Review: Die Hard (1988)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

NOTE: With A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD opening on Thursday, we thought this would be a great time to revisit the older films from the franchise, so expect a review/day until my review of the latest one is posted on Friday.

When NYPD Detective John McClane shows up at his wife’s work, he isn’t the only visitor. Soon after he arrives, a group of terrorists show up taking everyone at the building hostage. Unlucky for them, McClane is ready to take on each and every one of them in order to save his wife and her co-workers from villain Hans Gruber’s deadly plans.

In 1988 audiences were most familiar with Bruce Willis as the wisecracking Detective David Addison on the hit series “Moonlighting.” He and his co-star Cybill Shepherd scorched the small screen each week with their undeniable chemistry. It was no surprise that Willis would be offered a chance at the silver screen. At the time nobody expected the ex-bartender to become an action hero, so the idea of DIE HARD seemed to be a risky venture. However, director John McTiernan knew exactly what he was doing with this actor known mostly for his comedic skills. After all, Officer John McClane is an every man, a New York City cop with a whole lot of attitude and a penchant for a wisecrack or two.

I doubt that I need to expand on the plot of DIE HARD as nearly every single person is very aware of the poor schlep fighting off bad guys in the Nakatomi Plaza – the real life Fox Plaza in Century City, California plays a huge role in the film – to save his wife and her co-workers from certain doom. What I will say is that for me personally, the film had a major impact on this young moviegoer. As I was already a fan of Willis, this is really the film that turned him into a modern day cinematic hero of mine. There was a real sense of an average guy that made McClane such a likeable presence. This was especially true with the strained relationship he had with his wife Holly (a terrific Bonnie Bedelia) which made him far more accessible than most of the 80’s action heroes.

With a perfect leading man it helps to have the right villain and what a villain it has in Hans Gruber. Played by the superb Alan Rickman, Gruber is the epitome of movie baddie. He is cold and calculating with a layer of dark humor without going over the top. In one scene where McClane and Gruber meet, you really get a sense of these two iconic characters in how they relate to each other. The cat-and-mouse between the two is especially well-played by both actors. Even many of Gruber’s minions stand out including the menacing Alexander Godunov who gives Willis a run for his money.

This is a perfectly cast adventure all-around that features stand out performances from Hart Bochner as Holly’s seedy co-worker, Reginald VelJohnson as a uniformed Los Angeles police officer who unwittingly gets involved and William Atherton as a dangerously ambitious television reporter. Much of the charm in the terrific script by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza is brought to life by how well these actors work together. Had Willis not been able to take on such a heavy burden it could have been a disaster, thankfully he is ready, willing and able. Yippee ki-yay mutherf*cker indeed!

Of course it is director McTiernan that kept audiences at the edge of their seat. Every single sequence here is memorable including the simple touches that he injected such as Willis’ discovery of curling your toes on carpet after a long flight or the nudie picture that makes a couple of appearances giving a little inspiration. It is a riveting and sometimes claustrophobic experience that holds up just as well as nearly every single action film twenty-five years after DIE HARD’s 1988 release. I still wince as McClane is forced to run across a floor covered in broken glass with his bare feet. This fantastic film builds and builds to a very satisfying climax without taking itself too seriously, and never sacrificing the thrills and tension.

DIE HARD is a classic film. Simply put, every single thing works. With a charismatic leading man, an above-average supporting cast, and a great director at the helm – as well as Jan de Bont’s excellent cinematography – this is what a summer blockbuster should look like. It’s no wonder so many other films copied this in terms of changing the way we look at a modern day action hero. I for one am glad Officer John McClane decided to head to the West Coast and joined the party!

Die Hard



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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.