“It will blow you through the back wall of the theater!” Does anyone remember that tagline from the film’s trailers and print ads? It makes no sense, yet it’s my go-to description for folks new to Die Hard.
The plot—NYC cop Willis finds himself in the wrong place at the right time to foil a group of armed assailants in a Los Angeles high-rise—birthed the “fly-in-the-ointment” genre. Under Siege, Air Force One, Cliffhanger, and countless others copied the formula with varying success.
Alan Rickman’s performance birthed the “suave European villain” trope that dominates action films to this day. One could argue a through-line between his icy yet charismatic turn here and Anthony Hopkins’s award-winning portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
The crackerjack script layers the cat-and-mouse between Willis and Rickman’s gang atop a solid heist movie. Indeed, you could remove Willis’s character and still have an interesting—albeit scaled-down—picture. Rickman’s part proves every bit as memorable, and his captivating battle of wits with the L.A.P.D. and F.B.I. holds our attention. It’s the secret sauce that elevates Die Hard above its imitators.