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Film / Die Hard

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Twelve terrorists, one cop. The odds are against John McClane. That's just the way he likes it.

Hans Gruber: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?
John McClane: Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.

The film that started the Die Hard franchise in 1988, directed by John McTiernan.

New York City police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) has flown out to Los Angeles to meet his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), in an attempt to reconcile their marriage over the Christmas holiday. He meets up with her at a Christmas Eve party in the Nakatomi Plaza, the skyscraper where she works. During the party, a group of thieves posing as terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) seize control of the building and turn the partygoers into hostages — except for McClane, who manages to escape their initial assault. Armed with little more than his wits, police training, and department-issue sidearm — but not his shoes — McClane does his best to alert the L.A. authorities to the attack, stay alive as he picks off the thieves as best he can, and save his wife from becoming another one of Gruber's victims.

The film is a loose adaptation of Roderick Thorp's 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, keeping most of the events of the book while altering the characters to various degree.note  The book itself is a sequel to The Detective, which was itself adapted into a Frank Sinatra film in 1968. When Sinatra declined to return, the script was reworked into Die Hard with Willis, then mostly known as a TV star from Moonlighting, as the lead. The film grossed around $140 million worldwide and turned Bruce Willis (who had performed most of his own stunts) into a bankable action star overnight.

Though Die Hard is set at Christmas, it was never intended to be a Christmas film; while it's viewed as the Trope Codifier for An Ass-Kicking Christmas, it was released in July as a popcorn action film, and debate over its legitimacy as "a Christmas film" as opposed to "a film that happens to take place during Christmas" persists to this day, with even members of the film's cast and crew taking different stances.note 

In a similar vein, no one really expected the film to be a game-changer. The '80s was dominated by giant musclemen like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The balding guy from Moonlighting? A middle-aged divorced schlub who looked like it? A frickin' comedy guy? Starring opposite a Shakespeare villain? When every other action film was pitting absolute muscle against absolute muscle... Die Hard redefined the genre and gave us The Everyman with a $4 haircut in the center of the action, effectively doing for action films what 48 Hrs. did for the buddy cop film.

Die Hard was also adapted into several video games, including Dynamite Cop (completely different apart from the premise, where one of the players is based on John McClane, barefoot and all that) and Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza (a direct adaptation).

Now I have a trope examples list. HO-HO-HO

  • 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 twinkies — 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. Takagi barely blinks when he catches Ellis snorting cocaine from Holly's desk, except for identifying John as "Holly's husband. Holly's policeman." Lastly, there're the airport's ridiculously lax safety standards by modern standards: smoking is permitted in the airport proper, and John carries his gun on the plane itself.
    • The crooks are out to steal hundreds of millions of dollars in "Bearer Bonds", financial vouchers issued in the period redeemable for cash (eventually banned because of their use in money laundering and drug dealing).
    • $640 million in bearer bonds? Today that's worth nearly two billion. Elon Musk, eat your heart out.
  • '80s Hair: Holly has a massive perm, and a few of the faux terrorists are rocking feathered mullets.
  • Accidental Child-Killer Backstory: Police officer Al Powell once shot a kid who he thought was armed. The guilt was so overwhelming that Powell took a desk job rather than continue to use his gun. Like McClane, every other cop on the force understood and let him take that desk job and still roll a black and white.
  • Accidental Murder: McClane's first kill in the movie is Tony, and was random happenstance. They were tumbling down the stairs, Tony ended up on the bottom, got himself a broken neck.
  • 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 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.
  • Actually, I Am Him: Subverted when McClane and Gruber meet. It looks like Gruber tricks McClane, but in fact McClane sees through it and gives his adversary an unloaded weapon.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie uses the premise, and many of the book's events, plot points and characters, but heavily alters and expands on much of the book.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book tells the story entirely from the perspective of Leland (The Hero equivalent to McClane in the film). As such, no scenes outside the building are ever seen. Al Powell (who is in the book) dealing with a Jerkass deputy chief, the two identically named FBI agents, Argyle's involvement in stopping the terrorists and the Jerkass reporter, are all additions for the film. If these events occurred in the book, Leland and, by extension, the reader are never privy to them.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Die Hard is loosely based on a novel titled Nothing Lasts Forever.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • The entire Nakatomi corporation, it seems. In the original novel, the terrorists were genuine and their plans included uncovering documents about the company's dealings with Chile's Junta. In the film, nothing unsavory is shown about the Nakatomi corporation, and the head of the company personally is much more noble.note 
    • McClane's (Leland in the book) daughter turns out to be a Corrupt Corporate Executive herself, as evidenced by the gold watch she bought herself. She was one of the architects of the deal with the Junta in Chile.
    • McClane himself is made more sympathetic. He's not misogynistic the way Leland is in the book, and McClane mostly kills only in self-defense, while Leland executes captured terrorists simply because he thinks they are about to try and lecture him on the righteousness of their cause. Karl's brother being killed is a deliberate choice by Leland in the book, while in the film it's more accidental due to him trying to overpower McClane. More importantly, McClane's actions save everyone on the roof, so it's clear McClane's involvement is a good thing and unambiguously heroic. In the book, it's never entirely clear if Leland's actions didn't end up making things worse.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • The criminals in comparison to the terrorists in the novel, if ever so slightly. In the book, they are killers and terrorists, but they are also genuinely motivated by a political cause and not just trying to make money. In fact, in the book, their plans include taking the money from the company's vault, and throwing it out the window.
    • Robinson saves Leland's life in the book, but in the film, aside from a few moments of clarity, he is mostly obstructive and rude.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Besides Joseph Leland being famously rechristened John McClane, the daughter/wife character is renamed from Stephanie to Holly (whereas the daughter is now called Lucy), and their boss Mr. Rivers is renamed Joseph Takagi. Big Bad Tony Gruber and Mook Hans Vreski swap first names.
  • Age Lift: In the novel, the main character is a retired police officer (and a World War II veteran!) and it is his daughter who is working at the skyscraper.
  • Agony of the Feet: After the afraid-of-flying Detective McClane receives instructions to remove his footgear as part of a post-flight stress relief exercise, he has to abandon his shoes when escaping the terrorists. Later, he's forced to run over broken glass to escape Hans and Karl's crossfire.
  • 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: Used quite famously, though despite often being given a Shout-Out when the trope is used, Die Hard is a deconstruction that comes across much more as an Unbuilt Trope in context of most references. He does not use the vent to infiltrate or travel at all, just to hide. The vent is incredibly cramped (lampshaded when he remarks, "Now I know what a TV dinner feels like."). It's shown to not be a particularly good hiding place and the villains quickly catch on and come perilously close to catching him inside. He also gets very dirty.
  • Alarm SOS: John tries to get help to fight the terrorists by pulling the fire alarm, but the terrorists respond by calling 911 and telling them that it's a false alarm.
  • All According to Plan: When the LAPD arrives at Nakatomi, Hans tells his henchmen to relax because the cops were going to arrive at some point, it's just a matter of timing. He also adds as an aside that their arrival was necessary. Why? Hans demands the release of hostages, forcing Robinson to call the FBI, the FBI cut the power to the Nakatomi building as part of their anti-terrorist procedure... allowing Hans to open the vault.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Or a more sophisticated arm of law enforcement, enforced by a bigger Jerkass. Deputy Chief Dwayne takes over the operation from Officer Al Powell, and in turn loses authority when Special Agents Johnson and Johnson, FBI, appear on the scene.
  • 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' charade, John pretends to be doing this when he gives him a gun.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    Karl: I want blood!
    Hans: You'll have it. But let Heinrich plant the detonators, and Theo prepare the vault. After we call the police, they'll waste hours trying to negotiate, and then you can tear the building apart looking for this man. But until then, we do not alter the plan.
    Karl: ...And if he alters it?
  • Artistic License – Geography: While being asked for the code, Takagi says that "when they wake up in Tokyo in the morning, they'll change it." However, in winter, Japan is 17 hours ahead of California (the Japanese don't observe Daylight Savings). Early evening in Los Angeles would be midday (the following day) in Tokyo, so everyone would still be at work.note 
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement:
    • Channel 9 (CB distress channel) is monitored by Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams (REACT), not the police department. If someone were calling for help on Channel 9, they would talk to a REACT operator, who would then call the authorities. Either way, it would not be an FCC violation.
    • Police officers are allowed to carry firearms (concealed carry) because of their state-issued law enforcement licenses. Police officers are allowed to operate only within the borders of their own states. McClane is on a plane traveling from New York to Los Angeles, taking him out of the state, meaning that his police license would not be applicable. This also negates his right to carry his weapon. Federal agents and state and local law enforcement officers are allowed to carry on commercial flights but only on official police business (e.g., prisoner or VIP escort). Proper paperwork and verified identification would be required for such official business.
  • Artistic License – Politics: The mayor of Los Angeles is conspicuously absent during the events of the film. During such a crisis, they would be at a nearby command center to coordinate with the police and listen to the terrorists' demands. (The film does at least nod to this when Robinson wonders if he should call the mayor before blacking out a big chunk of downtown LA.)
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: The Trope Codifier. Unlike many other action films that happen to take place on Christmas, the plot is actually kicked off by the robbers exploiting the laxer security during a Christmas party to aid in their plan, and McClane is visiting the building purely to attend the party. On a music note, Christmas carols weave in and out of the score (a couple bars of "Winter Wonderland" are heard when John tackles Tony down the stairs, John whistles "Jingle Bells," Theo quotes "The Night Before Christmas," and Powell briefly sings "Let It Snow"). Sleigh bells are also heard every now and then throughout the score.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Ellis. A dumb yuppie who seems attracted to Holly, he's introduced snorting cocaine in her office, and his last act is to make things worse by telling Hans John's name.
    • Besides their earlier domineering behavior, while Johnson and Johnson are flying in the helicopter to the top of Nakatomi Plaza, White Johnson makes an offhand mention that their current plan for dealing with the terrorists will kill twenty to twenty-five percent of the hostages in the crossfire. Black Johnson simply shrugs and says he can live with that. They're killed when the bombs beneath the helipad go off. Robinson is the only one to have a response to their deaths, which is, "We're gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess."
  • As You Know: It's a relatively understated example, but Theo feels the need to spell out to Hans, right before getting to work, that he can't disarm the last, electromagnetic lock. Obviously, with a heist this meticulously planned, Hans would already know that, but the dialogue is there so the audience understands the significance of the FBI cutting the power to the building.
    • Though there's a possible bit of Fridge Brilliance if you take Theo's warning as one he's given to Hans a few times already, with Theo wanting to make as sure as possible that he's not on the wrong side of a "You Have Failed Me" once he hits said electromagnetic lock that he and Hans both know in advance he can't do anything about, now that the plan is actively in motion.
  • 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.
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: Subverted. After the initial assault on the front doors fails, SWAT sends in "the car," an APCnote  that immediately gets stuck on the railings of the front steps, then hit by an anti-tank missile. Then by another one. So much for full-frontal assault on a fortified position.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: John and Holly can't help but go like this by the end of the movie. It sadly doesn't stick by the third movie.
  • 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."
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Hans Gruber, the leader of the gunmen, points out that he's wearing an expensive suit from the same tailor as Takagi.
  • Bad Boss: Hans brushes off Kristoff's warning that Karl is still on the roof when he blows it up.
  • 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: After the effort he put into his seemingly pleasant façade throughout much of the movie, the critical portion of Hans Gruber's escape plan is to kill the hostages and escape in the confusion.
  • Ballroom Blitz: Hans Gruber and his terrorists interrupt the Nakatomi company's Christmas party to take everyone hostage.
  • Batman Gambit: Hans's master goal is entirely dependent on the FBI cutting electrical power (per standard procedure), which disables the magnetic lock on the Nakatomi Plaza vault. When the authorities arrive, Hans even remarks that this was expected and part of the plan. The plan falls apart, however, because John was able to evacuate the roof before it blew up and prevent their escape plans.
  • Beard of Evil: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber sports a goatee, contrasting a beardless Bruce Willis.
  • Beeping Computers: The security computer Theo hacks is producing beeping sounds when being operated.
  • 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.
    • 29th floor: Bill Clay works on this floor.
    • 30th floor: Office party. Final confrontation with Hans, while Eddie is also killed here.
    • 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, 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.
    • The book even shows that McClane (Leland) likens the building to a medieval castle, with the gates down and the elevators inoperable, and just as impregnable.
  • Big "NO!": Four from John. He does two in a row when he sees the fire engines approaching Nakatomi Plaza turning around. He does two more when he sees the SWAT team approaching the building, knowing they are sitting ducks.
  • Billionaire Wristband: Holly Gennaro receives a gold wristwatch upon being promoted to the Nakatomi Corporation's executive board. Office weasel Harry Ellis sniffs, "Of course, it's a Rolex." This watch proves to be a Chekhov's Gun during the climactic scene.
  • Black and Nerdy: Theo is black, wears glasses, and has no combat skills. He's the computer whiz responsible for shutting down the building and hacking through the vault's control system. Argyle is likewise just a limo driver who gets stuck in the garage.
  • Black Comedy:
    • The demise of G-men in an act of duty would usually be a serious issue, but after the curtain of their smug show comes down crashing they aren't really missed.
      Robinson: Holy Christ! We are gonna need more FBI guys, I guess.
    • When getting back into his car, Sgt. Powell starts singing "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". Cue a mook's body crashing onto his hood.
  • Blatant Lies: "I promise I won't hurt you," as Tony is stalking McClane with a submachine gun. A moment later he opens fire on where he thinks John is hiding.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: After John McClane 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 to allay his suspicions. Once Powell starts to leave, John has to throw a body through a window so it drops on his police car to alert Powell to the fact that something is seriously wrong.
  • Bluff the Impostor: John encounters Hans alone on an upper floor. Hans quickly pretends to be an escaped hostage, speaking in a convincing American accent instead of his usual British impersonating a German. John pretends to be convinced in order to string Hans along (John had previously seen Hans from above the elevator when he put Karl's brother in it, so his seeming acceptance of Hans is a complete act).
  • 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. Why? Karl thought he'd make John die slowly and painfully.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Hans executes Takagi and Ellis in this manner.
    • McClane shoots Eddie in the head.
  • Boring Insult: After Hans Gruber and his band of terrorists are revealed to be after $640 million in bearer bonds, not any political cause:
    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.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Hans Gruber borrows John McClane's "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" as Evil Gloating (and attempting One-Liner Echo).
  • Bottomless Magazines: While other terrorists are occasionally seen reloading, Karl is never seen carrying any spare magazines or reloading his Steyr AUG, yet in multiple scenes is shown firing the gun for extended periods of time (most obviously during the firefight in the computer room alongside Hans).
  • Brand X: Hans and Takagi both buy their suits at the fictional John Phillips tailors in London (presumably at Savile Row).
  • Brick Joke: Easy to miss; Powell's leisurely drive towards Nakatomi and noticing nothing amiss makes John complain, "Who's driving this car, Stevie Wonder?" Soon, when Powell frantically drives to escape the machine-gun fire, when he passes unnoticed by the distracted Argyle, it's Wonder's single "Skeletons" blaring in the limo.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Alan Rickman put on such a convincing American accent, that John McTiernan decided to extend the scene where he pretends to be a hostage 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.
  • Buddy Cop Show: John and Al bond over the course of the movie. Al realizes right away that John is a cop. John apologizes for not realizing that Al's riding a desk for a good reason. Argyle gets to join the show as John's plucky sidekick.
  • 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.
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: Between McClane and Tony, only they're fighting over the gun, and the issue is to see whose neck gets snapped when they roll down the stairs.
  • Butt-Monkey: Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson has zero control of the situation, then the FBI guys show up and take even the illusion of control away. Paul Gleason at his best.
  • 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.
    • Agents Johnson and Johnson follow procedure to the letter. Even if it means that the hostages might suffer. This is exploited by Hans.
    • Tony thinks John is this, hence his calmness and the You Wouldn't Shoot Me line despite being dead to rights. While it's true John isn't about to shoot him, he's actually the other kind of cop as proven by how he proceeds to Pistol Whip Tony.
  • Captain Obvious: Robinson's reaction when the terrorists begin to shoot out the SWAT team's search lights.
    Police officer: It's panic fire. They can't see anything.
    Sgt. Powell: They're shooting out the lights...
    [several lights are shot out]
    Robinson: They're going for the lights!
    Sgt. Powell: [eye roll]
  • Car Cushion: Invoked. While it's true that Marco is thrown from the top of a building and lands right in the windshield of a cop car, he was already dead, and McClane aimed him at Powell's car 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.
    • Sgt. Powell, halfway through the movie, manages to drive backward at high speed after a body gets dropped on his car, smashing the windshield and half the roof. McClane compliments him on his driving before learning about his Accidental Child-Killer Backstory.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Gruber. When Holly tells him he's "nothing but a common thief", Hans puts a gun to her head and amends it with "I am an exceptional thief, [...] and since I'm moving up to kidnapping [you], you should be more polite."
  • Cassandra Truth: John McClane can't get the local 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 calls; that he should call 911 on his telephone; and that if he keeps talking on that channel, he'll be reported for an FCC violation. 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.
  • Caught Up in a Robbery: Detective John McClane just happens to be visiting his wife at her workplace at the Nakatomi Corporation when Card-Carrying Villain Hans Gruber and his cronies seize control of the building and take the executive pool hostage in a supposed terrorist attack. This is actually just a cover for Hans and Co.'s real scheme: breaking into the Nakatomi Tower's vault to steal $640 million worth of bearer bonds. John evades capture and becomes a rogue agent, monkey-wrenching the villains' machinations at every turn.
  • Chainsaw Good: Tony gets to work on disabling the phone lines. Karl says screw it and just cuts through them with a chainsaw, much to his brother's irritation.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Holly's Rolex, the removal of which kills Hans. Holly's decision to use her maiden name, which means Gruber doesn't connect her with John McClane. Holly flipping the family portrait over. 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, except maybe for Ellis' cocaine habit, everything that ever appears on-screen is a Chekhov's Gun. Lighters, teddy bears, glass, detonators, cigarettes: all important.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A Downplayed Trope. After arriving on the 30th floor, John eyes a pretty blonde woman during the party. A couple minutes later, she and a guy are looking for a room to have sex in. She appears a third time when the terrorists arrive on the 30th floor and start taking hostages while she and her partner are mid-coitus, distracting three terrorists. John seizes the opportunity to slip to a staircase.
    • Argyle. After spending most of the film trapped in the garage, he manages at the end to ram the ambulance driven by Theo and then punch him out.
  • The Chessmaster: Hans set a new standard for intelligent villains when the film first came out. He planned for just about everything, and almost anything that could have been considered a problem was just factored into the overall plan, such as the FBI responding to a terrorist attack instead of a robbery. John McClane was pretty much the only thing he hadn't planned on. And even then, Gruber's plan survived a staggering amount of John's interference with minimal alteration.
  • 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, "It's Christmas, Theo! It's 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 says, "You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the F.B.I."
  • Christmas Songs: A fair few on the soundtrack, such as "Christmas in Hollis" by Run–D.M.C., a sinister instrumental version of "Winter Wonderland" and the Vaughn Monroe version of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" playing over the closing credits; Reginald VelJohnson briefly sings part of the latter. We also get Bruce Willis whistling "Jingle Bells".
  • *Click* Hello:
    • How John gets the drop on Tony.
      McClane: Drop it, dickhead. It's the police.
    • John runs into Hans, who fakes an American accent to fool McClane into thinking he is a hostage hiding from the terrorists. McClane gives Hans his pistol to help defend himself. Hans promptly points the gun at McClane when he turns his back. Of course, McClane neglected to mention that he made sure the gun he handed to Gruber was not loaded.
    • 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.
  • Closed Circle: 90 percent of the movie takes place in or around the Nakatomi Plaza, with Hans's first goal to lock down the exits and trap everyone inside. All of the running through conference rooms, maintenance hallways, unfinished floors and climbing through air vents made the tension ramp up continuously as the film progressed. This is the reason they call it "Die Hard" on an X.
  • Cold Ham: Most of Hans' dialogue is bombastically understated.
    Hans: Ah. When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for their were no more worlds to conquer. [chuckle] The benefits of a classical education.
    Takagi: Is that what this is about? Our project in Indonesia?!
    Hans: I read about it in Forbes. What I'm really interested in is your vault.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The film was praised for its approach of presenting a vulnerable, human action hero who must use his grit and cunning to succeed, making him seem more badass rather than less so. Specific examples of pragmatism include:
    • 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.
    • When he gets into a fight with Tony, his first blow is to knock off Tony's glasses to give him an advantage in the fight.
    • McClane ultimately defeats the villain with packing tape and his wife's watch.
    • Hans gets in on it when he and Karl shoot out the panes of glass between them so that the barefoot McClane will have to stay put and be captured or killed or 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The city engineer supervisor tries to tell the FBI agents that they can't cut power to the building from here, while the engineer in the manhole says that he can because he can radio central from there.
  • Commander Contrarian: McClane handles being a cop in the wrong place and time, but despite being their only real hope, Deputy Chief Robinson spends his time blaming McClane like an incompetent cop. Even with Al defending McClane, Robinson finally pushes too far when McClane saves some cops with an explosion, only for Robinson to take the radio and complain about him causing falling glass:
    McClane: Oh, you're in charge? Well, I got some bad news for you, Dwayne. From up here, it doesn't look like you're in charge of jack shit.
    Robinson: You listen to me, you little asshole, I'm—
    McClane: Asshole? I'm not the one who just got butt-fucked on national TV, Dwayne. Now, you listen to me, jerk-off, if you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem. Quit being a part of the fucking problem and put the other guy back on!
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Justified and then subverted in one scene. Marco attempts to shoot McClane through a table, but is unable to see him and misses every shot. As soon as McClane figures out where Marco is, he shoots him through the table.
  • Contagious Laughter: During the final confrontation, John starts laughing which gets Gruber and the other henchman to laugh along. The scene culminates with John pulling his hidden weapon from behind his back and shooting both villains.
  • Contempt Crossfire: Both Sgt. Powell and Deputy Commissioner Robinson have had tensions all evening due to their differing views on McClane and how to handle the situation, but they're united in their concern for the hostages once the FBI show up.
  • Contrived Coincidence: After John does his desperate jump off the roof with the fire hose to escape the FBI's helicopter attack and Hans' roof explosion, the building floor he smashes back into happens to be the 30th floor right where Holly and Hans are. But now who cares how contrived this coincidence is.
  • Conveniently Empty Building: Nobody is in the building except the folks partying on Holly's floor. Justified, since the building is still under construction, and even in the finished areas, it's after business hours on Christmas Eve.
  • Conversation Casualty: When Karl and Theo enter the building, 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 limo. The LAPD's armoured RV also counts, (but it doesn't last long.)
  • Cop Killer: The terrorists maim the SWAT team sent to storm the building, then destroy the APC vehicle and killing the crew inside, and later kill the FBI agents on a helicopter after trying to blow the roof up with all the hostages on it. McClane is distracted by other matters during the second, but he takes the first one hard.
  • Counting to Three: Gruber likes this trope. First, he uses the count-up on Takagi. 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.
    Hans: I'm going to count to three. There will not be a four. Give me ... the code, please.
  • Cowboy Cop: John McClane himself admits to this when he confronts Tony. The former page quote was the result of Hans calling him out on this while discussing cowboy movies.
    John: [Draws gun] Drop it, dickhead. It's the police.
    Tony: You won't hurt me.
    John: Yeah? Why not?
    Tony: Because you're a policeman. There are rules for policemen.
    John: Yeah. That's what my captain keeps telling me. [Pistol whip]
  • The Cracker: Theo, the wisecrack-spouting computer tech who cracks through all but the final layer of corporate security. He's a more realistic example than most, however, since his "cracking" consisted of figuring out the password for the first layer, then taking a big power drill to the next five. He outright admits he can't break the final layer due to the electromagnetic seal, hence why Hans wants the FBI to cut power to the building.
  • Criminal Craves Legitimacy: Hans' plan is fairly simple: make everyone think his crew are terrorists, steal 600 million dollars, fake their deaths, and then sit on a beach and earn 20% off their stolen (and believed destroyed) loot.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: John McClane is armed only with his standard-issue 9mm Beretta while the terrorists carry sub-machine guns, assault rifles, a whole lot of explosives, and even an anti-tank rocket launcher (and after he manages to poach a machine gun of his own, John is still outnumbered on every encounter where he puts it to use, forcing him to keep running for his life). With this firepower and the advantage of being entrenched, the crooks manage to easily fend off the LAPD for hours.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Ellis decides to try and barter with Hans by claiming he knows John and can help talk him down. John is relieved that all Ellis said was that they were friends and nothing about being Holly's husband but is immensely aware that Ellis claiming to be best friends with him only makes him a bigger target, and tells Hans he doesn't actually care about him. This was overall true, but he was still upset when Hans shoots Ellis. The police outside hear the entire conversation and the Chief reads the situation as John mercilessly letting him die, while Powell understands that John did everything he could.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: John briefly threatens to cook and eat Karl.
    McClane: First I'm gonna kill you, then I'm gonna cook ya, then I'm gonna fucking eat ya!
  • Cut Phone Lines: The first thing the baddies do is cutting the building's phone lines. They weren't planning on physically cutting them, but Karl got impatient.
  • 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.
  • Cutting the Knot:
    • When Tony is slowly trying to disable the phone lines electronically, Karl simply walks by, cuts through the lines instead with a chainsaw, and walks away pleased with himself.
    • Mr. Takagi only had one part of the vault lock, which consisted of six locks and an electromagnet timer. Takagi spends time arguing with them because of this fact, which only ends up getting him killed. It's quickly revealed that Theo had the necessary equipment to manually disable the locks himself, but they were hoping for at least a head start.
  • Da Chief: John briefly hints that his superior back in his home precinct is this trope, fed up from dealing with McClane's Cowboy Cop antics.
    Tony: There are rules for policemen.
    John: Yeah. That's what my captain keeps telling me.
    (Violence ensues)
  • Darkened Building Shootout: A few of them within unfinished sections of the Plaza, especially when the power is cut.
  • Darkest Hour: Occurs after the shootout on the 33rd floor. John's got glass in his feet, Hans just got the detonators back meaning that John's only put a small dent in his plan, and Ellis leaked John's information, leading Dick Thornburg to cause more trouble for John by exposing his and Holly's marital status to Hans.
  • Dead Guy on Display: John sends Tony's corpse back down on the elevator purely to taunt and unsettle the terrorists.
  • Death from Above: John takes out the two henchmen (James and Alexander) manning the missile launcher by dropping a packet of C4 down the elevator shaft.
  • Death Glare:
    • Holly gives Hans a glare as her boss, Takagi, is taken away. Even Hans seems unsettled by it.
    • Hans gives one to Karl and Theo as they comment on their side bet about whether or not Hans will be able to get the password out of Takagi.
    • 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!
    • Karl gives one to John while he was hiding in the air vent before leaving.
    • A far less serious one from the idiot TV news anchor when Thornburg says "Eat it, Harvey!" Harvey embarrasses himself by still glaring at Thornburg when he goes on the air.
  • Defiant Captive: Holly can talk back to an unrepentant murdering Hans Gruber on behalf of her colleagues and negotiate, then after an exhaustively terrifying night, punch out the stupid reporter who made the whole situation worse.
  • Defiant to the End: Hans Gruber threatens to kill Joe Takagi, head executive at the Nakatomi building, if he doesn't tell Hans the access codes to the Nakatomi vault. Not only does Mr. Takagi adamantly refuse, he outright goads Hans into killing him (although he sounds so calm that he doesn't seem like he's expecting Hans to kill him):
    Takagi: I don't know it, I'm telling you. Get on a jet to Tokyo and ask the chairman. I'm telling you, you're just going to have to kill me.
  • Delusions of Local Grandeur: Reporter "Dick" Thornburg; he tells a potential date, apparently sincerely, that he and Wolfgang Puck "are like that" because he interviewed Puck once.
  • Dented Iron: John gets beaten to hell and back over the course of the movie. He never stops, but by the end he's a bruised, bloody, limping mess.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Ellis approaches the terrorists by asking, "Sprechen sie talk?" (Literally, "Do you speak talk?")
  • Description Cut: Description and reality clash several times:
    • When the villains crash the Christmas party and shoot in the air, John comments he can only hope Argyle heard the shots from the garage and is contacting Police. Cut to Argyle in his limo, listening to loud music and chatting to some girl on the phone.
    • A Black Comedy 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.
    • When the FBI cut the power, the Johnsons in all their smug glory quip: "the bastards are probably pissing their pants right now..." They are in the middle of the "Ode to Joy" ecstasy, as the blackout is what they needed to open the vault and they are helping themselves to $640 million.
  • Desk Jockey: John 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 the Not Quite Dead Karl comes back for one last shot at McClane.
  • Destination Defenestration:
    • What happens to Gruber by the end.
    • This is the post-mortem fate of Marco to get Sgt. Powell's attention.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The festive season has some plot relevance. It's why John is visiting his estranged wife in the first place, and the Nakatomi employees are partying in a mostly empty building.
  • Didn't Think This Through: In order to stop the terrorists from killing more of the cops, McClane wraps a CRT computer monitor with some C4 and doesn't bother priming it correctly. When it explodes and creates a huge fireball that travels up the elevator shaft back to his face, his reaction says it all:
    John: SHIT!
  • 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.
    John: "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; none of the subsequent sequels do.
  • Disappointed by the Motive:
    • There's an exchange between Holly and Hans after The Reveal about the Evil Plan of the terrorists. Hans and his gang kidnapped an office full of workers at their Christmas party, wanted an international criminal let loose in the name of a "revolution" worldwide, killed several people, and caused a massive police response because of everything they'd done. However, the climax of the film shows that all of their terrorism was just cover to buy them enough time to get the building's safe open. The terrorists never really cared about "revolution," the hostages, or the world; they just wanted money. Holly is rather incredulous that Hans went through so much trouble just for money.
      Holly: 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.
    • During the climactic showdown, John has a similar reaction as Holly, to the point that he lays into Hans with a brief "The Reason You Suck" Speech. But in this case, John is just stalling for time to get Hans to let his guard down.
      John: So that's what this is all about? A fucking robbery? (...) Why'd you have to nuke the whole building, Hans?
  • Disney Villain Death: Hans Gruber attempts to drag Holly down with him by grabbing her watch after he is shot. But John unclasps it, and Hans plummets to his death.
    Robertson: Oh, I hope that's not a hostage...
  • Distant Reaction Shot:
    • When Hans detonates the roof of the Nakatomi and John just barely manages to save himself by jumping off it via a fire hose he uses as a makeshift rope. One of the camera cuts shows the building from several miles away and the very visible explosion coming from it.
    • Earlier when the dispatcher tells Al to check on the reported disturbance at the Nakatomi, as he's entering his car, Al notices something odd and the camera then pulls back showing that even from several miles away, there's multiple flashes appearing from the building's roof. It's from the gun battle between John against Karl and the other two henchmen.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • There is an odd Running Gag of John finding his eyes wandering to various attractive women, from smiling at a pretty stewardess on the plane to a lightly dressed woman jumping her boyfriend in the lobby and much later a poster of a topless woman in the maintenance hallways. At the least, the poster serves a purpose as John gets turned around in the chaos and used that poster to regain his bearings. An especially odd one comes after the initial takeover and John slips away into the offices still under construction, there is a brief shot where he looks across the street to see a woman undressing.
    • 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 dragged out of an office where she was getting it on with a co-worker, allowing John to slip away to the stairwell unnoticed.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Sgt. Powell states that the reason why he can't use a gun anymore is that he accidentally shot a kid who was using a toy gun. Later, when Karl begins to attack McClane at the end, Al pulls out his gun and guns down Karl.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Sergeant 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 doughnuts.
  • The Dragon: John McClane is hunted by Karl and must defeat him before he can defeat Hans Gruber. Technically Karl does not die until the end, but McClane leaves him bloody and beaten before throwing Gruber off the building. Karl then emerges for round two, only to be gunned down by Al.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Karl turns up in the finale after previously being left for dead. Although, he did fulfill his duties as The Dragon, having beaten the tar out of John McClane before his defeat. He was just too Bad-Ass to die, at least until Sgt. Al Powell regained the confidence to shoot a gun.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Karl's brother Tony is killed by McClane. Karl wants revenge against McClane, losing interest in the main mission for the rest of the movie.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion: Right before the showdown with Hans, McClane checks his ammunition. His machine gun is empty and his pistol has only two bullets left.
  • Dramatic Irony: After the FBI cut off the power, they gloat that the terrorists are probably pissing their pants. They are, but only because the FBI just cut the final lock to the vault and gave them the 640 million dollars they were looking for.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: A few, like when Tony flips the safety on his machine gun while stalking John on the unfinished floor, or when John gingerly chambers a round just as quietly as he can while Karl is moving down the line of the air shaft.
    • Karl has a variation with his Steyr AUG assault rifle as he assembles it, menacingly snapping the forward grip into place.
  • The Driver:
    • Argyle drives the limo that takes McClane to the building.
    • Heinrich drives the truck used by the terrorists.
  • 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. The last time he is seen with it is when he goes to talk to Hans. This goes ... poorly.
  • 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.
  • Dwindling Party: The terrorists are slowly taken out by John over the course of the film.
    • Tony: Pushed headfirst into the staircase floor by John, breaking his neck.
    • Heinrich: Shot by John.
    • Marco: Shot through a table, then thrown onto Sgt. Powell's car, by John.
    • James and Alexander: Blown up simultaneously with a poorly-prepped pack of C4 John drops down the elevator shaft from the 33rd floor.
    • Fritz: Shot by John while arriving on the 33rd floor.
    • Franco: Shot in the legs by John, causing him to slam headfirst into a window.
    • Uli: Shot four times in the chest by John after delivering the hostages to the roof.
    • Kristoff: Knocked out by John just before the final confrontation with Hans.
    • Eddie: Shot in the head by John during the final confrontation with Hans.
    • Hans Gruber: Shot in the shoulder and falls through a glass window, then plummets 31 stories to his death.
    • Karl: Shot five times by Sgt. Powell.
    • Theo: Punched out by Argyle in the parking garage.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • John is just a cop, one that has a bit of a mean streak but certainly not an elite counter-terrorist operative. He is very nervous before any oncoming fight and tends to win with a little smarts and a LOT of luck, but the growing injuries are very evident by the end. Perhaps owing to his growing experience dealing with these situations, the sequels show him as a lot more proactive, much more durable (he still gets injured but in a more macho way) and quicker on the draw to kill enemies.
    • In the sequels, John says "Yippee ki yay motherfucker" either just before or just after killing the Big Bad. Here, he says the line at about the halfway point, and it's Hans who repeats the line as his last words at the climax.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Takagi, Ellis, and numerous FBI and SWAT members are dead, but they are outnumbered by the roughly thirty hostages John saved from being massacred. Hans and his men are defeated, the heist is foiled, John is reunited with his wife, and Powell seems to have achieved some measure of self-forgiveness after saving John from Karl.
  • 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.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: Hans threatens Takagi in this manner, then shoots him and says, "We'll do it the hard way."
  • Elevator Escape: John kills Tony, then puts his body in an elevator and stands on the roof to watch as Hans is taunted by the message on the dead man's sweater that he has a machine gun.
  • Endangering News Broadcast: Thornburg goes to John McClane's house and talks to his children. Hans Gruber hears the name "Gennero" on television, sees Holly's reaction, lifts the photograph in her office, and realizes that Holly is John's wife, giving him a valuable hostage.
  • The Enemy Weapons Are Better: Fully justified too, when you consider McClane is a cop having a really bad Christmas Eve and only armed with his handgun, while his opponents are terrorists armed with fully automatic weapons, rocket launchers, C4...McClane inevitably has to swipe some enemy gear (and gloat about it) just to stand a chance.
  • 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.
    • Alan Rickman was told that he would be dropped on the count of 'Three'. Instead, he was dropped on 'One'. The Oh, Crap! look on his face as he falls from the 31st floor window is real.
  • 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 Ulli 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 Ulli does most of the work for wiring the roof to explode).
  • Establishing Character Moment: Hans Gruber, the bad guy, has several in quick succession.
    • He shows his refined taste when he compliments Takagi's suit.
    • Gruber establishes the Magnificent Bastard, Smug Snake type of criminal he is when he's directing his goons to prep before taking the Nakatomi Christmas Party hostage. And then, after they burst in and spray the place with bullets, he gently chides the screaming, terrified, hostages to please, please be quiet and allow him to speak.
    • After his moment with the hostages at the party and complimenting Takagi's suit in the elevator, he sees a scale model of Nakatomi Plaza and quotes that when "Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer" (showing his ego), before nerding out over another model and commenting that he loved model as a boy for "the exactness, attention to every conceivable detail" (showing that he's a meticulous planner).
    • Detective McClane's Anti-Hero tendencies start to peek through as he's talking to the doctor on the flight to LA.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • John McClane, 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 is deeply affected by the death of his younger brother Tony and subsequently spends the rest of the film hell-bent on killing McClane.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Gruber's ultimate plan is to kill all the hostages with an explosion and escape in the confusion, but in the meantime, he is unwilling to inflict unnecessary cruelty on them. When Holly points out that one of the hostages is a pregnant woman and that they will all need bathroom breaks, Hans quickly compromises with her on both points. It is also notable that after murdering Ellis, Hans (in frustration) threatens to kill more hostages unless McClane surrenders, but never follows through on this threat.
    • Kristoff, one of Hans' mooks, refuses to blow the roof because Karl's still up there. He's also one of the two terrorists/robbers who weren't seen with a weapon or threatening any of the hostages.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: The helicopters Hans demands for his "escape" turn out to be just that.
    Little Johnson: Keep this thing on the deck, they are expecting transports, not gunships.
  • The Everyman: John McClane is just an average New York police officer, flown into Los Angeles to see his estranged wife Holly - then Hans and his gang attack, leaving John the only one in a position to stop them.
  • Evil Laugh:
    • Hans laughs maliciously when Takagi asks him what kinds of terrorists he and his fellow gunmen are.
    • Hans and his colleague indulge in malicious laughter right before John reveals what he had taped to his back...
  • Evil Plan: Invade the Nakatomi building, take hostages under the guise of being terrorists, 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.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: After John McClane tells Sgt. Powell to tell his wife that he loves her in case he doesn't make it out, Powell tries to reassure him that he'll survive. John says that "that's up to the man upstairs" ... and remembers Hans Gruber's visit to the roof of Nakatomi Plaza earlier in the film, at which point he realizes that Hans was up to something funny. Sure enough, when he gets there, he finds that Hans is planning to blow up the roof with all the hostages on it, along with the helicopters coming to rescue them.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The action takes place almost in Real Time, from the time John arrives at Nakatomi Plaza to the climax could have been anywhere from three to five hours.
  • FBI Agent: Agents Johnson and Johnson take over the law enforcement response to the takeover and, as Al Powell says, "They've got the universal terrorist playbook and they're running it step by step." This plays right into the hands of Hans Gruber, who takes advantage of their tactics to break into the vault. The agents then try to slaughter the terrorists while risking the hostages' lives and get blown up by a terrorist trap.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When Hans tries his False Innocence Trick on John, John hands him his Beretta 92, which Hans tries to use on him as soon as he turns his back, only for the hammer to drop on an empty chamber. The Beretta 92 has a chamber indicator to let the shooter know if the chamber is empty or not, which Hans clearly forgot to check.
  • Fake Shemp: For Fritz's death scene, Hans Buhringer wasn't called in that day of filming, as the filmmakers were already behind schedule, so they opted for 6'4 Native American stuntman Henry Kingi to double for him while wearing a wig. Buhringer joked that he never really died in the film as he wasn't an experienced actor at the time.
  • Faking the Dead: In order to avoid the pretty much inevitable international police search for more than half a billion in stolen bearer bonds and the men who stole them that the Nakatomi heist would bring, the final stage of Hans' plan is to make it look like all the terrorists and hostages were accidentally blown up in a botched FBI takedown, followed by their escaping in an ambulance they smuggled in with them during the chaos of various emergency services looking for survivors.
    Hans: When you steal six hundred dollars you can just disappear. Steal six hundred million, and they will find you... unless they think you're already dead.
  • False False Alarm: One of the first things Detective John McClane does to thwart the terrorists that have seized control of the Nakatomi Tower is set off a fire alarm, knowing it will bring both firemen and police to the scene. Villainous mastermind Hans Gruber simply phones the LAFD to report a false alarm at the site. It disheartens McClane to see the approaching fire trucks suddenly kill their lights and sirens before turning back.
    McClane: Oh, you stupid motherfuckers, no, NO! Turn the FUCKING truck around!
  • False Innocence Trick: Hans Gruber attempts to pass himself off as an escaped hostage when meeting John McClane for the first time.
  • Fan Disservice: John spends the last 35 minutes of the film shirtless but covered in grime, blood, and limping from glass in his feet.
  • Fanservice Extra:
    • When armed terrorists crash the Nakatomi company Christmas party they interrupt a couple having sex in one of the offices and drag them out with the woman (Cheryl Baker) screaming and topless.
    • A girl in tight pants jumping into a guy's arms early in the film.
    • John is temporarily awestruck by a woman in lingerie on the other side of the street.
    • There's a poster of a topless woman on the 35th floor's fuse box, which John uses to figure out where he is.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Hans pulls some cool eyebrow raises. After all, Alan Rickman IS Mr. Eyebrow.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Hans Gruber puts on a friendly persona, but it's all an act. While he does get a couch for a pregnant woman to recline on, it's simply so he and his men do not have to deal with her screaming. He later forces the woman up to the rooftop with the other hostages to kill them, all for some money.
    Hans: Mr. Takagi. I could talk about industrialization and men's fashions all day, but I'm afraid work must intrude, and my associate here has some questions for you.
  • 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 - Joseph Leland, not John McClane - is a retiree, and the wife character is 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 they 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. In addition, the police chief gets killed, and it's ambiguous as to whether Leland will survive due to his many injuries.
  • Final Exchange: Marco has McClane trapped beneath a conference table and has just reloaded his MP5 to deliver the coup de grâce. The mook jeers, "Next time you have a chance to kill someone, don't hesitate!" In response, McClane immediately unloads his gun through the table and into the bad guy, killing him (painfully). Speaking to the fallen corpse, McClane says, "Thanks for the advice."
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: John McClane does this to get the civilians off the roof of the building. Unfortunately for him, the gung-ho FBI agents in a helicopter think he's firing at them and shoot back.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Hans snarls... something in German during the shootout on the 33rd floor when he dives onto the floor to grab Franco's gun. One of his foot soldiers also mutters "Scheissen!" when a missile he's wheeling over to the window in order to deal with the incoming ARV falls off the cart (well-armed though the robbers may be, a fast-moving SWAT vehicle isn't something to be taken lightly, so they're hauling ass).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "Glass? Who gives a shit about glass?!" You will, John, after someone shoots out a window and you have to run across it barefoot...
    • John uses a block of C4 to take out some terrorists, leading to a firey explosion that takes out a whole floor. Both he and the viewers are thus well aware of what is going to happen when the whole underside of the roof is rigged with dozens of C4 explosives.
  • Formula with a Twist: Ironically, Die Hard began as an ordinary action movie with a standard Action Hero. Throughout its Troubled Production,invoked Frank Sinatra, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and other big action stars were all considered but turned it down. Bruce Willis' Everyman appearance is what helped shape the film into the Right Man in the Wrong Place story which would later spawn its own derivatives in the "Die Hard" on an X sub-genre.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When John and Hans meet for the first time and John gives Hans his Beretta pistol, he keeps his finger on the slide release when he pretends to chamber it so as to not give away that he's loading an empty magazine.
  • A Friend in Need: The only person to believe John was Al, who didn't even know the guy.
  • Friend or Foe?: After McClane fires into the air to convince the hostages to flee the roof, the trigger-happy FBI Agents Johnson and Johnson immediately take the excuse to start firing on McClane from their helicopter. John is very unhappy about this.
    John McClane: I'm on YOUR side, you assholes!
  • Friendly Address Privileges:
    Hans Gruber: Touching, Cowboy, touching. Or should I call you, Mr. McClane? Mr. Officer John McClane of the New York Police Department?
    John McClane: Sister Teresa called me Mr. McClane in the third grade. My friends call me John, and you're neither, shithead.
  • Friendship Moment: Al is John's only friend, and struggles to keep John's spirits up. Every so often, they share bits of their history and bond. The movie ends with them finally meeting face to face, their faces lighting up, embracing.
  • Funny Background Event: Just after Gruber kills Takagi, Theo holds out his hand to Karl, who places a crisp banknote in it. Apparently they had a side bet on whether or not Takagi would give the password.
    Theo: I told you.
    Karl: It's not over yet.
    • Another one occurs after the terrorists begin shooting at Al Powell in his squad car, it shows a shot of Argyle in his limo having fun in his limousine, rocking out to music while Al backs away from the building and Marco's body flies off of the car hitting some trees.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Hans Gruber arranges for one. After noticing that John McClane is walking around with no shoes on, he orders Karl to "Shoot the glass" in a firefight, forcing John to flee across broken glass on bare feet. He spends the rest of the film limping.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Of '80s action movies. Instead of the usual Invincible Hero, we get an average 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.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Hans Gruber and most of his men are German, helping to both make them appear to be foreign terrorists as well as explaining what a tight operation they're running.
  • 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 in to clarify that Helsinki is in Sweden, and is quickly corrected — "Finland."
  • The Glomp: At the airport, John McClane watches as a young lady in the airport runs over to a man who is ostensibly her boyfriend, jumps up, wraps herself around him, and kisses him passionately.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: McClane tries to call for help by triggering a fire alarm. Unfortunately, Hans and his men are savvy enough to convince the firemen it was a false alarm. Later, he manages to trigger an alert ove radio, summoning Sgt. Powell and, once he drops a body on Powell's black and white, the full weight of the LAPD. As much good as they are.
  • Gonna Need More X: After the helicopter explodes, police chief Dwayne T. Robinson says, "We're gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess."
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: The terrorists mainly wield MP5s (aside from Karl with his Steyr AUG). John mainly wields a Beretta 92F pistol, the SWAT team carries M16 rifles, and Sgt. Powell carries a Smith & Wesson 15, showing him as the straight-laced cop to John's Cowboy Cop.
  • Good is Not Nice:
    • When the frightened hostages don't listen to John to get off 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.
    • 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.
  • Good Policing, Evil Policing: The two FBI agents are jerkasses who care nothing for the lives of the hostages and are only concerned with killing the terrorists. In contrast, while the Deputy Chief of the LAPD is obstructive and belligerent, he cares about the hostages, while his subordinate, Sgt. Al Powell, works with John McClane to try and solve the hostage crisis.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: "Bill Clay" holds his cigarette the "European" way, between his thumb and forefinger, rather than between his forefinger and middle finger. Also, John, who's the hero, smokes quite a bit during the movie, while Kristoff, one of the bad guys, is either smoking or lighting up in most of his scenes.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Hans executes Takagi, the scene makes a brief cut to the door where a large spray of blood and part of the man's head splatter onto the door's window. Part of this is due to Alan Rickman flinching due to the blank shots (you can see Hans move back slightly when he fires); whenever Hans fires a gun throughout the film the camera cuts away after a second or two, doesn't focus on his eyes, or shows him in a long-distance shot.
  • Gratuitous French: While packing the bearer bonds during the climax, Hans is heard shouting "Allez" or "Allez-vite" (French for "Go" or "Go quickly").
  • Gratuitous German: Apparently, German terrorists say things like "mach los, mach schnell!" ("make/do go/fast") whenever they are in a hurry.
  • Guile Hero: John McClane may be considered an Action Hero at first sight, but he doubles as this. He kills one man, gains a radio, a machine gun, and a whole LOT of information about the guys he's fighting. Uses the radio to call for help, uses the machine gun and the next guy he kills to get police attention and spoon-feeds them everything he found out.
  • Gunship Rescue: Averted. Not only are the federal agents in the gunships useless, their plan was to shoot everybody on the rooftop and hope that the civilian casualty figures were within an acceptable range.
  • Hammerspace: Hans' group has an ambulance hidden in their courier truck as a getaway vehicle. However, when they arrive, we see that the group takes up almost all the space inside, leaving no room for a getaway vehicle. (Because there is no getaway ambulance in earlier drafts, and the arrival scene was filmed 10 weeks before.)
  • Hand Signals:
    • Karl motions for Fritz and Franco to go around and trap John during the shootout on the roof.
    • One of the terrorists gives another terrorist a "clenched fist" signal just before the SWAT attack begins.
  • Hate Sink:
  • The Heavy: Subverted. While Hans Gruber does set the events of the movie into motion, forcing other characters into action, and otherwise driving the entire plot of the movie, John McClane also sends the plot into other directions by being proactive and antagonizing Gruber. Their battle of wits, both men acting and reacting to the other, sets the general cat-and-mouse tone of the movie, with both taking turns in either role.
  • Hellish Copter: One of the FBI helicopters meets its end after Hans blows the roof and it gets caught in the blast.
  • Hellish L.A.: The film juxtaposes John's New York attitude with that of the rich, vapid LA yuppies he encounters at the party, and uses it to frame him as the straight-talking Working-Class Hero. Perhaps summed up by his reaction to a very unwelcome European-style Platonic Kiss:
    McClane: Jesus. Fuckin' California!
  • 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!
    McClane: Glass? Who gives a shit about glass? Who the fuck is this?
  • Hidden Weapons: John goes to confront the bad guys by feigning surrender and dropping his submachine gun, and then defeats them with his Beretta 92F 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.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: Al's driving abilities are called into question by John. To be fair, though, Al doesn't completely trash his police car, and much of the damage it sustains is done under fire and just after a body has been dropped on it. John alternately praises him for his driving ("The way you drive, I figured you for the street.") and chides him for it ("The way you drive, I can see why.").
  • Hostage Situation: Subverted. The entire hostage situation is choreographed to provide cover for the real crime, a massive robbery. The FBI's response, to shut down the power, is exactly what they wanted.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: On the villains side they have Theo; hacker, safecracker and the primary method of actually attaining what Hans is trying to get. They interrogated Mr. Takagi hoping he would give them the safe codes right away, but kill him when he starts putting up an argument. Hans then looks at Theo and asks if he can still get in, which he replies with "You didn't bring me along for my lovely personality."
  • Hypocritical Humor: John, after searching through Tony's belongings, takes his cigarettes noting that "these are bad for you", before pocketing them for himself. Of course the joke here is that he's talking to a corpse, so the harmful effects of smoking are no longer a worry for Tony.
  • IKEA Weaponry: Karl has this going with his Steyr AUG. He keeps it in a duffel then constructed it in the elevator. Which is fair enough, given that the Steyr AUG is modular, where one receiver can be converted from a submachinegun to an assault rifle to a light support weapon by just switching the barrel assembly (and, for the SMG version, the bolt and magazine shroud).
  • 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 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. Given 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 expose themselves 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.
  • Ignored Expert: Sgt. Powell spends a little bit of time talking with John over the radio, and when his Chief arrives on the scene he has a good hunch on who John is, but all his information is dismissed as unreliable. Every step of the way all of John's claims and warnings are ignored by the Chief, while Powell is the only one able to read between the lines and see both what John is trying to say and what Hans is trying to do.
  • I Have a Family: Hans Gruber doesn't have to be told this because he already knows about his intended victim before he's even met him.
    Gruber: Now ... where is Mr. Takagi?
    [nobody responds. Gruber starts moving among the crowd of hostages, peering at each Japanese businessman]
    Gruber: Joseph. Yashinobo. Takagi. Born Kyoto, 1937. Family emigrated to San Pedro, California, 1939 ... Interned at Manzanar, 1942 to '43 ... Scholarship student, University of California ... 1955. Law degree, Stanford, 1962. MBA, Harvard, 1970. President, Nakatomi Trading. Vice Chairman, Nakatomi Investment Group—
    Takagi: [stepping forward] Enough!
    Gruber: And father ... of five.
  • I Have Your Wife: Hans tries to send this threat over the radio to John when he captures Holly, but John is a bit preoccupied with Karl to respond. (In fact, Karl had crushed John's radio, so he couldn't have heard Hans at all.)
  • I'll Kill You!: John, twice to Karl:
    John McClane: Motherfucker I'LL KILL YOU!
    • And later:
      John McClane: You motherfucker, I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna kill you! I'm gonna fuckin' cook you, and I'm gonna fucking eat you!
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Tony does this twice when promising John not to hurt him. Just before he says it, he does the HK Slap on his submachine gun (i.e., makes it ready to fire) quite loudly, and then immediately after, he opens fire on what he thinks is John's position.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The bad guys have John at close range several times but the best they can do is graze his right arm once.
  • 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.
  • Inconsistent Spelling: Holly's maiden name of Gennero is usually seen spelled with two Es, though it is spelled "Gennaro" on the computer at the beginning of the film (though it changes to the other spelling when John selects it) and in the credits.
  • 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 they're made of.
  • Indy Ploy:
    • Practically anything McClane does is without previous planning. By the time he's tying the firehose around his waist to jump from the roof, he can't help but lampshade the bad decision ("Oh John, what the fuck are you doing?").
    • Also Gruber's attempt to pass off as one of the hostages when John sneaks up on him in the boiler room.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Argyle is mixing a drink when the news report comes on about the hostage crisis. When he hears it's taking place right above him at Nakatomi Tower, he takes a drink right from the bottle.
  • Inexplicable Cornered Escape: Twice in short succession. McClane has sneaked into the villain's lair. Then a mook enters the room where McClane was just seen. By the time the camera pans back to his original position, McClane is gone. The next scene reveals that he is now hiding behind a stillage. The mook walks up to said place with anticipation, steps around it and starts shooting... but McClane is gone again.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Multiple characters die instantly when shot.
    • Joseph Takagi is shot in the head, killing him instantly.
    • The gunman Eddie dies instantly when John shoots him in the head.
  • Intercom Villainy: The main villain, Hans Gruber, communicates with him John McClane over walkie-talkies that McClane looted off of Gruber's dead minions. With each talk, McClane manages to get a better idea of why Gruber attacked Nakatomi Plaza and Gruber learns a new tidbit he needs to deduce which of his hostages McClane cares about, all without the two meeting face-to-face.
  • Invincible Hero: Subverted whole-hog by John McClane, who spends most of the adventure almost scared out of his mind, running, hiding, and trying to call for help. Although McClane becomes an One-Man Army when forced to, the very humanity he displays gives the action a thrilling edge with the fact he could fall any minute.
  • 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 an air vent.
  • Irony: "Glass? Who gives a shit about glass?" says McClane shortly before ending up with shards of glass in his feet.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: McClane pretends to surrender to the thieves, but the audience can see that he has a gun taped between his shoulder blades. Sure enough, as soon as the thieves relax because McClane has his hands up and empty, McClane grabs the gun and opens fire.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: After Holly calls Hans a "common thief," Hans insists he is "an exceptional thief."
  • It's All About Me: Richard "Dick" Thornburg is a smug reporter whose own fame and glory matter more than the safety of others. In the first movie, he reveals her relationship to John on TV, and thus to Hans by forcing his way into Holly's house, blackmailing her maid, and putting her children in the spotlight.
  • 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: John McClane loans a gun to an escaped hostage who is really Hans masquerading with an American accent. When Gruber tries to shoot McClane with the gun and finds it empty, McClane waves the magazine at Gruber and mocks him.
    John: Aw, no bullets? What, you think I'm fucking stupid, Hans?
    [elevator shows up with Hans' subordinates, all armed]
    Hans: You were saying?
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: John McClane is messing up Hans Gruber's plans. Ellis (whom he met once) tries to get in Gruber's good graces by attempting to talk his "friend" McClane into giving himself up. McClane, fully aware of what kind of a person Hans Gruber is, tries to get Ellis to admit he's lying but to no avail. Gruber smiles and shoots the guy for his trouble.
  • 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. Takagi even lampshades this, saying "Pearl Harbor didn't work out; we got you with tape decks."
  • Jerkass:
    • Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson is callous, obstructive, and needlessly 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.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The exact plan for Hans and his team is revealed fairly slowly.
  • Jive Turkey: Argyle.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Becomes a plot point because Hans Gruber knows the FBI's standard responses to a hostage situation, and was counting on them to take the case from the LAPD and follow their playbook, helping him crack a safe and cover his escape.
  • 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 (although some of them, notably Theo and Ulli, and quite possibly Eddie and Marco as well, are clearly not of German ancestry). 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. Although it is entirely possible Karl was confused over the nature of the order itself rather than the language it was given in.
  • Keep It Foreign: The German dub changed the German terrorist team to an international one, and the main villain Hans Gruber was renamed Jack Gruber. During the scene where McClane 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, he still refers to them as Jack and Charlie.
  • Kent Brockman News: One of the news anchors speculates that the hostages have developed "Helsinki Syndrome, named after Helsinki, Sweden," and the other corrects him — Helsinki's in Finland.note  Then the cut back to Nakatomi Plaza shows quite clearly that they're talking out of their asses.
  • Kick the Dog: Agents Johnson and Johnson have an exchange in which they determine that their plan to stop the terrorists (which was actually a vital part of Hans Gruber's Evil Plan) could end up with 25% of the hostages dead, but they dismiss it as being an acceptable casualty. Presumably, this is to obliterate any sympathy one might have for the fact that Gruber blows them up five minutes later. But that poor helicopter pilot...
  • Kill and Replace: Karl kills the two security guards so that Eddie can impersonate one of them and man the front desk to maintain the illusion that everything's okay.
  • Kill the Lights: When the SWAT team begins their ill-fated assault on the building, Alexander shoots out the spotlights the police are using as cover.
  • Knee-capping:
    • Hans orders Uli and Eddie to "just wound" the SWAT team, so they shoot the officers in their arms and legs.
    • McClane shoots Franco in the knees with a machine gun, causing him to go head-first into glass.
  • Lack of Empathy: Even though he doesn't get involved in the violence himself, Theo is shown to have no qualms whatsoever with innocent people being murdered during the Nakatomi siege. On the contrary, he reacts with complete indifference to the loss of life and sometimes even finds it amusing to joke about it. His weedy stature and Dirty Coward tendencies combined with this complete lack of care for anyone else arguably makes him one of the most unlikable of Hans' henchmen.
    • This is subtly lampshaded when Theo says to Hans, "You didn't bring me along for my charming personality," implying that Theo realizes that he isn't a pleasant person to be around. Hans smiles sardonically at this, suggesting that even he may actually hold a quiet distaste towards his demeanour.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Dick Thornburg endangered Holly by inadvertently revealing her relation to John on television, resulting in her being taken hostage. When he requests a live interview, she appropriately punches him in the face.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: The early part of 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, Argyle driving him straight to the Nakatomi building so no unnecessary outside characters are introduced, the watch given to Holly as a reward for her hard work, her using her maiden name rather than her married name so John's estrangement to her is established (plus, the aforementioned maiden name and the family picture she puts face down after the discussion about it mean that Hans doesn't immediately realise that she's John's wife), the couple who break into Holly's office for sex (they go into the next office, and when the woman is dragged out topless and screaming, the terrorists are distracted just long enough for John to make his initial escape), Ellis's cocaine habit (setting him up as someone who's likely to behave erratically) and even the nationality of the wife's nanny play into the plot.
  • Lawful Stupid: Except for Sgt. Al Powell, every LAPD officer, as well as FBI special agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation), is unhelpful to John McClane in his efforts to stop Hans Gruber, who takes complete advantage of their stupidity.
  • 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 Eddie from shooting John right away telling him "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 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 claim many more lives than in the film, where only Takagi and Ellis are killed, the latter of whom 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.
  • Lima Syndrome: Faked by Hans Gruber: He takes the time to listen to Holly when she acts as liaison for the rest of the hostages, and tries to make them as comfortable as possible, providing a sofa for a pregnant woman and so forth. Since he's planning on blowing them all up, this is apparently just an attempt to keep them quiet and obedient, and maybe trigger some Stockholm Syndrome, if possible.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: Hans Gruber tries to pass himself off as an innocent employee and gives the name "Bill Clay." John McClane surreptitiously checks the building directory to confirm his identity and spots "Wm. Clay." Hans had apparently seen it already and converted "Wm." to "Bill" to give his cover name more authenticity. John seemed to have seen this coming, as before asking the question, he takes a peek at the directory.
  • Lured into a Trap: Two overlapping schemes by the FBI and Hans' group. The FBI pretended to offer transportation to the bad guys but just intended to take everyone out with More Dakka regardless of civilian casualties while Hans was going to lock the hostages on the rooftop and blow up the FBI once they touched down.
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money: The real goal of Gruber and his "terrorist group" — the vault on the 30th floor of Nakatomi Plaza, which contains $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds. In 2017 that would be $1.345 billion.
  • Made of Iron:
  • Malaproper: Whilst goading Hans Gruber over the radio, John refers to himself as "the monkey in the wrench", as opposed to, say, "a monkey wrench" in his and the gang's plans; in fairness, it fits with the other two phrases he uses to describe himself: "a fly in the ointment" and "the pain in the ass".
  • Male Gaze:
    • While McClane is battling terrorists, he gives a quick look at a nudie calendar 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.invoked
    • The camera pans down just slightly but very noticeably to show that Bonnie Bedelia's jacket/blouse thing had opened a bit, showing her slip.
  • Man Hug: John and Powell at the end when they meet outside the building.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Hans Gruber: "Nice suit ... John Phillips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it, Arafat buys his there."
  • Manly Tears:
    • During his last radio call to Al, John is visibly blinking back tears as he asks him to tell Holly "I'm sorry" if he doesn't make it.
    • At the end of the movie, John and Al finally meet face to face and embrace, laughing and crying.
  • 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. Also subverted; when questioned by Argyle, John claims his reason for not following Holly to LA is he has "a six-month backlog of New York scumbags." Argyle translates this to "you thought she couldn't hack it and would come crawling back." John notes Argyle's perceptiveness.
  • Maternity Crisis: Subverted when Holly requests a sofa for her pregnant secretary. Hans begins to roll his eyes at the situation, but Holly tells him the baby isn't due for another few weeks. The baby is not born during the events of the movie.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The FBI agents named Johnson, the generic name for a government stooge.
    • A "Johnson" is also slang for "penis". This makes a nice Credits Gag as the agents are referred to as "Big Johnson" and "Little Johnson".
    • News anchor Harvey Johnson also lives up to the name.
    • The Jerkass reporter is named Dick. Go figure.
    • The movie takes place around Christmas, and John's wife is called Holly.
  • Meaningful Rename:
    • John's estranged wife has reverted to her Gennaro surname, but she casually switches to McClane when she reconnects 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.
  • The Men in Black: Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson (no relation).
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Financial variation. Hans attempts to persuade Takagi to give up the code by saying that the bearer bonds he wants are only worth a few days worth of capital, a small amount of money that can be easily recouped by a massive company like Nakatomi and would only be a small inconvenience.
  • Minimalism: Unlike the sequels which feature scenes of John McClane mowing down dozens of mooks at a time with his battles being waged across entire cities, the original has only thirteen bad guys, and all the action is just confined to one building. As a result, though, it easily has the most gripping action scenes of the series, with the fight scenes needing to be drawn out longer and more action-packed due to the shortage of disposable mooks.
  • 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:
  • Mook Horror Show: John writes the words "NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN. HO HO HO." on the shirt of a terrorist he kills and sends it down the elevator so that the other terrorists can see it.
  • Mooks: Surprisingly averted. Anybody who gets killed in the film is either given a personality or is, at least, shown to be quite good with a pistol/rifle.
  • More Dakka:
    • "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
    • The bad guys are all armed with submachine guns (except for Karl, who uses an assault rifle, and Hans, who has a handgun, but also uses an SMG at times). In one particularly Mood Whiplash scene, Uli, the bomb expert, takes cover behind a concession stand and pulls out what is clearly far more magazines than is necessary.
    • The bad guys are also toting some seriously heavy firepower: when the LAPD rolls up in an armored car, the bad guys shoot rockets at it. The bad guy with the rocket launcher, Alexander, also uses a M60E3 machine gun to tear up Powell's car after John has flung the body out the window to get Powell's attention.
  • Most Definitely Not a Villain: Hans Gruber attempts to fool John McClane into thinking that he's an escaped hostage by blubbering at him in an American accent. McClane asks him his name and covertly checks an employee roster to confirm it, but Hans has already thought of that and gives a name from the roster. Even still, John gives Hans an unloaded gun and lets him reveal his identity when Hans tries to betray him.
  • 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 fact, 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.
  • Mr. Smith: The film mocks this by having two Agent Johnsons show up ("No relation."). One's white, the other black. Amusingly, at one point when one of the agents is making a call to have the power to Nakatomi Plaza cut, he identifies himself as "Agent Johnson. No, the other one."
  • 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 Karl to save John at the end of the film in My Greatest Second Chance.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: Officer Al Powell accidentally shot a kid waving a fake gun. He hasn't been able to bring himself to draw his service weapon since. Until the end, where he takes down Karl.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond:
    • When Robinson arrives on the scene, Al, who was the first man there, introduces himself as "Sgt. Powell. Al Powell."
    • When Holly goes to negotiate with Hans over the hostages being able to use the bathrooms, she ends the conversation by introducing herself thus:
      Hans: Mr. Takagi chose his people well, Mrs...?
      Holly: Gennero. Miss Gennero.
  • Neck Snap: During John McClane's first brawl, he does this to Tony by putting him in a choke-hold and falling down the stairs with him. Missing the usual "walnut-snapping" sound effect.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Released in July 1988, the film takes place that Christmas Eve.
  • Nice to the Waiter: On his way to the Nakatomi, John is chummy with Argyle and even rides in the front seat of the limo with him, like a relatable everyman.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, as Holly requests that Hans allow the hostages access to the washrooms, which he grants.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The terrorists Gruber demands the releases of are thinly-veiled references to real terrorist groups:
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Downplayed. Alan Rickman plays Hans with a clipped Anglo-German accent which often skews more "Anglo" than "German." He does a good job imitating the cadence and timbre of a German-speaking English, but his actual attempts at German dialogue are ungrammatical if not outright unintelligible. His main attempt to speak German winds up unintelligible to a fellow countryman, hinting German was never his native language.
  • Nonviolent Initial Confrontation: Despite them being antagonists, the first actual encounter between Gruber and McClane is of them sharing a smoke.
  • Not Quite Dead: Karl, until Al puts five bullets in him.
  • Not-So-Final Confession: In a tense scene, John McClane tells Al Powell that he doesn't expect to make it through the terrorist situation (and considering he's pulling glass out of his feet, it's shown to be a pretty bleak situation). He then proceeds to apologize to his wife and tells Al to pass the message on. Al simply tells him that he will get through it (which he does, of course).
  • 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 is advancing in a ventilation shaft, illuminating his way with a Zippo. The light provided is, however, more akin to a searchlight than to a small flame. The mooks searching for him spot the glow from the opening and use it to hunt him down.
  • 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.
  • Oblivious to Hints:
    Hans Gruber: [knowing that McClane has no shoes] Karl, schiesse auf das Fenster.
    [Karl gives Hans a puzzled look]
    Hans Gruber: Schiesse auf das Fenster!
    [another puzzled look from Karl]
    Hans Gruber: [rolls eyes, clearly exasperated] SHOOT the GLASS!
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • The guy at the front desk when John first arrives and asks for Holly. He makes John go through the hoops of using the computerized building directory solely for the plot-relevant result of discovering Holly's going by her maiden name again, and then tells John that the Nakatomi partygoers are "the only ones left in the building."
    • The authorities have too much of it, from 911 dispatchers who don't believe John ("Attention, whoever you are. This channel is reserved for emergency calls only—" "No fucking shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?"), the police chief who doesn't believe him either and complains about his actions, and the FBI, who actually feature in the villainous plan because they knew the Feds would just disrupt everything and cut the power (enabling Hans and company to open the vault at last).
  • 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 not to get killed. He loses.
  • Oddly Small Organization: A dozen heavily armed terrorists take over a major international corporation's headquarters on Christmas Eve. Only two FBI agents are sent by the federal government.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The passenger sitting next to John, noticed he carries a gun. But John assures him he's a cop.
    • 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.
      John: SHIT!
    • Also when he finds the explosives under the roof.
      John: Jesus. Mary, mother of God.
    • John loses his cool when Hans puts Ellis on the radio, becuase he know Ellis has nothing to bargain with and neither does John.
    • And again when he hears Ellis smarmily tell Hans to put down his gun over the two-way, and realizes what's about to happen to him.
    • And again when he realizes he's still tied to the very heavy fire hose spool that went over the roof with him. John winds up having this reaction quite a bit.
    • Uli, after ordering the hostages up to the roof and seeing that McClane is about to shoot him.
    • 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? How nice. To make. Your acquaintance.
    • Then Holly, again, when John drops his submachine gun and (seemingly) surrenders, knowing that Hans will kill them both anyway.
    • And most epically, Hans himself, when John is able to detach Holly's watch, sending Hans to his long Disney Villain Death. This is also a genuine Oh, Crap! from Alan Rickman; see the Trivia tab.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Argyle behind the wheel of the damaged limo, driving John and Holly away (to the hospital, hopefully).
  • One Bullet Left: John has two bullets left, and exactly two bad guys left to kill. Played with, in that McClane doesn't kill Hans Gruber with either of them: Gruber dies when he falls off the Nakatomi Building.
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Parodied: Holly's heavily pregnant secretary is leaving to go to the staff Christmas party, and wonders if a sip of alcohol will harm the baby. Wryly, Holly says "That baby's ready to tend bar."
  • One-Liner Echo: Hans tries to turn "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" into his own Pre-Mortem One-Liner. Then John shoots him.
  • One-Steve Limit: A played for laughs aversion with the two FBI agents Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson. "No relation." Useful clarification, given one's white and the other is black. It's used again later, when "Big (white) Johnson" is on the phone and answers: "This is Agent Johnson. ... No, the other one."
  • Only a Flesh Wound:
    • John is hit in the shoulder by a bullet toward the end, but he takes hardly any notice. From the looks of the wound, it seems the bullet just grazed him (he's also amped on adrenaline at the time: somewhat later, it's obviously causing more discomfort).
    • 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, which Hans praises for its attention to detail. It was played by the model of Frank Lloyd Wright's "butterfly bridge," which was designed to cross San Francisco Bay but never built.
  • The Only One: McClane is in the building seeing everything up-close, so he is able to respond to the criminals effectively. However, the authorities have their playbook and go through it step-by-step — despite it becoming increasingly obvious that the criminals have read that playbook and either respond with a specific countermeasure or integrate it into their plans.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You:
    • Karl tells Fritz and Franco "No one kills him but me," because he wants revenge for the death of his younger brother.
    • In the final confrontation Eddie raises his gun but Hans shouts "Nein! Dies ist mein!"
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Alan Rickman's German accent as Hans Gruber vanishes when he delivers the line "Blow the roof!"
  • The Operators Must Be Crazy: A police dispatcher gives John McClane a hard time when is trying to report a terrorist attack. This is a slightly more justified example than usual, as he's well outside his own jurisdiction and breaking into the police frequency with a civilian radio set, and the dispatcher has no idea who the hell he is and no particular reason to believe this isn't some crackpot with a ham radio and an overactive imagination.
    John McClane: Mayday, mayday! Anyone copy in channel 9? Terrorists have seized the Nakatomi building and are holding at least 30 people hostage! I repeat, unknown number of terrorists, six or more armed with automatic weapons, at Nakatomi Plaza, Century City. Somebody answer me, goddamn it!
    Dispatcher: Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only.
    John McClane: No fuckin' shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?!?!
  • Outrun the Fireball: John McClane, stuck in the Nakatomi Plaza tower, straps a fire hose around his waist and takes a running jump off the roof of the tower. The second John launches himself forward, the entire roof explodes into an enormous fireball.
  • Pan and Scan: The DVD contains a featurette giving a very good illustration of the differences between letterbox, "centre-scan" and pan-and-scan.
  • Pants-Positive Safety:
    • McClane initially has a shoulder holster for his Beretta 92F service pistol but he leaves 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 92F.
    • As Karl accompanies Hans and Takagi to the 34th floor, he's shown to have put his Walther PPK in the waistband of his pants.
  • Paparazzi: Dick Thornburg, who forces his way into the Gennaro house (he even threatens to call INS on the maid), leading Hans to discover Holly could serve as bargaining against John. No wonder once it's all done, Holly punches him in the face.
  • Parting-Words Regret: John and Holly have a pleasant enough reunion at the Christmas party, until John decides to start a fight over her using her maiden name. She is pulled away for other issues, and John immediately starts berating himself for choosing a stupid time to bring it up. Then the terrorists show up. Later on in an Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene John talks with Al and gives him something to tell Holly if he doesn't survive.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Takagi's password is "Red Castle", the translation of "Akagi", the name of the ship his actor's character commanded in the film Midway.note 
  • Pistol-Whipping:
    • John starts off his fight with Tony, who he has surprised at gunpoint, by hitting him in the head with the butt of his pistol, knocking Tony's glasses to the floor.
    • Towards the end of the film, John McClane uses the butt of his machine gun to knock Kristoff out. It makes perfect sense because the gun was out of bullets, and the terrorist was running right at the (hiding) McClane, who used the thug's momentum and his own muscle power to deliver a pretty vicious blow.
  • 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:
    • 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.
      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 frontend of a building with no cover is just obvious, no skill involved.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: John and Hans converse about American movies (especially Westerns), but Hans gets some details wrong.
    Hans: This time John Wayne does not ride off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.
    McClane: That was Gary Cooper, asshole!
  • 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: Played with. Shortly after Hans and his crew take over, they're informed by Holly that one of the hostages is pregnant. Hans rolls his eyes until Holly clarifies that she's not due for a few weeks, but just needs something more comfortable to sit on. He's willing to oblige, to a point.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Two, Hans to Takagi ("You're just going to have to kill me—" "Okay.") and John to Hans ("Happy trails, Hans."). The latter is immediately subverted when Hans grabs Holly's wrist as he reels back and into the broken window.
  • 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.
    • John shoots Eddie in the head at the end, leaving only a red dot on his forehead.
    • Averted with Ellis' death. We get a nice (although slightly blurred) view of the exit wound on his head, and it isn't pretty.
    • Also averted with Takagi, whose brains get splattered on the door behind him.
  • Pre-Violence Laughter: In the climax, after having played an action-packed cat-and-mouse game for most of the film, McClane laughs when Hans Gruber repeats his line, "Yippee-kay-yay, motherfucker." Gruber and his henchman Eddie start to laugh as well, until McClane draws the gun he had taped to his back.
  • Product Placement: When Harry offers to deliver McClane to the robbers, they pour him a glass of Coca-Cola. He reacts as if he's being pampered. When the robbers turn on him, he gulps down the last of his soda.
  • Professional Maiden Name: Variation. At the beginning of the movie John McClane and his wife Holly are separated, she is living and working in Los Angeles under her maiden name Gennaro. At the movie's end they reconcile, she reverts to using his surname, and he moves to L.A. to be with her.
  • 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, Karl comes back from trying to kill McClane, and immediately starts smashing the scenery. Holly, of course, takes it to mean her husband is still alive because only he could make someone that pissed off.
    • John does a subdued version of this when Ellis is killed.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: After Hans says that standard FBI hostage procedure will help achieve his goal because cutting power to the building will open the last lock on the safe:
    Hans: You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the F... B... I.
  • Punctuated Pounding: John McClane, as he is beating Karl. "You should [punch] have heard [punch] your brother squeal [punch] when I broke [punch] his [punch] fucking [punch] neck!"
  • 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.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Bruce Willis' exhaustion from his schedule (he was also shooting Moonlighting) forced de Souza to beef up the roles of the other characters, giving characters like Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), Ellis (Hart Bochner), Argyle (De'voreaux White), and Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) more personality and screen time.
  • Real Men Get Shot: John sustains multiple injuries, which only make him look more badass.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Holly uses her maiden name, Gennaro. This provides a minor plot point when Hans Gruber later discovers John's real name and doesn't realize the connection between John and Holly (for a while, anyway).
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The German "terrorists" speak to each other in German on multiple occasions without any translation for the audience.
  • "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 the car is disabled.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: John gets back together with his ex-wife having saved her from robbers who took over the Nakatomi building.
  • Relative Button: A super-rare hero on villain example, when McClane taunts Karl during their fight:
    McClane: 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 $640 million in bearer bonds.
  • Revenge Before Reason: After McClane kills his brother, Karl nearly blows the plan repeatedly to get his revenge.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder:
    Holly: I have a request.
    Hans Gruber: What idiot put you in charge?
    Holly: You did. When you murdered my boss. Now everybody's looking to me.
  • Riding into the Sunset: Referenced by Hans Gruber when he makes his comment about John Wayne and Grace Kelly (see Popcultural Osmosis Failure above). In the end, John and Holly ride into the sunrise instead.
  • 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.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Harry Ellis and Joe Takagi are killed by Hans to demonstrate that he isn't playing around.
  • Safe Behind the Corner: The cop who is called in to investigate the public disturbance, walks down the hallway but stops before reaching the corner behind which one of the baddies is hiding.
  • 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.
  • Same Surname Means Related: When the two FBI agents arrive, one of them says, "I'm Agent Johnson. This is Special Agent Johnson ... No relation." The joke is that one of the agents is black and the other is white.
  • 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, Karl pierces each section with a bullet, getting closer and closer to where John is positioned. But Just in Time before he can hit John, he is ordered away when Al Powell arrives outside the plaza
  • 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.
  • Self-Plagiarism: John McTiernan admitted that Hans and Karl shooting the glass is a rehash of the scene in Predator where the squad shoots up a portion of the jungle in a failed attempt to kill the Predator.
  • 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.
  • Shirtless Scene: A nasty version occurs when McClane loses his undershirt because he uses it to bandage his lacerated feet after running over broken glass.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Al Powell shot a kid who brandished a toy gun, which Powell mistook for a real one. The guilt from this incident led him to be unable to draw his gun on anyone else, so he was relegated to desk work.
  • 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's very name might be a reference to Our Man Flint.
    • Hans Gruber wonders if McClane is trying too hard to be like John Wayne, Rambo or Marshall Dillon. John settles for Roy Rogers, to the extent of not just borrowing Roy's "yippee-ki-yay" catchphrase, but making it his own by adding "motherfucker" onto it.
    • McClane also describes the terrorists to Sgt. Powell as having explosives that can "orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger."
    • Takagi's password, Akagi, is both a play on his name and a Shout Out to actor James Shigeta's role as Admiral Nagumo in the film Midway, whose flagship was the aircraft carrier Akagi.
    • After watching A Clockwork Orange, John McTiernan knew he needed to use light classical music to underscore the film's baddies, and decided Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" would be their theme. Michael Kamen felt using Beethoven in an action movie and for the film's antagonists was "sacrilege." So McTiernan had to show Kamen that Stanley Kubrick had basically done the same thing in his film full of ultraviolence. Kamen not only acquiesced but (being a huge Kubrick fan) even included snippets of "Singing in the Rain" as a Leitmotif for Theo to add an additional shoutout to A Clockwork Orange.
      Kamen: Our bad guys were lineal descendants of the bad guys in A Clockwork Orange.
    • Towards the end of the movie:
      Hans: This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.
      John: That was Gary Cooper, asshole.
  • Shown Their Work: According to Hans Buhringer (Fritz), Alan Rickman did an excellent German accent and meticulously researched German speech. Since English is a second language in Germany, Rickman even got the dialect of German correct. When Hans tells Takagi that he enjoyed making models as a boy, he says: "I always enjoyed to make models when I was a boy", which is the correct German way to say it in English.
    • Rickman himself said that he conceived Hans as someone who learned English in late childhood so that he would have a strong command of the language but was noticeably not fluent. Thus he has a polished Anglo-German accent that could pass as a native speaker at a glance, but still uses German grammar and sentence constructs in his speech.
  • 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.
  • The Siege: With a twist: the characters under siege are a band of terrorists (thieves) pinned into the building by the LAPD (and later the FBI), with one lone police officer trapped in there with them. This is exactly what the villains want, as they need the FBI to cut the power to the building to bypass an electromagnetic lock to the vault that they're trying to rob.
  • 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.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Hans speaks of himself as basically the Napoleon of crime, but most of his big speeches about his amazing success are long before he's managed little more then B&E and murder, and his Wicked Cultured aspects break down as the night wears on. His Berserk Button, as Holly discovers, is being reminded that for all his delusions of grandeur, he's ultimately nothing more than an ambitious (and unsuccessful) thief.
  • Smokescreen Crime: The Nakatomi building is taken hostage by a team of supposed radicals led by Hans Gruber. However, the team's true goals have nothing to do with politics; they're actually planning to steal $640 million in untraceable bearer bonds from the building's vault.
  • Smoking Barrel Blowout: John does this gesture at the end after he caps Hans and Eddie with the last two bullets left.
    John: Happy trails, Hans.
  • Smooch of Victory: John and Holly at the end.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Despite trying to kill each other, John and Hans seem to enjoy their snarky back and forth.
  • The Sociopath: Hans Gruber. Ruthless, totally lacking in empathy, charismatic, intelligent but prone to Disproportionate Retribution. He's got it all. Alan Rickman took note of this for his performance. His idea was that Gruber wasn't especially malicious towards others or even outright evil; he just wanted money and, if heads rolled because of it, it was no skin off his back.
  • 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 unforeseen complication of a New York cop escaping the initial takeover. Whilst on the radio, John lampshades this directly when asked by Hans Gruber who he is: "Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the ass."
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Dwayne T. Robinson. At the end of the novel, Karl reappears to kill Joe and kills Dwayne instead. Here, he survives.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Escape from New York. Both about a lone man in a tank top with a "cowboy" attitude fighting to escape from a Closed Circle full of bad guys trying to kill him, all with a darkly comedic streak to their heroics. The ways in which they handle this basic story outline, however, are at near-complete odds, especially when it comes to the routes they take with their Genre Deconstruction.
    • The biggest difference comes in their respective protagonists, Snake Plissken and John McClane. Snake's backstory is that of an archetypal Hollywood Action Hero, a one-eyed ex-Special Forces operative turned bank robber who was on his way to prison before being recruited for his mission. Kurt Russell may not have the Heroic Build of someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but everything else about his performance tells the viewer that he can kick ass, take names, and get the job done. He goes into the Manhattan prison island on the orders of the good guys (well, as good as the pseudo-fascist American government of 1997 can be said to be) to rescue the President in exchange for having his sentence commuted, and the only reason he cares about his mission is because of the Explosive Leash they implanted in his neck. John McClane, on the other hand, is an ordinary police officer who was thrust into harm's way unprepared by the bad guys when they took over Nakatomi Plaza, and despite his genuinely badass feats, he winds up more an Action Survivor than anything, ending the film in terrible shape and grateful that it's over. His motivations for fighting them are personal: they're threatening his wife, who, marital problems aside, he still loves and cherishes. In short, while Snake is an Anti-Hero who happens to be the perfect man for the mission, McClane is a conventionally heroic figure who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and is out of his element.
    • They also occupy opposite points on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Escape from New York, written shortly after Watergate, is a very cynical film, as was typical of John Carpenter's output, with Snake's handlers outside Manhattan, the United States Police Force, being a bunch of jackbooted thugs shown right from the start to not have his best interests in mind and arguably portrayed as more villainous than the Duke of New York. His feeling is mutual, such that he decides to screw them over at the end for it. It's set in a dystopian near-future, and Snake is very much a product of that Bad Future. Die Hard, on the other hand, is far more optimistic, firmly believing that Good Is Old-Fashioned in its framing of McClane as an old-school, blue-collar, all-American Joe who feels like a Fish out of Water when juxtaposed with both the Japanese-flavored corporate excess of Nakatomi Plaza and the suave European villainy of Hans Gruber. Sgt. Al Powell, McClane's police contact outside the building, is a genuinely good man who agonizes over the mistake he made that got a boy killed, and quickly becomes his most trustworthy ally. In many ways, Die Hard serves as a celebration of the Patriotic Fervor and cultural cheerleading of '80s America that Escape From New York offered a far more satirical take on.
  • Spy Speak: Downplayed, the radio John communicates with is an open channel that Hans and his crew can also listen into. Whenever anyone asks questions about who John is he refuses because that only compromises his advantage. Powell reads between the lines and figures out John must be a cop, and he takes on a pseudonym of "Roy" after a conversation with Hans about cowboys and Roy Rogers.
  • Stage Whisper: McClane must whisper into the radio most of the time to avoid detection, but it is nicely amplified for the viewers.
  • Staggered Zoom: Onto the roll of Christmas wrapping tape that John sees on a cart. He uses that tape to trick Hans at the climax.
  • Staircase Tumble: John McClane gets in a brawl with Tony, then they 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 bulk 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. A very subdued and dark version of it also functions as something of a Leitmotif for Gruber.
  • Stealth Pun: During the scene where Ellis attempts to negotiate with McClane, one of Hans' men brings him a can of Coca-Cola. Earlier in the film, it is established that Ellis has an addiction to cocaine. Which most likely means Ellis asked Hans for some "coke", without specifying what kind.
  • Steel Eardrums: Zigzagged. While neither John nor Hans and his men appear to have any problems firing automatic weapons indoors, James (one of the henchmen) is clearly shown crouching down and holding his ears while his comrade Alexander fires the missile launcher. The police dispatchers are also pained by the bursts of gunfire heard when Karl, Franco, and Fritz ambush John on the roof.
  • Stock Footage:
    • When Alexander shoots the LAPD armored vehicle, the same shot from different angles appears to be used since the same window is blown out.
    • During the shootout on the 33rd floor, John shoots the same stuffed Santa figurine twice: once while Karl is taking cover (right after Karl peeks his head over the desk). The shot is shown a second time when John fires a burst of return fire while Hans and Karl are shooting out the glass panes.
  • Stock Foreign Name: The villains sport the best-known German masculine 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 mix up/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."
  • Sukhomlinov Effect: Bruce Willis in a muscle shirt vs. guys in suits.
  • Super Window Jump: John McClane does this and doesn't hurt himself, even though the rest of the movie realistically depicted him getting his feet horribly mangled due to the broken glass everywhere he had to walk on. The first kick didn't break the window, though, forcing him to shoot the glass.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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 first part 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 that 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.
    • When John is hiding in the air vent and Karl is probing the vent searching for him, he has his pistol trained on Karl ready to shoot him. He is reluctant to do so and very relieved at the end that he doesn't have to. Besides an understandable reluctance to kill another person, firing a gun from such an enclosed space would almost certainly render him permanently deaf (Bruce Willis lost a good chunk of his hearing while filming the scene where John kills Marco from under the table), not to mention how John soon finds out that more of Hans' men were also present and would have absolutely canceled his Christmas if he'd given his inescapable position away.
    • 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.
    • After Argyle punches out Theo, he shakes his hand in pain. Wrist and hand injuries are a common result of punching.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: Since it's Christmas, there's only two guards at Nakatomi Plaza: a receptionist and an extra guard standing by the elevators. When Hans Gruber and his men arrive, Karl has little trouble killing them both.
  • Take My Hand!: Inverted. John separates Hans from Holly'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 many 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 Catchphrase retort is essentially de Souza's response.
  • Taking the Kids: Holly left for California due to a great career opportunity and took the children with her, much to John'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: Half the dialogue is McClane talking to himself — though some of that is him Thinking Out Loud, and he's alone throughout most of the action.
    McClane: Why didn't you try to stop him, John? 'Cause then you'd be dead too, asshole...! Think, goddammit, think!
  • 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.
      Hans: Hit it again.
      McClane: Hans, you motherfucker, you've made your point! Let 'em pull back!
      Hans: Thank you, Mr. Cowboy, I'll take it under advisement. HIT IT AGAIN!
    • When the terrorists are first moving into the building, Karl sneaks up on a plainclothes security guard waiting for an elevator. Karl still tosses a flashbang at the unsuspecting man's feet before shooting him dead.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Subverted during this exchange:
    Hans Gruber: Touching, Cowboy, touching. Or should I call you, Mr. McClane? Mr. Officer John McClane of the New York Police Department?
    John McClane: Sister Teresa called me Mr. McClane in the third grade. My friends call me John, and you're neither, shithead.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: "Oh, John, what the fuck are you doing?" (just before he jumps off the roof with nothing but a fire hose tied around his waist to hold him up).
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: There's an architect's model of a bridge in Mr. Takagi's office. The model mainly serves to establish Hans Gruber as Wicked Cultured: "Oh, that's beautiful! I always loved to make models when I was a boy. The exactness! The attention to every conceivable detail! It's beautiful." John McTiernan stated the bridge model was for a bridge Frank Lloyd Wright had designed but never built, and borrowed for the movie from the Wright estate as the director was a fan of the architect.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: McClane has an absolutely dazed look on his face after jumping off the skyscraper's exploding roof, slamming back first into the side of the building, and finally crashing through a window to land in a heap on the floor. He snaps out of it when the plummeting fire hose spool threatens to drag him out the window.
  • Token Minority: Averted. Sergeant Al Powell, Argyle, Theo, and Agent Johnson are all black. Joe Takagi and Uli are Asian. 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. Karl throws another one at the end of the shootout on floor 33.
  • Trojan Ambulance: When Hans Gruber and his crew drive up to the Nakatomi building in a small car and large truck, it's later revealed the truck had an ambulance van stored inside that was intended for Hans and his crew to escape in, as part of a rather spectacular Batman Gambit to rob the Nakatomi Corporation of $640 million dollars. They would have succeeded, were in not for John McClane taking most of Hans' crew down (including Hans himself), and Argyle wrecking the ambulance itself with his limo when he became suspicious of one of Hans' men driving the ambulance off the truck (since by then he knew the building was locked down and in a hostage situation, although no one else besides John knew Argyle was still in the parking garage).
  • Troperiffic: As this page should well demonstrate.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • The film actually does a lot in deconstructing the Right Man in the Wrong Place and Action Survivor tropes. It was itself something of a deconstruction of the Hollywood Action Hero popular in The '80s by showing what it would be like for an actual Badass Normal (with great emphasis on the "Normal") police officer trapped in such a situation, though many of its imitators and even some of its later sequels largely ignored this. John McClane witnesses a bunch of self-proclaimed terrorists take his wife and her co-workers hostage, immediately recognizes he's out of his element and tries to call for help, but they don't really believe him. When the LAPD tells him to stand aside he does, which almost no action hero would do; he doesn't spring into action again until Hans and his men blow the hell out of both the SWAT team and the armored car. He's undoubtedly a badass and wins in the end, but a night of battling crooks with bare feet and no armor leaves him badly roughed up. By the end, he's seriously injured and grateful that it's finally over.
    • The movie was the Trope Codifier for An Asskicking Christmas and remains one of the most well-known examples for this trope. However, unlike many of its imitators, there's a good reason why the movie takes place during Christmas: Hans Gruber knows that Nakatomi is hosting a Christmas party for its employees on Christmas Eve on the top floor, so he plans his attack then because he knows the rest of the building (besides the security guards in the lobby) will be empty, giving the terrorists an easy way to take everybody hostage.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery:
    • The film flips this a lot, firstly with the white Bruce Willis playing a wildcard trigger-happy cop whose only ally on the outside is a mild-mannered, desk-riding African American man who hasn't discharged a firearm on the job in years, ever since accidentally killing a child.
    • And the FBI agents who turn up to take over the scene are a white man and a black man who have the same last name (Special Agent Johnson and Agent Johnson, respectively) and the same extremely by-the-book style, although Special Agent Johnson is much more Hot-Blooded and confrontational, while Agent Johnson is more stoic. In fact, the bad guys are counting on it, as their plan only works if the FBI do go by the book.
    • Special Agent Johnson (the white one) even tries to play this one straight.
      Special Agent Johnson: YEEEHAAAA! Just like fuckin' Saigon, hey, Slick?
      Agent Johnson: [smiling] I was in junior high, dickhead.
    • Argyle is basically a straight example of this trope, however. Except he's not cowardly and effectively takes out Theo.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Takagi and Hans share one. Or at least Takagi's uncomfortable; Hans is at ease and cheerfully chats about suits.
  • Universal Ammunition: Justified; John starts with only a single magazine for his Berretta 92F in 9mm, which he expends several time over during the course of the night, but is able to reload it because the MP5's also use 9mm rounds.
  • 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 Al Powell shoots him, 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.
  • [Verb] This!: A particularly good one crops up when John McClane desperately tries to persuade Hans Gruber to call off his mooks from machine-gunning the SWAT Team instead of letting them retreat after a failed attempt to force entry. Gruber promises to "take that under advisement" and proceeds to ignore it. McClane then takes matters into his own hands with some purloined C4, muttering, "Let's see you take this under advisement, jerkweed!"
  • Victory Is Boring: Hans Gruber quotes the line about Alexander the Great after taking over the Nakatomi building, implying that was his favourite part of the plan.
    Hans: And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.note 
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: Every scene involving Al Powell and Dwayne T. Robinson is to simply remind audiences that, yes, Al is still the Only Sane Man on the force who believes John McClane is the only hope the hostages have and Robinson is still this movie's example of Police Are Useless by refusing to listen. And there are several scenes with the two discussing the exact same thing, which is the main reason Robinson is The Scrappy; it's enough for him to be a pain-in-the-ass obstructionist, but he hammers it home in his every scene, to the point that Roger Ebert singled Robinson out as the single element of the film which ruined his enjoyment of it.
  • Villain Ball: Hans initially only sends Tony to investigate the fire alarm. However, this is only because he assumed the alarm was tripped by an escaped (and unarmed) hostage; once he realises what he is dealing with, he sends three men to deal with John for the rest of the film.
  • "The Villain Knows" Moment: Inverted. John McClane has run into an escaped hostage named Bill Clay and is escorting him to relative safety. Of course, the audience knows that "Bill" is really Big Bad Hans Gruber, but then again, when Hans finds that the gun John gave him is empty, he realizes that so, too, did John.
    Hans: I'm going to count to three...
    John: Like you did with Takagi?
    Hans: (pulls trigger repeatedly to find the gun empty)
    John: Whoops. No bullets! (takes the gun back) You think I'm fucking stupid, Hans?
  • Villainous Breakdown: Hans Gruber acts very calm and collected up until the point where Holly calls him "just a common thief", at which point you can see his façade of civility crumble into derangement.
  • Villains Act, Heroes React: One of the codifiers. The entire reason the movie doesn't end at the twenty-minute mark is that Gruber has planned everything to the last detail... but failed to account for a Spanner in the Works like McClane. Despite that, his plan came within minutes of working out perfectly; if only he had not chosen to confront said spanner face to face...
    • His first step is to Cut Phone Lines, trap everyone in the building, and pretend everything's normal. This works out damned well and would have succeeded if McClane had been any less direct than throwing a dead body out a window to attract attention.
    • A SWAT team is sent just minutes afterwards, but that's okay; he invested in full-auto weapons and beefy foot soldiers. The SWAT commander can't be criticized for sending his team in only for them to get slaughtered with military weaponry; contrary to popular belief, that stuff is not easy to get a hold of, even in the eighties.
    • Then the FBI shows up and cuts the power to ten city blocks as a standard procedure for terrorist incidents. This is exactly why Gruber and his crew brought all that hardware; eventually, the plan involved being about as subtle as a brick through a glass window specifically because the final security measure in the building's vault can't be disabled from inside the building, but...
      Hans: The circuits that cannot be cut are cut automatically in response to a terrorist incident. You asked for miracles, Theo. I give you the F-B-I.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Hans tells the hostages that Mr. Takagi is dead while helping himself to the party buffet. Later, just before fighting the SWAT team, Uli sneaks a candy bar from the concession stand he is covering behind. Incidentally, these were both moments the actors themselves contributed.invoked
  • 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.
  • Visual Pun: The bad guys bring in some Coke for Ellis, who also enjoys cocaine.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: After being forced to run across broken glass in bare feet, John McClane uses his wifebeater to improvise bandages and spends the last act of the movie shirtless.
  • We Interrupt This Program: In fairness to "Dick" Thornburg, his live broadcast from Nakatomi Plaza is what alerts Argyle, via the limo's TV, that something is seriously wrong.
  • 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 $640 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 Happened to the Mouse?: The Johnsons call up two helicopters as part of their plan to attack the building. We see the one they're in get destroyed by the explosion, but we don't see what happens to the other one, and no further mention is made of it.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: John McClane is rather terrified of heights and flying. In fact, the entire reason he was shoeless most of the film was on the advice of a fellow plane passenger he took off his shoes and walked around for a few minutes with toes clenched to get over the anxiety from his cross-country plane trip.
  • Wicked Cultured: Hans Gruber. Classical education, dontcha know. He's also dressed very well and chats cleverly about high fashion. Having Bethoven's "Ode to Joy" as a motif, Michael Kamen called him a lineal descendant of the bad guys in A Clockwork Orange.
  • Working-Class Hero: The first inkling that John McClane is this is his admission that he's never been in a limousine before this trip to Los Angeles.
  • World of Snark: Most of the communication that takes place between characters are in the form of snide remarks. John, Hans Gruber, Al Powell, Holly, Joe Takagi snark in almost every scene they appear in.
  • 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!!!"
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Hans Gruber pretends to be an escaped partygoer when he first meets John McClane.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math:
    • The film is inconsistent with how many terrorists there are, as is the promotional material. Al mentions to the FBI that John is the reason why there are seven terrorists instead of 12, which is incorrect; there are 13 terrorists. Of course, the police's count is from John's report, and he could have miscounted (Eddie spent most of the siege in the lobby, where John couldn't see and count him).
    • There seems to be some confusion as to which floor the vault and the office party are on. The kiosk at the receptionist's desk and the elevator floor number indicators state that Holly's office (and by extension the party) are on the 30th floor while the vault is one floor up, accessible via a staircase where Eddie sees the hostages running back down from the roof. However, Ginny tells John that Holly was taken to the vault on the 30th floor, which suggests the party was on the 29th floor.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Ellis thinks he can negotiate with Gruber (thinking he's a terrorist instead of pretending to be as such) and that John is a pesky wannabe hero making the situation worse.
  • Wrong Insult Offence: Doubling as Disappointed by the Motive. Hans Gruber claims to be a terrorist but is soon revealed to be after $640 million worth of bearer bonds.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Ellis very famously calls Hans Gruber "bubby", short for "bubalah", a term of endearment. The line was ad-libbed by Hart Bochner, who is Jewish. That said, Ellis also casually drops an anti-Semitic slur in the same scene, so it's unlikely that the character is Jewish.
  • 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: Hans, this asshole is not my friend, I just met tonight, I don't know him. Jesus Christ, Ellis, these people are gonna kill you! Tell them you don't know me!
    Ellis: John. [scoffs] How can you say that all these years!
  • 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.
    Tony: You won't shoot me.
    John: Yeah? Why not?
    Tony: Because you are a policeman. There are rules for policemen.
    John: Yeah. That's what my captain keeps telling me. [Hits Tony with his elbow, hard]


Die Hard

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