Die Hard at 30 Years Old
The action genre of film is relatively young, drawing inspiration from crime/thrillers, martial arts, suspense and mostly from westerns. Most of it can be traced to “tough guy” cinema - cowboys wielding guns at High Noon to win the heart of the woman in whichever town they’re drifting through. The real change came with James Bond films and explosions found their way into cinema. Films like Star Wars came out, put butts in seats and we all watched as the genre became the most exciting new thing on the big screen since Gene Kelly in Singin in the Rain. Jump to 1988, and you have a very peculiar action film come out. John McTiernan, riding the success of 1987’s “Predator”, decided he wanted to one-up himself by making an action film that would help shape the genre going forward.
Fresh off his Return of Bruno, Bruce Willis was known as ‘the actor from Moonlighting’ and wasn’t a household name yet. Neither was Alan Rickman, as it was his first film; he came onto the big screen as half of an iconic good guy vs bad guy matchup. In Die Hard, Officer John McClane is dealt some rough cards - he has to spend Christmas in LA, one of the least festive locations to be in during the traditionally chilly holiday. John, a tough New York cop, is visiting his ex-wife and kids and runs into a little bit of trouble along the way. The movie doesn’t waste any time with subplots and character development. Instead, it goes all-in on the idea of a terrorist-led building takeover by Hans Gruber. John is caught up in the middle of saving his ex-wife and twarting these goons, all while everyone else in the city is asleep on Christmas Eve. The simplicity of the movie is really what makes it so incredible. We know who the bad guys are, and we hate them even more once we learn their motivation. We know the good guys once they enter the picture - and we connect with them. Bruce Willis’ John McClane is probably the coolest action character ever created because he exudes the persona of what every action movies fan wants to see. He’s the tough guy with a heart who wants to do right by his family, even considering everything that has jaded him.
Going forward from this film, you can see that there was a shift in terms of how much could be done under the new action umbrella. Bruce Willis was funny without seeming campy and tough without coming off as invincible.You can see fear and intensity in scenes with heavy gunfire and the dread of knowing a character is killed off. It all culminates in a satisfying end that gives the final “shot” to Carl Winslow and shows our hero riding off into the sunset of the Action Hero Hall of Fame. Bravo, Die Hard - you look great 30 years later and surely still will in another 30 years.