“Welcome to the party, pal.”

John McClane

Its status as a Christmas film aside*, Die Hard is a quintessential action film against which others are still routinely measured. Pared down to the essentials, we spend just long enough to develop an affinity with Bruce Willis’ everyman cop John McClane before being thrown into a hostage situtation at the iconic Nakatomi Plaza. The constrained space — confined predominantly to a few floors of the skyscraper — creates a claustrophobic tension that is modulated by cutting to a handful of characters outside. Die Hard is elevated by its suave antagonist, Alan Rickman on top form as the criminal mastermind Hans Gruber, whose enduring popularity as a celluloid villain is impressive for a character who appears in only one film of the resulting franchise. Meanwhile John McClane heralded the end of the 80s’ burly bodybuilders, ushering in an era of heroes who hurt, wincing at gunfire, thinking through encounters and expressing his exhausted frustration.


* There is a valid distinction between films set at Christmas and those which are about Christmas, but enforcing this line often seems more like arbitrary gatekeeping given the number of romantic comedies that are accepted as Christmas films despite using the holiday for little more than set dressing.