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Die Hard: A Movie That Started a Franchise and a Genre

Updated on November 13, 2022
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Die Hard movie poster.Fox Plaza was used as Nakatomi Plaza the fictitious Plaza that was the setting for Die Hard.
Die Hard movie poster.
Die Hard movie poster. | Source
Fox Plaza was used as Nakatomi Plaza the fictitious Plaza that was the setting for Die Hard.
Fox Plaza was used as Nakatomi Plaza the fictitious Plaza that was the setting for Die Hard. | Source


“Die Hard” premiered on July 12, 1988. The movie cost about $28 million to make and grossed over $140 million worldwide.[i] “Die Hard” spawned 4 sequels. The last sequel to date is the 2013 Movie “A Good Day to Die Hard”. The "Die Hard" success inspired many movies with a similar plot line. This article contains spoilers for “Die Hard” and related movies. The “Die Hard” movies ae heavily laced with foul language and violence.

[i] International Movies Database,, last accessed 12/15/19.

The Plot

It’s Christmas Eve. New York Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is flying into Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who works in Los Angeles. McClane is afraid of flying. The passenger seated next to him notices and tells McClane to get over his fear of flying he should take off his shoes and sox and make fists on the floor with his toes.

Holly’s boss, Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi (James Shingeta), sends a limousine to take her husband to her company’s office party. Her company, Nakatomi Corporation, has an industrial park named Nakatomi Plaza which includes a skyscraper. The office party and subsequent action takes place in the skyscraper. When he reaches the security desk, he learns Holly was going by her maiden name Gennaro.

The reason she gives for using her maiden name is that Japanese companies want their female employees to be unmarried. Her explanation is flimsy. Her superior, Mr. Takagi, knew she was married. Since in 1988 a common business honorific was “Ms.”. Whether she introduced herself as Ms. Gennaro or Ms. McClane would give no indication of her marital status. This could be viewed as a plot hole but one of the premises of the “Die Hard” franchise is the audience should check reality at the door.[i]

McClane is in a bathroom making fists with his toes when an armed gang comes in and takes over the building. They round up all the party goers and hold them hostage. McClane doesn’t have time to put on his shoes. Having to neutralize the bad guys barefooted is one of the additional nuisances McClane has to deal with. The gang pass themselves off as terrorists but the takeover is about a heist. McClane gets a radio from one of the bad guys he kills. With the radio he communicates with Los Angeles Police Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) and the head bad guy Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). He has heartfelt conversations with Sgt. Powell and trolls Gruber. The army of police outside the building are ineffective. John McClane picks off the bad guys one or two at a time. He dispatches them by various methods. Holly, Powell, and Argyle the limousine driver (De’voreaux White) each get in a shot, literal or figurative.

[i] When a Gruber fires a shot on the 30th floor McClane expects Argyle to hear the shot and call the police. Argyle is in a parked limousine on the ground floor. In a real situation Argyle wouldn’t hear the shot regardless of whether he was listening to music.

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Under Siege movie posterPassenger 57 movie posterCliffhanger movie posterCon Air movie posterThe Marine movie poster
Under Siege movie poster
Under Siege movie poster | Source
Passenger 57 movie poster
Passenger 57 movie poster | Source
Cliffhanger movie poster
Cliffhanger movie poster | Source
Con Air movie poster
Con Air movie poster | Source
The Marine movie poster
The Marine movie poster | Source

The Subgenre

In “Die Hard” John McClane isn’t a “one-man army”. There are a finite number of adversaries. McLane kills them one at a time or in pairs. The scenario is like a Friday the 13th in reverse. The good guys are on the outside and are ineffective. Inside there is John McClane, the bad guys, and the hostages. The setting is an office building. The bad guys can’t just run away. There is only one realistic escape route for the bad guys.

“Concrete War” (1991), also known as “The Last Hour”, has a similar scenario. This includes the radio trolling. It is also set inside a building.

“Under Siege” (1992) has a similar plot line. Instead of a building the setting is the battleship, USS Missouri. The sequel, “Under Siege 2”, is set on an Amtrak train.

“Passenger 57” (1992) is set inside a jetliner.

“Cliffhanger” (1993) is set in the Rocky Mountains

“Con Air” (1997) is set on an airplane, a C-123 Provider, loaded with convicts.

“Firestorm” (1998) is set in a Forest.

“The Marine” (2006), a former U.S. Marine (John Cena) chases a gang of diamond thieves through a swamp. The thieves have his wife (Kelly Carlson) as a hostage.

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Die Hard 2 movie poster Die Hard With a VengeanceLive Free or Die HardA Good Day to Die Hard
Die Hard 2 movie poster
Die Hard 2 movie poster | Source
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Die Hard With a Vengeance | Source
Live Free or Die Hard
Live Free or Die Hard | Source
A Good Day to Die Hard
A Good Day to Die Hard | Source

The Franchise

In the “Die Hard” sequels John McClane is a “one-man army”. In “Die Hard 2” (1990) the setting is Dulles International Airport, Virginia on a snowy Christmas Eve. John and Holly have reconciled with each other. Holly is on an airliner returning from a business trip and John is awaiting her arrival. Meanwhile a company of former special forces members, led by former Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), execute their plot to take over the control of the airport’s electronic systems. A company of soldiers, led by Major Grant (John Amos), eventually arrive on the scene ostensibly to deal with Stuart and what’s left of his company. Major Grant and company are in fact Stuart’s confederates.

“Die Hard with a Vengeance” (1995) is set in New York City on a late spring day. The opening song is “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Schools are still in session. Holly has left John. John has a drinking problem and he knows it. A bomb goes off in the city and the bomber demands John McClane stand in Harlem, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, in his underwear with a sandwich sign. The sign was to read, “I hate <racial slur>.”[i] McClane does this. He is armed with a handgun. A bystander, Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), sees McClane. He rescues McClane from a mob. The bomber is Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons), Hans Gruber’s brother. Carver’s interference prevented Simon from avenging his brother. Simon insists Zeus and McClane carry out a series of tasks within specified time limits. The bombing and bomb threats are just a distraction. Simon and many other former special forces members of the German Democratic Republic army plan to rob the Federal Reserve. This is the first “Die Hard” movie that has a woman, Katya (Sam Phillips), as one of the “bad guys”. John is trying to reconcile with Holly.

“Live Free or Die Hard” (2007) is initially set in Washington, DC. The McClane marriage is long over. John is having trouble with his daughter, Lucy Gennaro McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who feels he is an over protective father. McClane has to take in a cyber-criminal, Matthew ‘Matt’ Farrell (Justin Long). Matt was one of the many stooges in a plot by disgruntled cyber-security expert Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). Gabriel has an army of killers, including Mai link (Maggie Q), that McClane has to deal with. He has Matt in tow for cyber expertise. In the process Gabriel kidnaps Lucy.

In “A Good Day to Die Hard” (2013) John McClane teams up with his son Jack (Jai Courtney) to fight a bunch of bad guys in Russia. The “bad guys” include Irina (Yulia Snigir). In this movie John's partner does a fair share of killing bad guys.

[i] In most television presentations the sign reads “I hate everybody”.

Movies Where Someone Gets Teamed with an Entity They Don't Like

48 Hours
A con man and a police officer
The Breed
A mortal and a vampire
Alien Nation
A human cop, whose partner was killed by an Alien, and an Alien
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
A detective, whose brother was killed by a toon, has to protect a toon.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


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