation Conga: John McClane was pretty beat up by the end of the movie.
- 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.
- Nobody Poops: Averted, as Holly requests that Hans allow the hostages access to the washrooms, which he grants.
- No Kill Like Overkill: When the terrorists are first moving into the building, Karl sneaks up on plain clothes security guard waiting for an elevator. Karl still tosses a flashbang at the unsuspecting man's feet before shooting him dead.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Alan Rickman plays a German with his usual British accent. 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.
- Not Quite Dead: Karl, until Al puts a few bullets in him.
- Not the Fall That Kills You:
- John McClane falls down a shaft and grabs the edge of an air-vent. Instead of just broken fingers, he gets an acceptable break because he's in an action movie. note
- Also, the big action sequence towards the end of the film, where McClane is forced to jump off the roof of the skyscraper with only a fire hose to stop his fall would have probably resulted in McClane breaking his back.
- Nuclear Candle: John's lighter in the air vent.
- Nudity Equals Honesty: John subverts this trope when he confronts Gruber shirtless, with nowhere to conceal a weapon... except for a gun taped on his back.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Hans and John play this card on each other, ''in the same scene', no less. Hans attempts to dupe the machine gun-wielding McClane into believing he's another hostage with a barely rudimentary knowledge on how to fire a gun, tricking John into handing him his own. McClane plays along, only to call out Hans on thinking he'd be stupid enough to give the first guy he meets a loaded weapon when Hans attempts to shoot him.
- 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.
- Karl even bets Theo that Takagi would give Hans the password to not get killed. He loses.
- Oh Crap!:
- Hans when John is able to detach Holly's watch, sending Hans to his long Disney Death. This is also a genuine Oh Crap! from Alan Rickman; see the Trivia tab.
- Powell just as he pulls away thinking everything is okay, only for John to drop Marco's body onto his car.
Powell: DAMN! Goddamn it! Jesus H. Christ! (Hits the gas amid a hail of gunfire)
- John, when the shockwave from the homemade bomb he dropped comes back up the elevator shaft he's looking down.
- Also when he finds the explosives under the roof.
John: Jesus. Mary, mother of God.
- Argyle, when he listens to the radio about the terrorists taking the building hostage.
- Holly, when Hans discovers John is her husband.
Hans: Mrs. McClane?
- 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 Flesh Wound:
- John is hit in the shoulder by a bullet toward the end of the movie but he takes hardly any notice.
- 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.
- Only a Model: Nakatomi's Indonesian bridge project on floor 31, praised for its attention to detail by Hans. It was played by the model of Frank Lloyd Wright's "butterfly bridge," which was designed to cross San Francisco Bay but never built.
- Only One: Despite the support by FBI and LAPD, John is the only one able to deal with the situation effectively.
- 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.
- Pants-Positive Safety: McClane initially has a shoulder holster for his Beretta M9 service pistol, but he leave it behind in the bathroom when the terrorists storm the building and spends the rest of the movie carrying his handgun in his pants. This is a highly impractical way to carry a large bulky pistol like the M9
- Paparazzi: Dick Thornburg.
- The Password is Always "Swordfish": Takagi's password is "Red Castle", the translation of "Akagi", the name of the ship he served on in World War II (according to DVD commentary).
- Playing Possum: Karl does this at the end to invoke a Post-Climax Confrontation. It goes rather poorly for him.
- Police Are Useless: Except for Al and John himself, this is played straight:
Dispatcher: Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls 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. Their entire SWAT team is repulsed at the main entrance by just two of Gruber's men. The FBI has it even worse, actually helping the bad guys get into the vault by shutting down power to the building. Justified in both cases, in that both the police and the FBI are obviously skilled, but the terrorists they're up against are simply prepared for everything the cops throw at them.
- Approaching a glass fronted of a building with no cover is just obvious, no skill involved.
- Police Code for Everything: McClane ferrets out the fake "police dispatcher" by subverting it: using the wrong police 10-code to describe his situation. When the dispatcher smoothly claims that all units have been dispatched to his code,
"You mean you had to dispatch all units for the naked people wandering around?"
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: John and Hans converse about American movies (especially Westerns), but Hans gets some details wrong.
- Post-Climax Confrontation: Karl manages to survive being strangled (!), and attempts to kill John McClane one last time after Hans Gruber is killed, but is quickly shot before he can do anything.
- Pregnant Hostage: One who doesn't give birth during the hostage situation, even.
- Pretty Little Headshots: Karl shoots one of the security guards at point-blank range and there isn't even a bullet hole.
Theo: Boom! Two points.
- Professionals Do It on Desks: Two employees of Nakatomi are going at it on a desk when Hans Gruber's boys show up and drag them out with the rest of the hostages. Three of Hans' men are distracted long enough for John to escape.
- Punch a Wall: At one point the dragon comes back from trying to kill McClane, and immediately starts smashing the scenery. McClane's wife, of course, takes it to mean her husband is still alive, because only he could make someone that pissed off.
- 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.
- Quote Swear Unquote: Hans calls McClane on being a Cowboy Cop, and then the discussion turns to actors playing cowboys. McClane says Roy Rogers is his favorite, and takes Rogers's Catch Phrase "Yippee-ki-yay", and makes it his own by adding "motherfucker".
- 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.
- Real Men Get Shot: John sustains multiple injuries which only make him look more badass.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Of the "good guy to good guy" variation between Sgt. Powell and Deputy Chief Robinson after they hear Ellis get murdered over the radio.
Dep. Chief Robinson
: You better tell this partner
of yours to stay the hell out of this from now on, because if he doesn't, I'm going to nail him, boy, I'm really going to nail his ass. Sgt. Powell
: The man is hurting. He's alone, tired, and hasn't seen diddly-squat from anyone down here! Now you're going to stand there and tell me that he's going to give a DAMN
about what you do to him, IF
he makes it out of there alive??? Why don't you wake up and smell what you're shoveling!
- Redshirt Army: The SWAT team. An entire team is repulsed at the main entrance by just two of Gruber's men. Their attempt to gain entry with an armored vehicle also fails. A couple of rockets from the terrorists later and they're all dead and gone.
- Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: Nothing like being in a building hijacked by robbers to reconcile a failed marriage.
- 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!"
- Released to Elsewhere: Hans tells the authorities that if their demands are met, they will go to the roof with their thirty-odd hostages, get in provided helicopters, travel to an airport, and each party will go their merry way. In actuality, his crew has rigged the roof to blow, killing all the hostages (and hopefully the Feds), faking their own deaths, and throwing the authorities off long enough to enact their real escape plan, via fake ambulance.
- 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 when he makes his comment about John Wayne and Grace Kelly (see Popcultural Osmosis Failure above).
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: can seriously derail a perfectly good plan.
- 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.
- Safecracking: Hans Gruber's gang wants to get a very sophisticated vault open with multiple layered locks, and Hans' first move is to force Mr. Takagi to give up the access codes for the first lock. When Takagi refuses, Hans shoots him dead and executes his masterful Evil Plan to manipulate the authorities into helping him get the vault open.
- Screaming Woman: A female hostage screams loud and long when she notices Tony's body in the elevator.
- Searching the Stalls: A variant. When John is inside the Airvent Passageway, a mooks pierces each section with a bullet, getting closer and closer to where John is position. But Just in Time before he can hit John the mook is ordered away.
- 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.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Hans notices in the elevator how nice Mr. Takagi's suit is (see Man of Wealth and Taste above):
Hans: Nice suit... John Phillips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.
- 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.
- Shirtless Scene: John takes off his shirt in the third act in order to bandage his foot. Cue the Fanservice.
- Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Sergeant Al Powell did this to a 13 year old boy. Gave him a Heroic B.S.O.D..
- Shoot Out the Lock: When John is cornered on the rooftop, he shoots out the lock of a door to escape through.
- 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.
- McClane also describes the terrorists to Sgt. Powell as having explosives that can "orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger."
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Karl and his brother Tony. The former is hot blooded and strong, the latter is calm and craftier (though taller).
- 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.
- Sigil Spam: The symbol of the Nakatomi Corporation can be found everywhere inside the building, from tabletop imprints to light switches.
- Slow-Motion Fall: Hans Gruber, though he actually falls at normal speed after the first twenty feet or so.
- Smoking Barrel Blowout: John does this gesture at the end after he caps Hans and the other henchman with the last two bullets left.
- 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..."
- Spanner in the Works: Hans' entire plan might very well have worked if not for the unforseen complication of a New York cop escaping the initial takeover...
- Spared by the Adaptation: Dwayne T. Robinson. In the novel, he is killed by Karl when the latter appears at the end to kill John. Here, he survives.
- Staircase Tumble: John McClane gets in a brawl with Tony, before both of them tumble down a flight of stairs. Of course, John, being John McClane, survives, but the terrorist doesn't. It helps that McClane had been wrapping his arms around the guy's neck for the majority of the fight, including the fall.
- Standard Snippet: At the suggestion of director John McTiernan, Beethoven's Ode to Joy (Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement) is the musical theme of the terrorists. It can be heard when the vault is opened or when Gruber hums it on the elevator with Mr. Takagi.
- The piece has actually become associated with the entire franchise, appearing in the trailers for almost each movie.
- Stock Foreign Name: The villains sport the most commonly known German names: Hans, Karl, Heinrich and Fritz. Tony as a name is unusual though.
- 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 Global 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.
- Super Window Jump: John does this and doesn't hurt himself.
- Take My Hand: Inverted. John separates Hans from his wife's outstretched arm causing him to plummet to his death.
- 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..."
- Tap on the Head: At the end of the movie, the terrorist Theo is preparing the ambulance as an escape vehicle for his team. John McClane's chauffeur Argyle rams into it with his limo, then punches Theo in the face, knocking him unconscious.
- That's an Order!: The SWAT commander gives his men some helpful advice after their armored car gets blasted by a rocket launcher.
SWAT Commander: Hang on, Rivers! That's an order!
- There's No Kill Like Overkill: Hans' response after his men blow up the LAPD's armored car with a rocket launcher. McClane argues with him about it over the radio, to no avail.
- Those Two Guys: Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson. No relation.
- Token Minority: 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 Ellis dead to prove a point to McClane.
- Trick Bomb: The elevator guard had a flashbang thrown at him for distraction.
- Troperiffic: As this page should well demonstrate.
- 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. Or at least Takagi's uncomfortable; Hans is at ease and cheerfully chats about suits.
- 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. He even survives being strangled with a chain to make 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.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The partygoers don't raise any alarm at the sight of a dozen armed goons emerging from the elevator until the bullets begin flying. Not helped that the elevator was clearly in the view of several of them when Hans makes his entrance.
- Unwitting Pawn: It's the police and the FBI. They face a major "terrorist" attack with standard procedures, unaware that Hans Gruber knows all about them and his Evil Plan depends on them operating in that matter so he can manipulate them into helping him open a super secure vault and then cover his escape. McClane tried to warn Powell about this.
- 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 adjustments to his plan.
- Violence Really Is the Answer: Sgt. Powell tells McClane he asked to become a desk Sergeant because of an incident where he shot a kid who was holding a realistic-looking toy gun. He explains after this, he could never bring himself to point his gun at anyone else again. Fortunately he abandons this policy at the end of the movie by killing the last surviving terrorist, saving McClane's life in the nick of time.
- Western Terrorists: Subverted in that they are not ideological crusaders but mercenaries and thieves who are in it for the money.
Hans Gruber: I'm not interested in your computer. I am, however, interested in the $650 million in negotiable bearer bonds in your vault, and the computer controls the vault.
Takagi: You're only interested in money? What kind of terrorists are you?
Hans: (laughing) Who said we were terrorists?
- What an Idiot: Lampshaded In-Universe.
(Elevator arrives bringing the mooks Hans just called on his radio)
Gruber: "You were saying?"
- Also in-universe, John asks him about Holly using her maiden name since they haven't been officially divorced yet, which led to a petty argument. After Holly left, John bangs his head in frustration for messing up his attempt to reconnect.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We don't learn what happened to Theo after he got knocked out by Argyle. Or Kristoff, who got knocked out by John.
- 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."
- Worthy Opponent: "You'd have made a pretty good cowboy yourself, Hans".
- Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: A rare case where the hero does this to the villain. McClane shouts at a bad guy, "You should have heard how your brother squealed—when I broke his FUCKING NECK!!!"
- Wrong Genre Savvy: See You Wouldn't Shoot Me.
- Wrong Insult Offence: Doubling as Disappointed by the Motive. Hans Gruber claims to be a terrorist, but is later revealed to be after 640 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 Can't Thwart Stage One: John can't, but he does manage to complicate Gruber's scheme before the roof bombing. This includes getting the attention of the police sooner than Gruber would have preferred, and getting the detonators Gruber needs for his Evil Plan.
- You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: John McClane tries to warn Ellis that he can't negotiate with the terrorists:
McClane: Ellis, Ellis, you don't know who you're dealing with. They're going to kill you! Tell them you don't know me!
Ellis: Oh, John, how can you talk that way after we've known each other for years!
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Hans is entirely willing to sacrifice Karl in the final stage of his plan, which involves blow up the hostages to make clean getaway.
- Younger and Hipper: The movie 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 thirty-something John McClane for the movie.
- 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.