In 1988, when the first "Die Hard" was released, Bruce Willis' everyday action hero John McClane was something of an anomaly. This was the era of the invincible action superstar – people like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who would waltz through action movies firing machine guns, surviving explosions with the casualness of someone doing laundry or putting up wallpaper. With "Die Hard," McClane was a new kind of hero -- a New York City cop who is afraid of flying, who's deeply insecure about his marriage and who, once bank-robbing terrorists seize a Los Angeles skyscraper, forgets his shoes, embodied by an actor most knew from a primetime comedy. And while there are plenty of instances where he survives against all odds, he also gets cut, bleeds, and screws up – things that these Reagan-era he-men rarely (if ever) did. As the series progressed, things became more and more cartoon-y for John McClane, until, by the fourth film, he was just as undefeatable as the heroes he was once such a refreshing antithesis to.
In an Esquire conversation between "Lethal Weapon" scribe Shane Black and director Edgar Wright, Black described what had befallen the franchise by the third entry: "John McTiernan -- who I've had a checkered history with, but he's a nice enough guy -- made the most bizarre movie in 'Die Hard 3.' Some of the violence is so cartoonish -- people will literally fall fifty feet and stand up and go, 'Ow, my knee hurts.' But that movie also has some of the most bloody, realistic, and riveting scenes. There's this female terrorist who carries around a scythe and slits people's throats. It has these really adult, realistic cop story thrills, then the rest of it is a comic book where they’re sitting on top of a giant bomb like an old episode of 'Batman.' "
As the fifth entry in the franchise, "A Good Day To Die Hard," heads to theaters this week, we thought we would run down all the instances when John McClane probably should have died (but didn't). And yes, it's pretty much almost every instance of peril. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers.
“Die Hard”: McClane should've died when....
Few people know that John McClane, in addition to being a beleaguered New York City cop trying to make amends with his estranged wife by attending a glitzy Christmas party who ends up foiling an elaborate terrorist/bank heist plot, is also part tree frog. This is the only explanation for his ability to shimmy down an elevator shaft using nothing but his toes and a machine gun (he uses the shoulder strap extensively – until it comes undone! No!). He should have plummeted to his death. Of course, that would have made the movie really short.
He was shot at through a wooden table
Simple physics: bullets go through wood. When John McClane is cornered underneath a giant, ornate, totally '80s conference table, with a hulking, European bad guy on the other side of the table with a very large gun, logic dictates that the bad guy (named Marco! And played by an Italian soccer star!) would blast through the table and kill our relatively gnomish hero. There's even dialogue about it! Marco says, in his swarthy Italian soccer star way, "Next time you have a chance to kill someone, don't hesitate." AND THEN MARCO HESITATES. McClane then fires up through the table, riddling Marco with bullets, after which McClane quips, "Thanks for the advice, pal." End scene.
During the explosive climax, the bad guys, led by an irrepressible Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, set off explosives at the top of the skyscraper meant to blow up all the hostages and conceal their getaway. Of course, New York cop John McClane has other plans and runs to the roof, scaring away the hostages by (of course) firing a machine gun at them. When everyone else has left the roof, the terrorists still decide to blow up the roof, which means that McClane wraps a fire hose around his waist and jumps off the fucking building. Okay, now barring the logistical hurdles of a man jumping off the top of a skyscraper tethered to a fire hose, at one point the fire hose comes unmoored from the building, at which point McClane should have plummeted to his death. Instead, he shoots out a window and lands inside, at which point the thing that the hose is attached to threatens to pull him back out the window (it probably would have – he would have plummeted again). Take that, gravity!
“Die Hard 2”: McClane should’ve died when....
"Die Hard 2" was the franchise inching towards cartoonishness (or jumping in wholeheartedly). Notable examples include the snowy jet ski chase, which has McClane running away from a bunch of jack-booted bad guys in a sequence more akin to a big James Bond action moment than the relatively human-based set pieces in the first film. At one point, he jumps his jet ski on the top of an 18-wheeler, landing safely on the other side of the highway (after blowing up one of his pursuers). In reality, and not comic book land, his jump would have fallen short and he would have been flattened by the 18-wheeler, which is a very big truck indeed, and one that would barely register running over a jet ski and a plucky cop (this time he's a Los Angeles cop in Washington, D.C. – perennially out of place, this guy!).
He was blown up by grenades in the plane
In a moment that was played endlessly in the marketing materials for "Die Hard 2," John McClane is cornered in a military plane and then locked inside. Then, to add insult to injury, the bad guys throw grenades into the plane. And not just a couple of grenades – we're talking a copious amount of grenades. (Terrorists are not keenly attuned to the concept of "overkill.") What's John McClane to do? Well, if this were real life, he'd probably be blown to smithereens, but in "Die Hard 2" world, he jumps into the cockpit and hits the ejector button, propelling himself into the sky while the explosion is going on. Barring the fact that the ejector seat probably didn't work after being riddled with bullets, the fact that he got in the seat and pulled the lever before the grenades went off is absurd, even more so for the fact that the seat propelled him clear of the explosion. It’s just daft.
During the climax of "Die Hard 2," McClane is fighting a goon on the wing of a giant 747. (This is when he kicks someone into one of the plane's massive engines and it results in a gory red spray. Director Renny Harlin has said openly that he was very influenced by Sam Peckinpah at the time. Even Peckinpah would have found that "a bit much.") He gets knocked onto the tarmac from the wing of the plane (ouch) and then, somehow, doesn't get run over by its huge-ass tires. No matter. Shortly after he lights the plane on fire (via flare!) and it blows up just as it's taking off. All of the bad guys die in a fiery inferno and everyone is happy because, honestly, airports are annoying enough as it is without terrorists.