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The Film “Die Hard’


Over the last few years, the entertainment industry has gone through exponential growth. The film industry is among the ever-expanding industries across the entire globe. The rate at which movies are churned out today transcends the production ceilings that could only be envisioned only a few years back. This phenomenon seems to be working in tandem with the increased consumerism that is witnessed in most nations across the world.

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Film fanatics no doubt have a vast directory of movies from across a wide variety of genres at their disposal to choose from and this unprecedented growth has led to the metamorphosis of the conventional film genres of ancient times into a plethora of sub-genres and hybrids of the sub-genres. Although the traditional film genres still exist, films that exclusively fall within a single distinct genre are hard to come by in today’s movies.

This aspect has made an analysis of a movie quite a complex engagement, which calls for a systematic and carefully planned approach to accomplish. This essay seeks to scrutinize the movie, Die Hard (1988) in the context of its genre by specifically considering the story type, the act structure, principles of design, genre-specific tropes in the film, historical influences on the development of the genre, and any narrative developments that are particular to it.

A synopsis of Die Hard (1988)

The movie Die Hard (1988), despite being two decades old, is still touted today as among the best action movies of all time. Directed by John McTiernan, the movie casts John McLane (Bruce Willis), a New York detective who arrives in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to have time with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia).

A party organized at his wife’s workplace turns tragic when terrorists, under the command of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), plan to make way with 600 million dollars in Nakatomi Corporation building’s high-tech safe and take the revelers hostage, in the pretext of political motivation.

Bruce Willis, having been left in the washrooms by his unwelcoming wife, is still there at the time of the attack. When it dawns on him that his wife is a hostage, he is determined than ever to rescue her. His resolve almost costs him his life, but he takes out the terrorists, one after the other, using his antics probably from his job.

Die Hard (1988) hit the theater screens on 15 July 1988 and runs for approximately one hour and fifty-four minutes. The movie hit the entertainment scene like a thunderbolt and captivated an audience that cuts across all ages. It has solicited many positive criticisms and of course negative criticism as well from different quarters of viewers and critics. This movie is touted as having brought the lead actor, Bruce Willis, into the limelight of action movie scene.

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Its unrivaled success prompted the production of other movies such as Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and A Good Day to Die Hard among others.

Going by events that followed the release of the movie, it is evident that the movie was a hit and as such, changed so much on the entertainment scene. An analysis of this movie is thus anticipated to give an insight into the numerous aspects that its producers pooled together to deliver it as a chef-d’oeuvre.

Die Hard (1988) in Perspective

The process of movie analysis calls for a balance between the analyst’s view of the movie and the views of others within the guidance of the principles of movie production and analysis (Neale 170).

Die Hard (1988) movie changed so much on the movie scene, right from its lead actor to the manner in which action movies needed to be tailor-made to captivate the target audience as this masterpiece did. In a bid to deliver credible scrutiny of this movie, this essay shall now consider it systematically using the criteria outlined in the introduction.

Story-type and Act Structure Configuration

The debate on movie genres has been given a rather pragmatic approach in the field of film studies. Everything is purportedly in order, and as such, there seems to be no need to delve into genre issues (Altman 6).

However, this phenomenon should not be the case as those undergoing training to take over the industry later need to understand every single detail of all that pertains to genres and how they have evolved to come to what is in existence at present (Allen and Smith 94).

The movie, Die Hard, would be classified as falling within action genre by a quick scan through it. However, a closer look at this movie yields more information concerning its classification. The movie, from other perspectives, can be viewed as being a buddy film as well as a crime fiction movie among many other classifications.

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Its classification as simply an action movie hinges on the fact that it exhibits a lot of physical stunts and activities in its story line (Sukhum 16). The story in Die Hard is about rescue and the lead star, McLane, is quite resourceful in his efforts even though he against many odds including menacing circumstances to wrestle the hostages from the villains. This element depicts the movie as a conventional action film.

As a buddy film, Mr. McLane kills one of the terrorists to access a machine gun and a radio. Through the radio, he manages to run conversations with Al, a sympathetic black cop, who is the first to arrive at the scene. Unfortunately, the buddies’ efforts to help one another are frustrated when F.B.I officers arrive at the scene.

The buddies only get to meet at the end of the entire action. The act structure of the movie can thus be examined with the knowledge of the movie being a majorly an action movie.

Blockbuster movies achieved notable success in Hollywood in the 1970s and 1980s, which prompted studios to rely heavily on the three-act plot structures as the gateway to successful movies (Trottier 51). The three-act structure is the idea that films should follow given plot points all through three acts to ensure that character development is achieved and the audience is kept interested in the story as well (Trottier 53).

In this structure, the entire movie is divided into three sections, viz. Act I, Act II, and Act II where in the first act; there are three important structure points; that is, the big opening, a catalyst, and the big event (Trottier 55). This aspect implies that right at the beginning of the movie, viewers need to be captivated already and then the main character presented to achieve in the movie.

The big event closes the first act and sets precedence for the second act. In Die Hard, McLane arrives at the airport in Los Angeles with a large teddy bear, probably a present for his estranged wife.

This part can be seen as being intended to captivate the viewer by making them want to know why he had to carry such a burden. Little time goes by and right there, McLane’s wife becomes a hostage yet he has not yet succeeded in patching up things with his wife, which gives a big reason why he just had to save her.

In the second act, action in a movie rises and focuses more emphatically on the conflict (Trottier 53). The lead actor emerges from act one with a motivation to do something about the difficult situation depicted by the big event in the first act. Putting Die Hard into this perspective, at this point, McLane already knows that his wife and her co-workers have been taken hostages and by the look of things, he is better placed to salvage the situation.

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Therefore, he goes ahead to defy directives from the authorities surrounding the building to take on the villains. In Act II, the lead actor is normally portrayed as likely to fail, by only achieving short-lived triumphs, which may force him/her to change his/her action plan in order to succeed.

McLane at first decides to play hide and seek as he is portrayed as being somewhat frightened by the situation. However, when he kills a terrorist and takes the machine gun and the radio, he wants to use it to persuade Al, the cop, for instance, to follow his advice. However, this move fails and he is forced to open fire on the cop’s car to make him realize that there is a problem in the building.

He also goes ahead to expose himself, albeit sparingly, to the villains to act as a bait and have the advantage of eliminating them as they go after him. When the lead terrorist asks his men to shoot glass to impair McLane ability to move around easily, he is portrayed as almost failing due to his bare feet being cut by the glass on the floor.

At some point, he passes a message, via Hans Gruber, to his wife on radio, thus portraying him as almost giving up. His desire to succeed propels him forward despite all odds. All this action falls within the two plot points in act two, viz. the midpoint and the crisis (Trottier 52).

In Act III, the story merely gets to be summarized and it comes under two plot points, viz. the showdown and the realization (Trottier 52). In the showdown, commonly known as the climax of a movie, the protagonist and the antagonist face off one on one. At this point, Gruber comes face to face with McLane.

McLane seems to have gone through so much such that his chances of emerging triumphant are slim. However, his antics play to his advantage in the whole situation. The moment of realization in Die Hard comes when McLane learns that, after all the antagonism, the presumed terrorists are merely common thieves whose main agenda is to steal from the building. This even lowers his opinion of their leader, Gruber.

The Protagonist Vs the Antagonist

The relationship between these two characters in a typical action movie has never been cordial. The protagonist steers the action from a somewhat flawed world with the main aim of effecting some change.

On the other hand, the antagonist’s major role is to frustrate the efforts of the protagonist and cause failure and thus maintain the status quo. However, the two always explore the same thematic values, only in opposition (Barnwell 72). This relationship is also examinable at three levels, viz. in each of the three acts.

The relationship between the two in act one is such that, at the end of this act, the protagonist decides irreversibly to distance himself from the flawed world into which the antagonist tries to keep him, thus marking the first turning point (Barnwell 72). In Die Hard, this part plays out at the time when McLane decides to help free the hostages at any cost. This decision puts him on a directly conflicting path with the villains.

At the end of act two, the protagonist reaches a point where all seems to be lost to the advantage of the antagonist (Barnwell 76). The relationship between the two is such that at some point, the antagonist may even try to persuade the protagonist to join his/her course of action. At the point when McLane has no gun, running on barefoot, and being hunted down by the terrorists, who shoot glass to impair his movement, all seems to be lost.

All he can do is duck under barriers to evade bullets and spare his life. This scene captures the relationship between the two at this point. In the third act, the protagonist makes a firm decision to stay in the new world or pursue a course of action that propels him/her in that direction and fight or revert to the old familiar flawed world to resolve (Barnwell 84).

McLane decides to stay in the new world and fight. His antics and iron desire to succeed take him through this part successfully.

Principles of Design and Genre Specific Tropes

Principles of design dictate that certain guidelines should be followed in designing whatever it is that one wants to produce. The movie industry is no exception to this requirement as all movie genres have to follow certain guidelines to meet the genre criteria (Swales 60). In this respect, action movies need to be designed in a manner that observes balance, rhythm, proportion, emphasis, as well as harmony.

Pointing out the specific elements of design encompassed in Die Hard is quite a task; however, it should be noted that this movie, though slightly deviate from the norms of action movies at the time, captivated a wide audience so much that it never seems to age.

This aspect implies that great efforts were expended to bring this movie to the viewers. Right from the screenplay, choice of the lead actor, and the supporting actors. Somehow, unknown actors of the time were chosen to deviate from the normal superhero actors of the time. McLane’s demeanor was that of someone afraid of squarely facing the villains as other movies would have put it. He hid, ducked, swore, cursed, and bled to achieve his goal.

Genre-specific tropes in the movie were somewhat restricted since the movie takes place within the confines of a large building. This element implies that scenes such as chase scenes were not part of the movie and that aspect eliminates the idea of the chase scene tropes. However, what should come out clearly in this movie are the ‘just in time tropes’, which again are largely lacking in Die hard.

Historical Influences on the Action Genre and their Implications in ‘Die Hard’

The development of the action genre has undergone numerous influences to develop into what it is today. Historical influences on the movie Die Hard, as part of the action genre, largely comes from the James Bond movies of the 1960s and 1970s (Hill 17). The concept of a resourceful hero, who takes on villains despite all odds and succeeds, was first developed in the James Bond series (Hill 21).

Looking at Die Hard carefully, the James Bond issue is the main example of historical influence on the action genre that comes out vividly in the movie. McLane, with his antics, which enable him to succeed, is no doubt a resourceful hero who beats the villains before the authorities can offer any meaningful help.

Die Hard was a departure from the conventional action films of the time in which the protagonist was a superhero with abilities beyond normal human beings and could face any situation squarely and sort it out without any difficulty. Its uniqueness has influenced the action genre instead as the movies that followed seemed to borrow heavily from its ideas.

Discussion of the Findings

The examination of the movie has brought so much about it to light. The movie is a hit that has refused to age even to date. It still finds a place among the best action movies of all time. This aspect is attributable to a carefully planned production process by the movie manufacturers or utter chance.

However, the chances of this movie being a product of sheer chance are reduced greatly by considering all aspects pertaining to its production; for instance, the selection of the lead actor. During the time of the movie’s production, the famous actors were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone among others. These actors would face any situation squarely in their larger than life depiction in most movies.

Mr. McTiernan decides to deliberately ignore these actors and go for a little known Bruce Willis whose tactics against the villains are somewhat human. He gets frightened, he hides, but in the end, he succeeds in getting on cordial terms with his wife. People would go to great extents to rescue their loved ones, but still, keep in mind the fact that they are human and have to stay alive before rescuing others.

Action movies of the time would encompass scenes of car chases in the town center or the countryside (Bozilovic 495). Die Hard displays no such scene except when the authorities responded to a distress call from the building, which again it is something not out of the ordinary. Choosing to set the action of the movie entirely within a building could not have been a result of chance, but a deliberate move by the director.

This choice is an effort to depart from what was then the hype of action movies. Clearly, in light of this movie, Mr. McTiernan decided to be a maverick rather than letting his lead actor be one. Die Hard played a major role in changing the action movie landscape and it should be given the due credit as having been cleverly crafted.

In terms of the act structure configuration, the movie followed most of the laid down rules of its genre, which makes it possible to classify it as an action movie. However, the difference of this movie from others of this category at the time comes out clearly in the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist. In conventional action movies, the protagonist would walk straight to the villains and square it off with them.

However, the case is different with Die Hard because a normal man, who is on a mission to patch up things with the wife and despite being a detective, he does not show any extraordinary abilities except for his antics. He only comes to face the villains when there is no other way around the task. This uniqueness seemed to have captivated the hearts of many and as such, it dictated the course of the action genre in numerous ways.


Many movies have come after Die Hard (1988), but a few will have ever captivated the movie industry as this masterpiece did. It did well in soliciting positive as well as negative criticisms.

Its attempt to depart from the norm has led many producers to pursue the same course of action with some succeeding and some failing. From Die Hard, producers need to learn that before venturing into the production of any movie, they should do their homework carefully if any remarkable results are to be realized.

Works Cited

Allen, Richard, and Murray Smith. Film Theory and Philosophy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Altman, Rick. “A Semantic/Syntactic approach to Film Genre.” Cinema Journal 23.3 (1984): 6-18. Print.

Barnwell, Jane. The Fundamentals of Film Making, Switzerland: AVA Publishing, 2008. Print.

Bozilovic, Nikola. “The Film Critique as a Factor of Film Communicativity.” The Scientific Journal FACTA Universitatis 1.5 (1998): 491- 496. Print.

Die Hard. Dir. John McTiernan. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.1988. DVD.

Hill, Katrina. Action Movie Freak, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2012. Print.

Neale, Steve. “Questions of Genre.” Film and Theory. Ed. Barry Keith. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.157-178. Print.

Sukhum, Sukumal. Common Features of Action Movie Review Writing, 2009. Web. 10 June 2013.

Swales, John. Genre Analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Print.

Trottier, David. The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script, Los Angeles: Silman James, 1998. Print.

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