"No one dies harder than John McClane."
A landmark action movie franchise that started with the greatest Christmas movie ever made
in 1988 when the world was introduced to badass
John McClane. He is usually called "the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
" Bruce Willis
stars as New York cop John McClane, who usually has to employ his skills in a situation that has since been called Die Hard on an X
— he is usually trapped inside a location and has to climb around in air ducts and counter the bad guys' plot. The setup is slightly different in each film (mostly depending on the location), but he always finds himself in the way of terrorists hatching some sort of plot (which ends up serving as an elaborate robbery).
The first film arguably started the trend of modern action movies that had intelligent, well-acted villains with intricate, meticulously-planned schemes
, instead of the usual paper-thin plot layered with extra helpings of dakka
to keep you from caring. It also helped to codify the modern action hero (after Indiana Jones
) where they are prone to sweat, bleed, snark
and make things up as they go along
while you feel they truly are in deadly danger that could overwhelm them at any time.
The series is composed of five movies:
- Die Hard (1988) — Los Angeles skyscraper
- Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) — Dulles International Airport, Washington, DC
- Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) — All over New York
Damn McClane, you know I was just starting to like you. John McClane:
Yeah, well don't, I'm an asshole
- Live Free or Die Hard (a.k.a. Die Hard 4.0, 2007) — Washington, DC, Baltimore, and surrounding areas
- A Good Day To Die Hard (2013) — Yippy-kye-ay, Mother Russia!
A sixth film (tentatively entitled Die Hardest
) is currently in pre-production
, and is slated to be the Grand Finale
of the series at Bruce Willis's request. The movie will apparently take place in a single tower in Tokyo
(appropriate enough, considering that the series is Big In Japan
) and will have a plot tied to the original film, taking place on the thirtieth anniversary of McClaine's successful handling of the Nakatomi hostage crisis. While the movie is supposed to feature McClaine as its sole protagonist, supporting characters from previous installments are being written into the script.
It has spawned a number video games, some of which are directly based on the movies. Also a recent mini-series of comics that showcase John's early days in the force.
If you came here expecting the trope Die Hard on an X
from a link, go there instead and please change the link to it, and tell the troper who inserted that link that he/she is a silly goose.
Now I have a trope example list. Ho ho ho:
- Adult Fear: In the first three films in the franchise, this is the drive behind most of our hero's actions. The first film sees our hero getting caught in the middle of a terrorist take-over of a high-rise building, with no way out, holding dozens of hostages with his wife among them and the police offers arriving to save the day being no help at all. The second is much of the same, except with entire plane-loads of people coming in for the holidays. The third film has a major subplot about a terrorist bomb in an elementary school.
- In the fourth movie, the antagonist uses Hollywood Hacking to erase McClane's pension, mortgage, etc., destroying his financial stability with a few keystrokes.
- Badass: John McClane, of course.
- Badass Family: The McClanes and the Grubers.
- Band of Brothers: McClane and his various sidekicks in each film (especially Al Powell), and weirdly enough, the Grubers:
Zeus: Didn't I hear you say you didn't even like your brother?
Simon: There's a difference, you know, between not liking one's brother and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him out of a window.
- And for that matter, Tony and Karl in the first film.
- Blonde Guys Are Evil: Tony and Karl in the first film and Simon in the third film.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Present in all the movies, but used sparingly to keep the villains threatening.
- Boring Invincible Hero: John started off as an aversion of this trope as a hero who gets hurt like anyone else would, but by Good Day, he's able to brush off falling through several stories of glass despite pushing 60.
- Bowdlerise: Played straight with TV edits of the films (see: Mr. Falcon, which is Esperanza's code name). A peculiar example in With a Vengeance, McClane's sign "I hate niggers" is turned into "I hate everybody", the actual and less problematic text used during the filming on location in Harlem. Surprisingly, AMC kept the original sign.
- Interestingly, although the German synchro had to change the catchphrase's "motherfucker" ("fuck" would be much more rude in German) to a "Schweinebacke" (approximately "pig tush"), it became memetically stuck as fast as the original.
- Brooklyn Rage: Guess where John is from.
- Catch Phrase: "Yippie-kay-ay, motherfucker!"
- The Cavalry Arrives Late: Subverted; the police always arrive early on, but they just can't do anything about the situation, as the villain has already factored their expected response into his plans.
- You'd think by now that John would wise up, and start mentoring a few rookies.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: John has a violent version of this.
- Clothing Damage: John gets noticeably more raggedy from various injuries in each movie.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Many of John's lines are guilty of this trope.
- Da Chief: Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson in the first film, Airport Police Captain Carmine Lorenzo in the second film and Captain Walter Cobb in the third film. The first two are jerkasses/Neidermeyers while Cobb is a classic Reasonable Authority Figure.
- Denser and Wackier: As detailed here. It begun with "everyman stuck in a building filled with baddies", but by the fifth movie he's Made of Iron and barely flinches while destroying everything in his path.
- Determinator: Every movie seems to involve McClane going through truly unholy quantities of punishment - including being shot, having his feet carved up by broken glass, getting severely thrashed in hand-to-hand combat, and falling over and over again - and still keeps going.
McClane: I'm like that fuckin' Energizer Bunny.
- Deadpan Snarker: McClane in all films.
- Die Hard on an X: The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier. Happens to the one and only John McClane fairly often.
- Dolled-Up Installment:
- Die Hard: Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which was the sequel to The Detective, whose adaptation starred Frank Sinatra. When Ol' Blue Eyes passed on the chance to reprise his role in a direct sequel, the flim was retooled as Commando 2, but Arnie passed and Die Hard became a stand-alone movie.
- Die Hard 2: Based on the novel 58 Minutes.
- Die Hard With a Vengeance: An original script called Simon Says, about a man and a woman solving a big mystery in New York. Later retooled as Lethal Weapon 4 with the man changed to Riggs and the woman changed to Murtaugh. Then retooled into Vengeance, with Riggs changed to McClane and Murtaugh changed to a new sidekick, Zeus, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
- Live Free or Die Hard: Based on a magazine article, turned into an original script called "WW 3.com", shelved after the events of September 11th, eventually retooled to star John McClane. It was almost a different film called "Die Hard: Tears of the Sun", but after that version of the film fell through Bruce Willis took the catchy title with him to a different movie.
- The fifth film is about the closest there's been to a Die Hard film actually beginning life as a Die Hard film. But even so, the screenplay was a rejected one for the 4th film.
- Even the video games are not immune to this. The Sega Beat 'em Up Die Hard Arcade was originally Dynamite Deka in Japan, whose main character (Bruno Delinger) just happened to resembled Bruce Willis. Sega simply tacked on the Die Hard license for the international release and claimed that Bruno was actually John McClane himself, and remade the villain into Hans Gruber.
- Also, the arcade game has nothing to do with any of the films, nothing to do with the archetype, and nothing about the main character that uniquely suggests John McClane; it's just a generic plot about rescuing the President's daughter with a cop named John McClane who kind of acts like the film character. The Japanese release was stand-alone.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: See "Sequel Reset" below.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: There are many examples of bad guys lamenting the deaths of their loved ones:
- The Dragon in the first movie is deeply angered after his brother is killed by John and spends most of the movie wanting revenge.
- Simon admits he didn't like Hans, but he was still family to him.
- In the same movie, one of his men makes a toast to fallen comrades and he shares the sentiment.
- When Gabriel learns about his girlfriend's death, he is shocked into silence and seems to be on the verge of tears as he tells John It's Personal.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The movies are about a guy who just.... won't.... die no matter what manner of immense danger, unholy pain and injuries happen to him. The villains just... can't kill this guy no matter what they try.
- Extreme Graphical Representation
- Filk Song: Guyz Nite made one, which is even on the fourth movie's DVD.
- Flanderization: John McClane himself. In the first three installments, he's a regular cop with a lot of bad things going on in his life, from divorces to hangovers, and his motivations are usually very personal. By the fourth film, he's an Implacable Man trying to save everyone because he has to be the guy to do it (although it does get personal later on).
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: The villains: Hans and Simon Gruber (choleric), Col. Stuart (melancholic), and Thomas Gabriel (phlegmatic).
- Going by the Matchbook
- Good Old Fisticuffs: At least one scene in every film.
- Guile Hero: John McClane. Overshadowed by the more prominent Action Hero profile.
- Hellish Copter: Various helicopters meet their ends due to rocket launchers, power lines, and police cars.
- Hollywood Healing: Averted; McClane keeps on limping throughout the movies from all the damage.
- Honor Before Reason: No matter how brutally damaged and horrifying under-equipped McClane may be, he just never gives up and lets the bad guys get away, ever.
- Hostage Situation: It wouldn't be Die Hard if each film didn't involve one at some point.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: For highly trained and well-supplied insurgents, very few of the henchmen in the films even get close with their shots. In the first movie this makes a little sense as most of them are using automatic weapons, it's hard to hit anything with those things.
- In the second film, played straight with in the Skywalk shootout. The SWAT officers and Stuart's men both have automatic weapons (M16A1 assault rifles and H&K MP5K submachine guns, respectively) - all five SWAT officers are killed, but only manage to kill a single mercenary (Shockley). In part 2 of the shootout, McClane bursts in as one mercenary puts a pistol to Barnes's head, he's firing at them with a semi-automatic pistol and manages to take out the remaining three mercenaries. He even trades fire with a mercenary firing down through wooden scaffolding (justified as he can't see where McClane might be). Noticeably, all three were not killed while firing at McClane: the first is being shot after catching a ventilation grate, the second falls off the scaffolding and is crushed, and McClane empties a magazine at the remaining one as he runs towards John.
- Subverted in the church shootout: Major Grant's men fail to pick off any of Stuart's men despite both sides firing automatic weapons. Neither side has any casualties. McClane manages to pick off two mercenaries to start the snowmobile chase. However, it's revealed that Grant and his men were working with Stuart all along and the shootout was staged for everyone else's benefit.
- Indy Ploy: In contrast to the villain's carefully laid plans, John McClane does everything on the fly, leading to absurd decisions that many times nearly kill him.
- Jerkass: Police Chief Dwayne Robinson in the first film, Airport Police Captain Lorenzo in the second film and Dick Thornburg in both films. Zeus in the third film Zeus starts out as a bit of a jerkass but slowly lightens up.
- Laughably Evil: Both Gruber brothers occasionally slip into this, Simon more so.
- Made of Iron: As the intro noted, John McClane followed Indiana Jones in the school of "action hero who is beaten by everyone\everything on his path and yet survives". Some of the people he encounters (Karl, Mai) are also resilient as hell.
- Mugged for Disguise:
- In the first movie, once Karl shoots the lobby guard, another henchman takes the guard's jacket to impersonate him.
- In the second movie, Barnes and the SWAT team are ambushed by four of Stuart's men, disguised as painters and airport maintenance employees. A deleted scene shows where they got the disguises: two painters are seen unloading their van when two of the Skywalk team's men, O'Reilly and Sheldon, walk up. O'Reilly pulls out a pistol and shoots both painters, then they throw the bodies in back and lock the doors.
- No One Should Survive That: This trope is invoked at least once every 10 minutes while watching these films.
- Oddly Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo
- Once per Episode: "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker."
- Every movie but the second reveals that the terrorists are actually doing a great robbery.
- One-Man Army: Practically a Trope Codifier.
- The Other Darrin John's daughter and son appeared as adults in the fourth and fifth films but were played by different (child) actors in the first film.
- Perma Stubble: McClane.
- Plot Armor: While the films always show John coming out pretty roughed off, he still tends to pull off highly improbable survivals, especially when confronted with an army of Mooks with automatic weapons. Then again, if they all attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy...
- Quote Swear Unquote: The Catch Phrase of the film came from McClane mentioning Roy Rogers was his favorite movie cowboy, and then taking Roy's Catch Phrase and adding swearing to it.
- Rated M for Manly: Yes.
- Rescue Romance: The first two movies are the Rated M for Manly version of a love movie: Yes, Holly, your husband may not always say the right thing, or remember to bring romantic gifts. But when you truly need him, he will literally fight his way through an army for you. What more proof do you need that he really loves you?
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: With the exception of the third movie, McClane always found himself in the middle of something that was generally beyond his training as a police officer.
- Rule of Cool: Most of the stunts performed by John, although the first movie at least complies with physics fairly well
- Save the Villain: Averted.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness
- Sequel Escalation: The series goes from a single office building to an airport, to all over New York City, to a scheme affecting all of America. And the fifth movie goes international, sending him to Russia.
- Sequel Reset: No matter what adventures McClane may go on, by the start of the next film he'll be back to being a Jerk Ass with a miserable home life. Seriously, this is a man who has now single-handedly thwarted four major terrorist attacks on the country (well, only one was actually terrorism, the other three were robberies disguised as terrorist acts), but still McClane should seriously be invited to train Delta Force in urban combat and anti-terrorist tactics.
- The second film was the only one in the series to suggest McClane has achieved any level of fame from his actions, with various people scoffing at his media appearances. In real life, the passengers on United 93 are lauded as heroes, and they didn't survive their counterattack on their hijackers. If McClane was a real person, his face would have been added to the U.S. flag by now...
- "You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin'. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can't remember your last name. Your kids don't want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy."
- It actually sort of makes sense. He was fairly well known in the second, mostly because of the reporter forcing Holly's maid to give an interview or be deported. The reporter who he worked with in the second clearly had ethics, so she probably downplayed his involvement. The third movie: You are a reporter. Are you going to focus on the little kids who were saved by cops or some bank robber? And by the fourth, it had probably been 10-12 years. And one can easily argue that his involvement in the fourth would be downplayed for national security reasons, leaving him as somewhat known to law enforcement, but largely anonymous by the fifth.
- Sibling Yin-Yang / Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: McClane's daughter Lucy is (or was) a teenage rebel while his son John Jr./Jack is a very responsible, by-the-book CIA agent. Just about the one thing they'd agree on (if they were in the same film) is that their dad sucks.
- Spanner in the Works: Pretty much the theme of the series. John never seeks out the antagonist or wants to get involved in whatever is going on. Though more often then not a family member of his (his wife in the first two movies, his daughter in the fourth and son in the fifth) will get caught in the crossfire forcing him to get in involved and expanding from there. The third is the only movie to subvert it as its a revenge plot engineered by the big bad but even then that winds up backfiring.
- Super Window Jump
- Television Geography: Regarding the DC-Baltimore area in the second and fourth movies. They've got Washington Dulles International Airport being represented by the Alpena, Michigan airport in the second film and LAX in #4, and downtown Baltimore for Washington DC (as evidenced by skyscrapers that are much taller than D.C. building codes allow).
- Terrorists Without a Cause: Not really. They're bank robbers, or they're ones seeking revenge for being fired, or assisting a corrupt dictator in escaping.
- True Love Is Boring: Poor John and Holly just couldn't catch a break.
- The Unfettered: The Dragon in each movie.
- Unorthodox Reload
- The Villain Makes the Plot: The film series was widely applauded by fans and critics for elevating the action movie genre by incorporating genuinely intelligent and resourceful villains. Bruce Willis' quote on the matter is spot on: "Any story where you have good guys versus bad guys can only be as smart as the intelligence of your baddest guy."
- We Do the Impossible: Rather, just John. It's actually a source of scorn for some people in-universe, who think he's jumpy and cocky after the events of the first film - it's part of the problem why Carmine Lorenzo won't believe him in Die Hard 2.
"Now I know what a troper feels like.