Movie Review: ‘Die Hard’ (1988)

This review was originally written for the now-defunct hyper-localized entertainment website Examiner in March 2015. At the time, I was the Miami Examiner for Blu-ray & DVD. Since Examiner was shut down in 2016 by its parent company and the article is no longer visible there, I am re-publishing it here, with only a few minor edits for grammar and style issues.

Die Hard (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan

Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza

Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, William Atherton, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason 

Hans Gruber: [addressing the hostages] I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way… so he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life. We can go any way you want it. You can walk out of here or be carried out. But have no illusions. We are in charge. So, decide now, each of you. And please remember: we have left nothing to chance.

Although action films have been around since Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), the genre became dominant in the 1980s with the success of summer blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark, 48 Hrs, First Blood, and Lone Wolf McQuade. Though these films have different settings and sensibilities, they all feature resourceful heroes who must overcome incredible odds and defeat formidable adversaries.

Aside from Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and its two immediate sequels, no other action film epitomizes the ‘80s action film better than director John McTiernan’s Die Hard. 

Joseph Takagi: You want money? What kind of terrorists are you?

Hans Gruber: Who said we were terrorists?

Released in July 1988, Die Hard stars Bruce Willis as Officer John McClane, an off-duty New York Police Department detective who wages a deadly battle of wits against 12 wily and heavily armed criminals in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas Eve. Led by the elegantly dressed, ruthless, and supercilious Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the bad guys are after $640 million in bearer bonds from the Nakatomi Corporation’s vaults under the pretense that they are international terrorists. 

John McClane: [sarcastically mocking his wife] Come out to the coast! We’ll get together, have a few laughs.

For McClane, the conflict goes beyond his professional duties as a law enforcement officer: it’s personal. One of the 30 hostages under the guns of Gruber’s gang is his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), a high-ranking executive of the Nakatomi Corporation. John has flown to the West Coast to spend Christmas with Holly and their two children (Taylor Fry, Noah Land). McClane’s original mission was to try and save their marriage. Now it’s to save 30 lives, including Holly’s.

Aided only by LAPD Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), McClane trades gunshot, improvised explosive devices, punches, and dry-witted banter with Hans and his accomplices. In addition, John must contend with TV reporter Dick Thornburg’s (William Atherton) efforts to exploit the events at the  40-story Nakatomi Plaza, as well as the hostility of Assistant Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason). 

My Take

    It’s Christmas Eve in L.A. And The Party Action’s About to Explode… On The Fortieth Floor!

  Before its release in the summer of 1988, Die Hard was only on the radar because 20th Century Fox gambled $5 million to hire Bruce Willis to play Officer John McClane in its big-budget action film.  

At the time, Willis was a TV actor best known for his role as Moonlighting’s smart-assed David Addison, Jr. Prior to being cast for Die Hard, Willis had starred in two forgettable Blake Edwards feature, Blind Date and Sunset. However, the popularity of Moonlighting and the unavailability of a recognizable star forced Fox executives to hire Willis for their $28 million movie.

Fox’s gamble paid off. Die Hard not only earned mostly positive reviews (Roger Ebert’s two-star recommendation notwithstanding), but it was also popular with moviegoers, especially those in its target audience of men in the 18-35 age group.

Die Hard, like George Lucas’s Star Wars, is a mix of elements from various film and literary sources. Most of its basic plot is derived from Roderick Thorp’s 1975 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, but Die Hard borrows heavily from such genres as Westerns, interracial “buddy-cop” movies a la 48 HRS, and special effects-heavy films such as director McTiernan’s Predator, 

Though the movie’s first half hour is slow-paced, Die Hard becomes a high-octane mix of exciting shoot-’em-up action, often-profane dialogue full of wry humor, and timeless themes of courage, loyalty, and redemption.

Hans Gruber: [on the radio] Mr. Mystery Guest? Are you still there?

John McClane: Yeah, I’m still here. Unless you wanna open the front door for me.

Hans Gruber: Uh, no, I’m afraid not. But you have me at a loss. You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?

John McClane: Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really like those sequined shirts.

Hans Gruber: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?

John McClane: Yippee-ki-yay, motherf—–r.

Though Bruce Willis has only had fair-to-middling success in straightforward dramas such as In Country and The Sixth Sense, he’s truly in his element in Die Hard. Willis is at his best when he mixes smart-assed banter with physical derring-do. With a submachine gun in his hands and a smirk on his face, Willis’ McClane became an iconic action hero for the late 1980s and beyond. 

Hans Gruber: “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Benefits of a classical education.

Every action hero worthy of the role needs a great counterpart to test his mettle, and Die Hard gives John McClane one.  Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is surely one of the greatest screen villains of all time. Rickman balances Gruber’s ruthless and rapacious nature with his refined taste in clothes, keen intellect, and undeniable charm. Rickman, with his background as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, portrays the criminal mastermind with the civility of a well-heeled gentleman, thus making him more menacing and cunning.

Die Hard surrounds its two leads with a solid if not stellar supporting cast. Bonnie Bedelia is good in her role as McClane’s estranged wife Holly Gennero McClane. Reginald VelJohnson plays McClane’s sole ally on the outside, LAPD Sgt. Al Powell, with both humor and empathy, 

Other cast members include William Atherton as uber-ambitious (and obnoxious) reporter Richard Thornburgh, Alexander Godunov as Gruber’s main henchman Karl, Hart Bochner as Ellis, a smarmy Nakatomi exec who lusts after Holly,  and Paul Gleason as the unhelpful Assistant Chief of Police Dwayne Robinson.  

40 Stories Of Sheer Adventure!

Die Hard is, of course, the movie that launched Bruce Willis’ movie career. Within a year of its release, Willis left Moonlighting and began getting major roles in a wide range of Hollywood movies, including dramas (In Country), comedies (Look Who’s Talking). and science fiction (The Fifth Element). Since 1988, movies that feature Willis as a lead or supporting actor have earned $2.5 billion worldwide, including Die Hard and its four sequels.

As an example of well-made escapist entertainment, Die Hard has few equals. Director John McTiernan (The Hunt for Red October) gives viewers an exciting cinematic rollercoaster ride full of non-stop action and witty dialogue. Die Hard is so influential in the action genre that many movies have been summarized as “Die Hard on an Airplane” (Passenger 57) or “Die Hard on a Battleship” (Under Siege).

Of the five movies in the franchise it launched, Die Hard is the best. 1995’s Die Hard With a Vengeance is the only sequel that comes close to matching the original, and that movie was not conceived as part of the series.

Blu-ray Specifications

Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (25.91 Mbps) Resolution: 1080pAspect ratio: 2.36:1Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Audio English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) English: Dolby Digital 2.0 (224 kbps) French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps) Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
Subtitles English, English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean
Discs 50GB Blu-ray Disc Single disc (1 BD) D-Box
Playback Region A


  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • DVD Release Date: November 20, 2007
  • Run Time: 131 minutes

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

7 thoughts on “Movie Review: ‘Die Hard’ (1988)

    1. Artistic license.

      Much of the movie is, if you overanalyze it for realism, ridiculous. Imagine what would have happened, for instance, if Frank Sinatra had taken the lead role; the book that Die Hard was adapted from is a sequel to “The Detective,” which was made into a movie starring Sinatra. The first iteration of the script was written with Sinatra in mind, and the producers did ask “Old Blue Eyes” if he was interested. (Obviously, Sinatra was not, so the role went to Willis, who was still not known beyond his role in TV’s “Moonlighting” series.)

      There are so many over-the-top elements that make Die Hard inherently implausible. I choose to overlook them because it’s an entertaining actioner.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tend to be more “critical” about realism when I watch movies based on historical events; after all, many people tend to find out about such events as the D-Day landings, Operation Market-Garden, or the Battle of Mogadishu from movies such as The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, or Black Hawk Down. And even there, I must (because I’ve dabbled in screenwriting myself) give filmmakers some leeway when they employ “artistic license” in that kind of movie. The three movies I name here are pretty good, so long as you don’t watch them just to go, “Nope, that didn’t happen,” or “Those tanks will get shot up easy because there’s not enough space between them.” (There are, of course, some war movies that do rub me the wrong way because they get more things wrong than they do right. Exhibit A: Both movies named “Midway,” though the 2019 one is slightly less bad than the 1976 one.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I tend to react to things that are completely unscientific or scientifically impossible. That really rubs me the wrong way. The vents was a small thing. Satellites running out of battery and suddenly falling back to Earth is unforgivable.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. The implausibility that requires one to suspend disbelief is hit or miss for me. Some things are easy – I can do that with this film because it’s entertaining and fun. Others aren’t. I think about the scenes in White House Down where they are behind the walls. Something like that would be such a security issue there’s no way that wouldn’t have been dealt with. I think it depends on just how stupid they think the audience is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the three action movies that best exemplify the “OK, this is totally so not real, but it’s cool cos the movie’s is well-written/entertaining/fun” concept are Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard and Air Force One. There are plenty of details in all three that don’t stand up to the “is this realistic?” scrutiny. (There are others, of course, but to me, these are the Trinity of Action films.)

      Liked by 1 person

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