The all-action film, Die Hard, released in 1988 by 20th Century Fox, tells the story of the Christmas from hell – with the hero, detective John McClane, facing death at the hands of international terrorists.
Having gone out to the coast to “have a few laughs” and hopefully reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly, laughing is the last thing on his mind as the lavish Christmas party (hosted by Holly’s employer, the Nakatomi Corporation) is attacked by a gang of thugs.
The exciting action scenes that follow have made Die Hard one of the biggest Christmas blockbusters ever, as McClane (played by Bruce Willis) manages to escape the clutches of the bloodthirsty gang and stages a one-man rescue mission of the hostages inside the tower block.
Based on the 1979 novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp, the film was the vehicle that turned Willis into an action hero. The troubled McClane is an off-duty New York cop who’s trying to get his life back on track.
After the Nakatomi building comes under attack, it turns out that the gang, led by German criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) is using terrorism as a front. They are really staging a heist to steal $640 million from the vaults of the building.
After Nakatomi executive Joseph Takagi refuses to give Gruber the code to the vault, he is killed in cold blood. McClane has so far evaded capture, but he knows that time is running out for the hostages, including his wife.
McClane has a unique way of alerting the authorities to the fact the building is under siege – he drops the dead body of Marco (one of Gruber’s henchmen) on to a police car outside. Armed officers of the Los Angeles Police Department arrive in force and surround the building.
Meanwhile, still trapped inside, McClane steals a bag containing explosives and detonators from one of the thugs and manages to blow up a whole floor of the building, killing more members of the gang as a result.
Air vent scene
One of the most famous scenes in Die Hard is the vent scene, when McClane, who is the only trained person on the inside to keep everyone safe, is chased by a gun-wielding terrorist through the building’s air conditioning system.
As he crawls through the maze of ventilation ducts, McClane is talking to himself, but it seems natural and not a sign of having lost his mind! The vents chase is an iconic moment in the film, which has been honoured recently with a wall mural being created at Fox Studios.
McClane crawls, runs and jumps around the network of tunnels, squeezing through tight, claustrophobic spaces and navigating the whole building like some kind of architectural genius crossed with Spiderman.
One of the most famous elements of the vent chase was actually an accident: when McClane fell down the elevator shaft at a dramatic moment, it was never meant to happen. In the script, the stuntman, who was Willis’s stunt double, was supposed to grab one of the vents!
However, he slipped and continued falling much further down the shaft – luckily without injuring himself. Director John McTiernan said afterwards there was no point in wasting the footage. It was edited into the final cut of the film and showed McClane grabbing an air vent much further down to save himself.
McTiernan said 37 stunt men had been employed on Die Hard and although both Willis and Rickman did some of their own stunts, others were simply too dangerous for anyone to perform, other than a professional stuntman.
Afterwards, McTiernan tried to play down the dangerous elements of filming Die Hard. He said he was always being asked in interviews whether it was really hazardous to shoot the movie.
He said the film had been made by a major corporation, covered by insurance policies and lawyers in the real world, so they would never put anyone’s life at risk by doing a stunt so dangerous that the stuntman risked death or serious injury. However, McClane plummeting down the lift shaft certainly looked death-defying on the big screen!
Of course, McClane eventually saves the day and persuades his wife to give their marriage a second chance, after a thrilling final shootout scene.
Die Hard set Willis on the road to superstardom and made $140.8 million at the box office worldwide. It is usually shown every Christmas and never grows tired or dated, as we all enjoy an action thriller over the festive season!
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