Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Every ordinary world needs an everyman, and we meet ours—Officer John McClane—in a state of relative vulnerability. He's on a plane, and clearly not enjoying himself. He's also got a marriage on the rocks, and a very awkward Christmas holiday with his wife and kids ahead of him.
Call to Adventure
There's no better call to adventure than machine-gun fire. When McClane hears Gruber and his terrorists take over the party, he immediately swings into cowboy cop mode, armed only with his Beretta and bare feet.
Refusal of the Call
John McClane may seem pretty invincible, but at the beginning of the movie, he's not exactly Rambo. In fact, he spends much of the first half hour or so simply hiding from the baddies and trying to get the cops involved.
Meeting the Mentor
We wouldn't call Sergeant Al Powell a mentor—he's really more of a sidekick—but it's true that once John meets him, and gets him involved in the Nakatomi crisis, things start to turn around for our hero. Powell believes in him and helps him out as best he can from the ground.
Crossing the Threshold
Once he's got the police in on the game, McClane's got a new spring in his step. So he hails Hans on the radio, and that's when you know: McClane's in it to win it. The two exchange some witty, taunting banter, and McClane makes it clear that he's not going to back down until his wife's safe and Gruber's taken down.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Where to start? McClane evades and takes down several of Gruber's groupies throughout the rest of the movie. He also manages to blow up an entire floor of the building and make some enemies on the police force while he's at it. He even meets his ultimate enemy: Hans Gruber himself. Let's face it: much of the second half of the movie is simply McClane being McClane—kicking butt and taking names.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
After his run-in with Gruber, McClane reaches a low point. He's bruised, bloody, and hiding in a bathroom. Here, while on the radio with Al Powell, he acknowledges that he's gonna stick with this thing, but he also admits that he's not entirely sure he'll make it through it. So he asks Powell to get a message to his wife.
In Die Hard, we've got a double ordeal. First, McClane has to take down Karl, who's out for blood and will stop at nothing less. It's a gruesome, brutal fight, but McClane manages to take him down, because, hey, he's angry, too.
Once McClane has defeated Karl—the last test in his way, you might say—he can move on to the real deal: getting his wife back from the clutches of Hans Gruber. He's outmanned, outgunned, and straight outta ammo. Still, he manages to outwit the villain, sending Gruber to a grisly death.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
John's got Holly. And wasn't that really what this was all about anyway? Once McClane does away with Gruber—and manages to save his wife from being hurled off the building, too—the two share a kiss. It's not just any kiss, though—it's a sign that not only has McClane saved his wife's life, he's also saved their marriage.
The Road Back
When McClane and Holly emerge from the wreckage of Nakatomi Tower, he's finally able to meet Sergeant Al Powell face to face. Holly also introduces herself as Holly McClane, taking back his surname as a final indication that McClane's life is being restored to its former domestic bliss.
Oh Karl. That dude just won't die. He emerges from the crowd like some kind of evil blond dragon, rears his ugly head, and aims his gun right for McClane and his wife. Looks like McClane's brushes with death aren't quite over. But in a nice twist, it's not McClane's heroism that saves the day; it's Powell's.
Return With The Elixir
"Merry Christmas, Argyle." Need we say more? The movie ends on an oh-so-happy note, with McClane and his wife smooching in the back of the limo as the jaunty tones of "Let it Snow" rise on the soundtrack. His final reward? Marital bliss. He's home for the holidays.