returns as New York City police officer John McClane, who is at Washington's Dulles International Airport to wait for his wife Holly to arrive from a long trip. Unknown to McClane, the government has extradited wanted dictator Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero) from Val Verde to the United States to stand trial for allegations of drug trafficking at around the same time. A group of rogue ex-US army soldiers loyal to Esperanza, led by the rogue Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), attempt to rescue the corrupt ex-general by taking over Dulles's control systems and holding all of the planes hostage in the air. McClane figures out what's going on, which leads him to work against the airport's on-site law enforcement to stop Colonel Stuart before any of the planes — especially Holly's — run out of fuel and crash.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Yet again, though this time it's much larger and McClane uses it as a way to make a surprise attack on Stuart's painter henchmen.
- Artistic License – Gun Safety: John empties an entire magazine from Garber's machine gun to demonstrate it's loaded with blanks, and does so when it's pointed at an officer. A good example of Show, Don't Tell, to be sure, but incredibly reckless and in real life would have quickly gotten him shot by all the other officers before the confusion cleared.
- An Ass-Kicking Christmas: The fact that this has now happened twice is referred to a number of times, often for comic relief...
- "You know, just once, I'd like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a fuckin' Christmas tree, a little turkey... But no, I have to crawl around in this motherfuckin' tin can."
- "Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"
- Bait the Dog: Played straight with Major Grant.
- Beard of Evil: Esperanza sports one.
- Big Bad: Colonel Stuart, who tries to release Esperanza, the Bigger Bad.
- Black Dude Dies First: Averted. Miller, the sole black soldier on Stuart's unit, is one of the last to die.
- Severely inverted with the Annex Skywalk shootout, where the black Barnes survives while the white-skinned SWAT officers all die, as do all of Stuart's soldiers.
- Book Ends: One of the first things to happen in the film is McClane's car being towed to the impound. One of the last things to occur is McClane's parking violation being forgiven.
- Bottomless Magazines: Subverted: McClane accompanies Major Grant's team to the church shootout with Stuart and his men. Before they start the move, we see them load blue-taped magazines into their submachine guns. They take out the whole base...McClane takes out Garber and Burke and takes Garber's submachine gun and snowmobile to chase Stuart. However, as Stuart, Kahn and Burke lie in wait to ambush McClane, Stuart changes a blue-tape magazine for one with red tape, and he sprays it as McClane's snowmobile approaches, causing the snowmobile to explode. McClane later realizes that they reloaded the guns with blanks.
- Although, considering that the MP5s they use fire from a closed bolt, there should have been at least one live round fired apiece.
- Double Subverted with McClane himself. He's shown reloading just once while pinned down under the scaffolding in the Skywalk shootout, but he clearly fires more than twenty rounds between reloads, and he never runs out of magazines.
- Bond One-Liner: These are done for drama:
- Thompson, into a radio after Baker kills the church custodian: "This is Buckwheat. The clubhouse is open."
- Stuart has two:
- After crashing a plane: "That concludes our object lesson for this evening. If the 747 we requested is ready on time and General Esperanza's plane arrives unmolested, further lessons can be avoided. Out."
- After blowing up McClane's snowmobile: "So much for the element of chance! Let's move out!"
- Bowdlerise: the TV edit gives us the infamous "Yippie-ki-yay MISTER FALCON."
- It also gives us this almost nonsensical line during a scene between McClane and Captain Lorenzo:
McClane: Let me ask you, what sets off the metal detector first? The lead in your hat [ass] or the junk [shit] in your brains?
- The TV version is made even more hilariously bad by the fact that a good chunk of McClane's lines in the film have profanity, and the guy they got to dub his lines sounds NOTHING like him.
- Brief Accent Imitation: When crashing Windsor Flight 114, Colonel Stuart takes on a Southern twang to impersonate the aiport approach controller, then uses his normal voice when posing as the tower.
- Brick Joke and Book Ends: In the opening few minutes, John gets his car towed away and a ticket from an unreasonable airport cop, who turns out to be Lorenzo's brother Vito. In the end, Lorenzo sternly confronts John about the ticket, then tears it up in gratitude for his help.
- Crash-Into Hello: Early in the movie, McClane is shouldering his way through the crowded terminal when he crashes into Colonel Stuart.
Colonel Stuart: Excuse me. [He glares at McClane]
John McClane: Oh, you look very familiar to me.
Colonel Stuart: I get that a lot. I've been on TV. [Stuart starts walking away]
John McClane: Yeah. Me too. [We see Stuart glance over his shoulder at McClane as if there is something familiar about the guy, as he disappears into the crowd]
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The fight moves we see Colonel Stuart practicing (naked) in the beginning are the exact same ones he uses to kick John's ass at the end.
- The radio with the inputted password that Marvin has come into possession of. If you watch McClane's fight with Miller in the baggage belt room, you'll see that Miller's radio is dropped on the floor if you watch it frame by frame.
- With a more humorous (though still awesome) bent, the old lady's stun gun.
- Click Hello: As Esperanza's plane is coming in to land:
Colonel Stuart: [impersonating the tower] Dulles Tower, Foxtrot Michael One. Dulles Tower to Foxtrot Michael One.
Pilot (Foreign Military One): This is Foxtrot Michael One, Dulles. We read you, over.
Colonel Stuart: Foxtrot Michael One, you are to come in on Runway 1-5. I repeat: 1-5.
Pilot (Foreign Military One): This is contrary to our instructions. We are to land at Runway 1-0, where we are to be met by representatives of your Justice Dep-[click!]
Gen. Ramon Esperanza: Captain, please tell the tower you will proceed as ordered.
[the pilot looks at his co-pilot, who glares back at him, then looks back at Esperanza, who is glaring with agreement]
Pilot (Foreign Military One): Roger, Dulles. Proceeding to Runway 1-5.
- Combat Pragmatist: McClane defeats the villains with a cigarette lighter, setting a destructive Vapor Trail with it.
- Cowboy Cop: Chief Carmine Lorenzo distrusts McClane, due to this. Ironically they initially clash over Chief Lorenzo disregarding police procedure.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The film features two: the airport SWAT team vs Colonel Stuart's nooks, and Stuart vs McClane. In both cases, the good guys didn't have a chance.
- Determinator: McClane, of course. Also, Richard Thornburg is really determined to get the story, although for selfish reasons.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The way Windsor Airlines Flight 114 crash lands and explodes in a fireball with debris scattering everywhere as it careens down the runway looks eerily similar to the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City just a year before the film was released.
- Down the Rabbit Hole: Used as a code phrase in a deleted scene, when O'Reilly radios "This is Alice. We're down the rabbit hole," to Colonel Stuart after he and Sheldon shoot a pair of painters and commandeer their van.
- The Dragon: The movie seems completely devoid of a Dragon. Until you find out that Major Grant is in on it.
- '80s Hair: Holly, once again.
- Empathy Doll Shot: After Colonel Stuart crash-lands Windsor Airlines Flight 114, McClane finds one of these dolls as he wanders through the wreckage. There is a scene on the workprint showing the child who had this doll, but this was cut for obvious reasons.
- Every Plane Is a Pinto: Colonel Stuart crash-lands Windsor Airlines Flight 114. When it hits the ground at a faster-than-normal speed, the landing gear collapses, and the fuel tanks rupture and ignite, causing the fuselage to explode in a fireball... despite one of the reasons it tried to land in the first place was because it was running out of fuel.
- Actually, unless the plane has a fuel inerting system (which is still uncommon), an almost empty fuel tank is more dangerous, since the fuel vapors mixed with air are actually explosive, and there is less space for them if the tank is full (and the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 happened for the same reason - explosive vapors in the central wing tank and fuel that had been heated to flashpoint). Which made the other exploding plane all the more implausible. Then again, explosions.
- Then again, the reason it explodes was it broke up on landing, which, given the weather conditions, would be extremely implausible at best. As shown by the Gimli Glider, no plane will instantly break up when landing on its belly, or even anything other than a runway.
- One should note that not only is the plane on fumes (as stated by the pilot), Colonel Stuart has Thompson screw with the ILS that is telling the plane where the ground was. Unlike the Gimli Glider, this plane effectively plows into the runway, rather then having a nice, soft (comparatively at least) landing on its landing gear. What should be brought into question is why the pilots didn't look at their altimeter and realized how close they were to the ground, or why there is no ground-proximity warning system on the plane to warn them when they are about to hit the ground. But then again Rule of Cool.
- GPWS and TAWS are specifically designed not to sound an alarm when the aircraft is about to land - the pilots already have their hands full, so they can't be distracted by an alarm - TAWS has a database of major airports and checks whether the aircraft is in landing configuration (flaps full, gear down etc.) so it can tell whether the pilot is getting too close to ground, or is simply about to land. Nowadays the system is designed to verbally announce the distance to the ground as read by radio altimeter (normal altimeter shows altitude above mean sea level, radio altimeter tells the pilot how close he is to the ground), but it was not a standard feature in 1990.
- In the case of the Gimli Glider, the front landing gear could not be lowered, so the belly of the plane skidded on asphalt during the landing. A snow covered runway and fully deployed landing gear would be smoother than the Gimli Glider, but still rougher than a normal landing.
- Thompson adjusting ILS to set ground level for 200' below actual ground level in order to crash the plane. This is not possible because the ILS system uses antennas mounted on the ground around the runway which send out signals to the receiving plane. The system is based on how far and where the plane is relative to the antennas. The antennas would have to be physically moved underground in order to change where the ILS glide scope would be. If they were put 200' below ground, the signals would not reach an airplane.
- Eye Scream: Baker is defeated at the church by McClane stabbing an icicle through his eye socket. Even McClane seems disgusted by it afterwards as he turns away, repulsed afterwards.
- Fanservice: Colonel Stuart likes to do his karate shirtless.
- Foreshadowing: There's quite a few hints that Major Grant is working with Colonel Stuart both in the different color tape for the gun magazines and there's one point near the beginning when Garber is telling Stuart that someone got sick and a replacement was brought in. Grant's radioman is the replacement.
- Gangsta Style: During the Skywalk shootout, you can see that Mulkey holds his submachine gun sideways in order to gain control and minimize recoil.
- Genre Savvy: Colonel Stuart who proclaims before his fight on the wing with McClane, "Time for the main event!"
- Gilligan Cut: Non-cut variant when Holly's plane is approaching Dulles. A stewardess comes down the aisle with a wine bottle:
Connie, Stewardess #1: Can I get you another [drink]?
Holly McClane: [looks at Richard Thornburg across the aisle] No thank you. [adjusts her makeup] I only have to look at his face for another fifteen to twenty minutes.
[the intercom comes on]
Pilot: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. I've just been informed by Dulles Traffic Control that there's a weather front moving in ahead of us. [flips a switch] We may be up here a little while longer.
Holly McClane: [holds out her glass] On second thought.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Subverted when McClane has a brief fight with Big Bad Colonel Stuart, and gets his ass handed to him.
- Hello Again Officer: The Lorenzo brothers at the airport — John just can't get them on his side until the very end.
- Hollywood Darkness: The runways bask in it.
- Intrepid Reporter: Samantha Coleman, although she initially annoys McClane with her questions at first, she becomes a refreshing change from Thornberg as she helps John chase the villains in her news helicopter. The fact she is getting a a spectacular exclusive of McClane stopping Colonel Stuart doesn't hurt either. She gets the actual footage, while Thornburg just has an audio recording of a message from Barnes.
- It Has Only Just Begun:
Trudeau: McClane, is this what you were expecting?
John McClane: No. This is just the beginning.
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Barnes takes cover during the Skywalk shootout while the SWAT escorts are massacred by Stuart's team of soldiers. After the last one is shot dead by Sheldon, the gunfire ceases and everything goes completely silent. Barnes looks around, and in this complete silence, he fails to notice O'Reilly sneaking up on him.
- Janitor Impersonation Infiltration:
- Baker and Thompson pose as utility workers so they can get into the church, shoot the custodian, and begin clearing space for the others to set up a mini-ATC center.
- O'Reilly and Sheldon shoot a pair of painters, then take their uniforms so they can ambush the SWAT team on the Skywalk. For the same shootout, Shockley and Mulkey disguise themselves as repairmen.
- Jerkass: Lorenzo. Boy howdy.
- Just Plane Wrong: There are many many plane-related mistakes.
- Karmic Death: Stuart crashes a Windsor Airlines flight when the demands aren't met. Anyone knowledgeable in aircraft disasters should know this is a horrendous way to go out. Stuart and his men themselves met a longer, more drawn-out version of this, as their jet takes its sweet time roasting them alive before finally exploding.
- Kinda Busy Here: When McClane is sneaking up to the church, his pager goes off at a very inconvenient time as Holly sends him a message from her plane. Just as he gets it turned off, he is off guard when Baker suddenly leaps over the pickup truck and attacks him.
- Manly Tears: McClane bitterly weeping in frustration when Stuart crashes a plane and kills 230 passengers and crew to make a point.
- Media Scrum: McClane and Lorenzo seem to have the same opinion about the media reporters camped out at the airport. This is what Lorenzo says to Trudeau in the tower:
Carmine Lorenzo: ....the worst part, Mr. Trudeau, is the press. Oh they were here anyways - crawling all over the Esperanza story - so they got it right on the fuckin' news, y'know. Bloodstains and all. Now personally, I'd like to lock every damn reporter out of the airport. But then they'd just pull that "freedom of speech" crap on us and the ACLU would be all over us.
Trudeau: Murder on television. Hell of a start to Christmas week.
- Meaningful Name: The jerky reporter is actually named Dick. Holly even points it out.
- The Mole: A whole platoon of them (save one poor innocent rookie who wasn't in on it).''
- Mugged for Disguise: In the deleted scene, "Down the Rabbit Hole," O'Reilly and Sheldon approach two painters who are unloading equipment from their van in an aircraft hangar. As soon as the first painter takes notice of them, O'Reilly pulls a suppressed pistol and shoots him in the face. The first guy's partner turns his head and is promptly shot dead as well. O'Reilly and Sheldon then shove the bodies into the back of the van, shut the doors, and begin driving. This scene explains where they get the painter uniforms for later when they ambush Barnes and the SWAT team on the Skywalk. The script shows that it would have happened after the scene where Baker and Thompson kill the church custodian.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Averted, as Colonel Stuart specifically betrays the USA because of its policies, or so he says.
- Near Villain Victory: Indeed, John manages to beat The Dragon but is too weakened to beat Colonel Stuart himself and is thrown off the plane as they start to make their getaway. It's only due to accidentally opening the gas tank as he was falling off and his lighter that he managed to pull off a victory.
- The Neidermeyer: Captain Lorenzo
- Never Mess with Granny: The little old lady sitting next to Holly on the plane at the beginning of the film. She absolutely revels in the fact that she now has a stun baton to protect herself, and the fact that she tested it on her dog (who she notes limped for a week before recovering) makes her seem just a wee bit Axe Crazy. Holly later uses it on Richard Thornburg.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Thornburg, while trying to do an expose on the hostage situation, causes chaos at the airport instead, interfering with McClane and the Lorenzo brothers trying to get to Stuart and Grant in the hangar.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: General Esperanza-a Latin American dictator who profited from narcotics smuggling and is transported to the United States to face criminal charges-is Manuel Noriega in all but name.
- No Indoor Voice: Hot-headed, hot-blooded Carmine Lorenzo blows his top in nearly every scene.
- No OSHA Compliance: Inverted as John climbs through the air vents to the skywalk, there is lighting in the air vents.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The air traffic controllers. Lorenzo especially. Trudeau is less so since he agrees with McClane upon being told that someone might be preparing to take over the airport.
- Oh, Crap: McClane when he realizes Stuart impersonating a tower controller to crash-land a plane.
- One Crisis, One Platoon: The response from Major Grant when McClane complains about only getting one platoon.
- Only One: The airport police (for most of the movie) and the military troops sent to take out Colonel Stuart.
- Paparazzi: "Amen-to-that" Dick Thornburg, and he's especially douchetacular this time around. The people in the airport are kept oblivious to Colonel Stuart holding the planes hostage in the sky. Dick happens to be on a plane with Holly, in a holding pattern over the airport. When he figures out what's going on, he immediately calls in the story to his producers, smelling a Pulitzer (and butchering the prize's pronunciation). So the folks in the airport and the planes see the special news bulletin, and McClane ends up having a harder time trying to get to Esperanza's plane in time because of the mass exodus making it hard for him and Lorenzo to navigate their police car, forcing McClane to hitch a ride on Samantha Coleman's news helicopter...
- Also Samantha Coleman, although she doesn't end up endangering anyone or anything.
- Plot Hole: Airliners in distress are not slaves to Air Traffic Control and are free (and indeed required) to divert to another airport if they can't land at their destination. National Airport is described as being shut down due to the weather, but the planes circling over Dulles for 90 minutes or so could have landed at dozens of airports up and down the East Coast, including Andrews Air Force Base (less than three minutes away by air), BWI in Baltimore (only a little bit farther), and many, many others.
- Police Are Useless: John empties an entire magazine from a submachine gun at Chief Lorenzo inside the airport police station and doesn't get gunned down by the rest of the officers? They were blanks, but still, the cops didn't know that!
- Power Walk: Colonel Stuart and his men are shown doing one as they exit their hotel rooms and march in formation to the elevator.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
Custodian: Yeah, I kinda feel like a piece of me is dyin' along with this church.
Baker: Uh, you're right about that. [pulls out a Glock 17 and shoots the custodian dead]
- When Esperanza kills the pilot:
'Pilot: What are you gonna do now? You gonna shoot me?! Then who would fly the plane?!
Gen. Ramon Esperanza: [smiles] Don't worry about it. It's not your problem. [shoots him]
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Trudeau. When McClane comes into the control tower, he hears him out instead of listening to Carmine and sending him back out.
- Redshirt Army: The SWAT team doesn't stand a chance against Stuart's henchmen.
- The Remnant: Col. Stuart and his team of mercenaries who think their government backed the wrong side.
- Reusable Lighter Toss: "Yippy-ki-yay, Motherfucker."
- Seduction-Proof Marriage: The airport clerk who helps John with the airport fax machine early on suggests they could go out later on. John shows off his wedding ring, and says, "Just the fax, ma'am."
- Shoot Out the Lock: When the access grate to the Dulles Airport runway is blocked by a padlock, McClane shoots it.
- Short Lived Aerial Escape: The finale
- Shout-Out: The above line "Just the facts, ma'am" is popularly mis-attributed to Jack Webb's Dragnet franchise.
- Skeptic No Longer: Captain Lorenzo only believes John McClane about Colonel Stuart and Major Grant working together only after McClane empties a submachine gun (the same kind used by the soldiers in their attack against the terrorist) full of blanks at him. Lorenzo then calls in the cavalry and soon he, McClane and all the airport security is racing to the plane to stop the villains from escaping.
- Society Marches On: When Colonel Stuart rudely brushes off Samantha Coleman as he and Garber are making their way through the airport terminal, Stuart gives her two words, "Fuck" and "you," with Garber adding "No pictures, you pinko bitch!" right in front of a news camera. Anyone in authority who did such a thing today would find his profanity plastered all over the internet as a minor scandal, hardly fitting behavior for Stuart or Garber when they're trying to be inconspicuous at the time.
- Staggered Zoom: Used in explosion scenes, like when the antenna array is blown up after the Annex Skywalk shootout.
- Standard Snippet: "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius is incorporated into the ending, as an in-joke referring to Renny Harlin's Finnish background.
- The Stoic: Colonel Stuart.
- Stuck At The Airport Plot: Dulles International due to snow and what amounts to a terrorist plot.
- Throw Away Guns: Subverted; McClane tries to convince the airport police chief that there is a serious problem:
"He pulled a Glock 7 on me. That's a porcelain gun, so it doesn't show up on your x-ray machines
, and it costs more than you make in a month."
"You'd be surprised how much I make in a month."
"If it's more than $1.98 I'd be really amazed."
- Vapor Trail: In the end, it is what helps the planes to land.
- Wham Line: The scene where we are shown that Major Grant is really working with Colonel Stuart:
Soldier: Hey Telford! What was *your* chicken-shit outfit doing while we were taking Grenada? [He and his comrades burst out laughing]
Major Grant: Grenada. Five minutes of firefights, five weeks of surfing!
Corporal Telford: I wish I was with you guys for that!
Major Grant: Yeah. Me too, kid.
Corporal Telford: Really, sir?
Major Grant: Sure. Or we wouldn't have to do this. [pulls out a Bowie knife and slits Telford's throat. As Telford dies, he grabs a two-way radio and contacts Stuart.]
- Would Hurt a Child: Colonel Stuart, although not directly. Just before the Windsor Airlines plane crashes in a spectacular fireball, we see at least one child run up the aisle of the plane before being told by a stewardess to take their seats. To drive the point home, McClane picks up the burnt remains of a child's doll after the crash.
- You Have Failed Me: Subverted when Miller returns to the church after escaping McClane:
Colonel Stuart: You're late.
Miller: We ran into trouble, Colonel. Some cop...[sighs] killed Cochrane. I barely got away, sir.
Colonel Stuart: Did you accomplish your mission? [beat]
Miller: Yes, sir. But... Cochrane, sir-
Colonel Stuart: Well then the damage is minimal. [puts a pistol to Miller's head] The penalty could be severe.
[Miller tenses up as Stuart slowly pulls the trigger and the music swells up, leading us to assume that this will end with Miller getting his face blown off, and then.... the gun clicks on an empty chamber]
Colonel Stuart: You fail me again, and the chamber won't be empty. Dismissed. [He puts his pistol away and Miller leaves]