Study Guide

Die Hard Cast

  • John McClane (Bruce Willis)

    Barefoot in the Plaza

    It's all in the feet.

    If you remember one thing about John McClane, let it be this: dude is barefoot for almost the entire movie. No shoes, some shirt, all kinds of problems. That little fact tells us several John McClane Essentials:

    1. He's way out of his element. Mr. McClane was not expecting his awkward holiday with his estranged wife to be interrupted by pseudo-terrorists toting machine guns.
    2. He's vulnerable. McClane may pull off some superhero-level feats throughout the movie, but he's not invincible. If you prick him, does he not bleed?
    3. Still, dude's a boss. He handles just about everything Hans can throw at him, including on shards of broken glass (literally and metaphorically speaking).

    In that sense, his barefootedness reinforces the central tension at the heart of John McClane's character: he's an everyman who somehow manages to transcend to hero level, simply because he refuses to give up, shoes or no.

    In his most vulnerable moment, as the movie approaches its final dramatic confrontation, McClane hides out in a bathroom and plucks the shards of glass from his feet, all while confiding in his new pal Al Powell that he's not entirely sure he's going to make it. But make it he does.

    At this point, you'd be forgiven if you think McClane is eating his words. At this point, you might be thinking he's the one who gives a you-know-what about glass.

    But here's the thing: he doesn't. He gives a you-know-what about his wife, and about Al Powell, and about saving the day. What's an inch-long glass shard in your foot when you've got a Gruber to ghost? One needs simply to take the world's dirtiest tank top off and tie it around one's foot.

    Problem solved.

    A New York Man in an LA World

    But let's rewind a bit.

    McClane's most memorable trait may be his bad luck with footwear, but there's a bit more to him than that. In fact, the first few scenes of Die Hard tell you just about everything you need to know about our man John McClane.

    He's afraid of flying, for one. A surprising fact for a guy who seems pretty fearless throughout the rest of the movie, this little tidbit means that John McClane begins the movie in a place of vulnerability.

    Things don't improve from here.

    Once his plane lands, McClane seems rather dumbfounded by California, with all its glitz and glam, hot blondes and stretch limos. He even rides in the front seat with Argyle, a hilarious sight gag that shows just how much of a fish out of water our hero is. It's his first time riding in a limo, so shotgun seems just as good a seat as any, right?

    The first few scenes also establish McClane as a pretty terrible family man. He's estranged from his wife, who followed her dream job to California and took the kids with her. McClane didn't follow. His explanation?

    "Because I'm a New York cop."

    A rather unnuanced reading of that might tell us that McClane values his job more than his family. Fair. But it also tells us from where McClane derives his sense of self: his job. More specifically, his job at NYPD. This is not a guy who's comfortable with corporate boardrooms and L.A. sunsets. He craves the beat. The mean streets. Maybe a hot dog with the works.

    When he reconnects with Holly, things seem promising at first. They're happy to see each other, she invites him to stay with her, yadda yadda yadda. But then John self-sabotages, bringing up the change in her last name at possibly the worst moment ever. This is not a guy who knows how to communicate in a relationship. This is not a guy who can let a good thing keep going. Shmoop thinks part of him wants the marriage to fail so that he can stay in New York and stay on the streets. (But what about the kids, John?)

    Of course it's worth noting that by the end of the movie, it's exactly those beat-cop smarts that win McClane back his wife. Without his NYPD know-how, he never would have safely navigated her out of Gruber's grip. So the very thing that has driven them apart becomes their marriage's saving grace.

    For now, at least. We'd recommend some couples' counseling, too. (See the sequels for more.)

    Air Duct Confessional: The Ultimate McClane Moment

    When choosing a definitive John McClane scene, we here at Shmoop had a tough time deciding. After all, the guy is always ready with an irreverent one-liner, always game for an outlandish stunt. In practically every scene, he does something memorable. But out of all the John gems, we think his brief scene in the air duct perfectly sums up who this guy is. In fact, it's so iconic, it's been memorialized in a mural. Yeah, that happened.

    Allow us to set the scene:

    John's on the run from some of Gruber's henchmen, with whom he's just had a gunfight on the roof. One of them is Karl, who hates McClane because he waxed Karl's brother, Tony (of the tight sweatpants and grandpa glasses).

    Winging it as always, McClane finds himself dangling in an elevator shaft, with nothing but his machine gun strap to support him. He falls, but manages to catch himself on an air duct, and promptly scrambles in. The ensuing scene is brief, but revealing. He wisecracks—to himself, no less:

    "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs," and then, a few moments later as he awkwardly shimmies down the duct: "Now I know what a TV dinner feels like."

    First, McClane sarcastically marvels at his situation. What he thought was going to be a brief, kindasorta pleasant holiday with his family has turned into a night from hell, spent crawling, climbing, and careening through a building all while being shot at by large blond men. Then, he switches gears entirely, amping up the sarcasm and lightening the situation with a snarky comment about being wedged in a box of metal. Needless to say, for John McClane, things have not gone as planned.

    And they never do. Soon enough, the terrorists figure out where he's gone, and McClane is basically a sitting duck in a duct. He manages to escape, but only through sheer, dumb luck.

    What Does This Scene Tell Us? Three Things:

    1. John's an improviser. He knows what he's doing insofar as he'll try just about anything to survive from moment to moment (including dangling from a gun strap in an elevator shaft), but it's not like he had any bright ideas for what to do once he got in the duct.
    2. John's serious about heroism, but not serious about anything else. He gets the job done, but he can't seem to resist the urge to make light of the moment—even when there's no one around (but us viewers, of course) to laugh at his joke. We imagine the wisecracks have been a bit of a strain on his marriage.
    3. John's just lucky. We have to remember that, despite his seemingly superhuman abilities, there are many times when John makes it through a moment simply because the action movie gods (a.k.a. screenwriters) have smiled upon him.

    This is all just to say, let's not pretend Mr. McClane has it all figured out. While his nemesis, Gruber, sits cool, calm and collected in his corner office, John is flying by the seat of his (ripped and bloodied) pants.

    He fakes it, and somehow makes it.

    The Accidental Action Hero

    That air duct scene also tells us that McClane may be the superman of the hour, but he's not exactly happy about it. He's what we call a reluctant hero—someone who doesn't want to be called to action, but through a mix of circumstance, skills, and a begrudging sense of responsibility, snaps to anyway.

    See, McClane's a cop, so he can't help but grab his gun and hustle to help the hostages. But it's not like he's driven by any noble cause. It's instinct, pure and simple. Gunfire? Grab your gun.

    Still, there are moments when a sense of humanity, nobility, and depth of feeling do come through. McClane's not just an automaton or an empty badge. We can sense his guilt for not stepping in to prevent Takagi's murder, and we see him struggle with a misplaced sense of responsibility for Ellis's death, too. He may not talk about his feelings much, but he has them, that's for sure. The person who seems most capable of accessing them is—go figure—the other cop, Al Powell. It's only when talking to Al that John's true vulnerability shines through.

    So what keeps a reluctant hero going when the going gets emotional? Well, McClane's aided by some excellent police instincts and street smarts. For a man who's never set foot in Nakatomi Plaza, he makes quick work getting the lay of the land, memorizing each floor and using the elevator like his own personal playground. He's also savvy enough to write down the supposed terrorists' names, which he later uses as leverage in his radio showdown with Hans.

    McClane is a guy who makes do with what he has, which is all a reluctant hero can ever do, right? After all, "reluctant" also tends to go hand in hand with "unprepared." McClane, like all reluctant heroes, has little to rely on but his wits, so it's a good thing he's so stinkin' witty.

    Our Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

    And speaking of wit, we think it's high time we let John McClane have a say in describing himself. He conveniently does this when talking to Gruber for the first time. Responding to Gruber's "Who are you then?" McClane snarks,

    "Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the ass."

    Um, these are not compliments. But they're descriptors that McClane wears like a badge of honor, because to be a fly in the bad guy's ointment is to be a good guy, even if he's not exactly the white-hat type. Here, McClane describes himself as a bit of a rebel, a maverick, a get-'er-done-against-the-grain type.

    In other words? He's a cowboy, baby.

    Gruber totally calls it. Later in that same scene, he dismisses McClane as "Just another American who saw too many movies as a child. Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne, Rambo, Marshal Dillon."

    Always quick with the comeback, John responds:

    "I was always kind of partial to Roy Rogers, actually. I really liked those sequined shirts."

    Gruber attempts to insult McClane's intelligence by comparing him to American pop culture heroes known for their maverick attitudes. But McClane manages to one-up him and reclaim the comparison in the process.

    He may be snarktastic when he says this (something tells Shmoop John McClane wouldn't be caught dead in a sequined shirt), but in aligning himself with Roy Rogers, McClane also manages to give his cowboy essence a wholesome feel. Roy Rogers wasn't a maverick. He was a singing cowboy—"King of the Cowboys" in fact, a family-friendly good guy through and through. It's not the cowboy we'd expect McClane to identify with, but then again he's always ready to defy expectations, to flip a situation on its head.

    McClane throws Gruber's insult right back in his face: "You think you can mock me by comparing me to a cowboy?" McClane seems to say. "Well, I'll take that as a compliment." It's a mantle he's proud to wear, and the cowboy motif recurs throughout the movie to efficiently and suggestively set up McClane as the unpretentious, rough-and-tumble hero to Hans Gruber's slick, controlled, cool-as-a-cucumber villain.

    His final words of the scene say it all:

    "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker."

    In other words, this cowboy's gonna kick your well-dressed butt, Hans.

    P.S. For more cowboy moments, see "Al Powell," and "What's Up With the Ending?"

  • Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)

    Hans Gruber Is Not Your Average Terrorist…

    … Mainly because he's not a terrorist at all. When the siege of Nakatomi Plaza begins in earnest, and we see Hans addressing his hostages, he goes off on a rant about the Nakatomi Corporation's corporate greed. At this point, we all think we're in for your standard terrorist-villain-driven-by-zealotry fare.

    But as he starts to question poor Mr. Takagi in the fancy-schmancy boardroom, we begin to realize that this may not be about principles after all. Dude just wants some dough. As Holly so saucily puts it later in the movie, he's "nothing but a common thief."

    The twist in Gruber's motives is one of the many ways in which he stays one step ahead of the police. While he's got them running around in circles, trying to free members of the Asian Dawn and their ilk, he's busy commanding his crony to crack the Nakatomi vault's fabled seventh seal. It's a clever bit of misdirection, don't you think?

    Dapper Dan with a Degree

    That cleverness is exactly what sets Hans Gruber apart from your garden-variety villain. He's no oaf with an uzi. He's a well-dressed, well educated, straight up suave gentleman. When he steps out of the back of that Pacific Courier truck to begin wreaking havoc at Nakatomi Plaza, he oozes cool: he's got the collar of his coat turned up like some sort of film noir hero, and he walks with a sense of steady purpose. Everyone around him is busy carrying gear or loading weapons, while he just waltzes in like he owns the place.

    And soon enough, he does.

    In the first half of the movie, Gruber drives the plot with a sense of steady, sinister calm. He proceeds slowly, smoking out Mr. Takagi by simply walking through the crowd of hostages, coolly reciting Takagi's personal information. And he's cold-blooded, too, gunning down Mr. Takagi while seated at the boardroom table as if the poor guy's merely one half of a doomed business meeting. Gruber is, in a word, unflappable.

    He's also stylish as all get-out. He's wearing a perfectly tailored suit, and clearly knows his haberdasheries. When he compliments Takagi on his suit, he namedrops Arafat and his tailor as if it's no big thing he shares the same suitmaker as the onetime Chairman of the PLO. We'd like to think that if Gruber were a little nicer, and a little less criminal, he'd be a member of the Finer Things Club. And if he were a member of the Finer Things Club, we bet Gruber would be super into the book discussions. How many über-villains do you know who quote Plutarch? As he explains it, them's the "benefits of a classical education."

    The Customer Loses His Cool

    Gruber's steady-as-a-rock façade slowly slips away as the movie progresses. Each time McClane manages to one-up Hans and his henchmen—from sending Tony's dead body down the elevator in a Santa hat, to getting the police involved by launching Marco out the window and onto Al Powell's police car—Gruber starts to get a little hot under that popped collar.

    Sure, he may still be sitting behind a desk in the corner office, cocky as can be. And he may spend much of the first half of the movie encouraging his livid lackeys to keep their cool. But there's no denying McClane is getting under his skin. As the movie approaches its climax, we see the physical evidence of this descent into flappability:

    • He yells, finally.
    • He shoots a gun wildly into the air when he grabs Holly.
    • He goes a bit ballistic when she calls him "a common thief."

    Common? Who you callin' common? He's "an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane."

    P.S. For more on Gruber's highbrow-boy to McClane's cowboy, see "What's Up with the Ending?" And for more on their relationship, see "Character Roles."

  • Holly Gennero McClane (Bonnie Bedelia)

    Working Girl

    All hail the 80s career woman. Holly is the quintessential working girl, fresh off second wave feminism and ready to take on the boardroom. She's even got the shoulder pads.

    It's Holly's meteoric rise in the Nakatomi Corporation that's got her out in L.A. in the first place. Apparently, she "had a good job, turned into a great career," and when she headed west, McClane couldn't follow. (He's a New York cop, after all.)

    Holly's choice of career puts an interesting spin on the 80s version of the nuclear family. She and John are technically still together, but it's clear their marriage is on the rocks and a separation hasn't exactly made the heart grow fonder, if you know what we mean. They're navigating the awkward waters of not-quite-being-married, hence Paulina making up the spare bedroom "just in case."

    Holly's commitment to her job also emphasizes a similar commitment in McClane. He won't move for her, and she won't stay for him—so that leaves them with an awkward bi-coastal separation, with McClane back east, away from his kids. Interestingly (maybe even progressively), the movie doesn't place any blame on Holly for this less-than-desirable scenario. She's not cast as a corporate-ladder climber, willing to sacrifice her family for her career. And the movie goes out of its way to stress that she's a good mom, too. It's actually McClane who bears the brunt of the blame.

    He totally cops to it, too. As McClane nurses his bruised and bloody feet in a bathroom, he hails Al Powell on the radio:

    I want you to find my wife […] I want you to tell her something. […] Tell her it took me a while to figure out what a jerk I've been. But that when things started to pan out for her, I should have been more supportive, and I just should have been behind her more. Tell her that she is the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me. She's heard me say "I love you" a thousand times. She never heard me say "I'm sorry." And I want you to tell her that, Al, I want you to tell her that John said that he was sorry.

    If we go the pop psychology route, we might argue that the tension in the McClane marriage stems from John's sense that Holly's career success is a threat to his masculinity.

    There, we said it. There's no denying that McClane is a man's man. He's all bravado and machismo, and talking about his feelings is something he only seems to be able to do over a radio with a total stranger. Early in the movie, he stresses how important his own job is, saying:

    "I got a six-month backlog of New York scumbags that I'm still trying to put behind bars. I can't just pick up and go that easy."

    Yeah, okay, John. Because L.A. is fresh out of scumbags for you to throw in the slammer.

    But if we go the plot psychology route, we here at Shmoop would argue that Holly's career success is also a catalyst for John's redemption arc. He begins the movie resentful that she's left, mad that she's dropped his surname, and oh so uncomfortable with the whole L.A. scene. But by the time he reunites with the Mrs., he's ready to atone for his marital sins—namely, for not being her number one cheerleader. (Oh, and spoiler alert: in Die Hard 2, we learn he has become an L.A. cop.)

    Holly, too, comes around. She corrects McClane when he introduces her to Al Powell as Holly Gennero. "Holly McClane," she says. It's all very romantic (if a little old-school), but we can't help but recommend that these two go to therapy in any case. Maybe it's because we've seen Die Hard with a Vengeance.

    Damsel in Distress?

    Not so fast. Sure, Holly exhibits all the telltale signs of a damsel in distress:

    • She's held hostage by big meanies.
    • She's literally trapped in a tower while her heroic prince tries to free her. (Okay, so "prince" may be a bit of a stretch.)
    • The whole motive of the hero boils down to saving her. She's the prize.
    • Oh, and the Big Bad uses her as a human shield in the final showdown.

    So yes, this is not exactly the action movie role the Women's Lib movement had in mind. But still, Holly manages to find some opportunities to show that she's no delicate flower. She's feisty, savvy, and can throw a mean right hook.

    Holly's the one who stands up for the hostages, asking Gruber for bathroom breaks and a couch for her pregnant secretary. She's also savvy enough to realize that Takagi stands to gain nothing by revealing himself, so she tries to stop him. (She's proven right, of course, when Takagi ends up dead for, frankly, no good reason just a few scenes later.) Several characters—Harry Ellis in particular—emphasize her business prowess. And, perhaps most important, she's not afraid to challenge—even provoke—Gruber by calling him a "common thief." Holly, quite simply, does not suffer fools.

    Everyone's favorite Holly moment comes at the end of the movie, when her inner mama bear really rears her fierce head. Having learned that the opportunistic reporter Richard Thornburg has put her kids on television without her permission (and therefore jeopardized their safety), she's, um, a wee bit peeved. And when she runs into him at the end of the movie, instead of responding to his questions, she straight-up decks him. It's the movie's final triumph, and it's also a moment meant to highlight Holly's true strength: you mess with hers, you'll see a woman gettin' mean.

    P.S. Fun fact: While we're on the subject of Die Hard's one central female character, it's worth noting that, technically speaking, the movie passes the Bechdel test. Shocking, we know. But Holly, a named female character, has a conversation with her secretary Ginny (another named female character), and they discuss drinking champagne—not another man. (Unless you count Holly's passing reference to Ebenezer Scrooge… in which case, oops. Never mind.)

  • Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson)

    Sergeant Pal

    Shmoop has a confession to make. When we were little, and would watch Die Hard over and over again while home sick from school and slurping chicken noodle soup, we seriously thought that Sergeant Powell was actually named Sergeant Pal. One "Welcome to the party, Pal," and we were convinced.

    Wouldn't that be fitting, though? Al Powell is, after all, the ultimate pal, the perfect sidekick. He sticks by McClane's side through the entire movie, saves his butt on numerous occasions, defends McClane to his law enforcement doubters, and even saves the day one last time in the movie's final moments.

    Dude gets it done.

    Kick-Butt Sidekick

    Every Lone Ranger needs a Tonto, and that's just what Powell is to McClane. While they don't meet face-to-face until the final scene of the movie, Powell is the one who stays in most consistent communication with McClane throughout. And their conversations do a lot to reveal McClane's character—and Powell's, too, for that matter.

    Powell's the one who gets McClane to open up about his wife. He helps McClane show his softer side, so we can see that our hero is more than just a gunslinger with attitude. The two discuss their families and their careers, and when McClane is at his lowest moment—bloody and beat up in the bathroom—Powell's in his ear, telling him not to give up. In fact, this scene pretty well sums up their entire relationship. Let's take a look:

    McClane: Hey pal, you got flat feet?

    Powell: What the hell are you talking about, man?

    McClane: Something had to get you off the street.

    Powell: What's the matter, you don't think jockeying papers across a desk is a noble effort for a cop?

    McClane: No.

    Powell: I had an accident.

    McClane: The way you drive, I can see why. What'd you do, run over your captain's foot with a car?

    Powell: I shot a kid. He was thirteen years old. It was dark, I couldn't see him, he had a ray gun, looked real enough. You know, when you're a rookie, they can teach you everything about being a cop except how to live with a mistake. Anyway, I just couldn't bring myself to draw my gun on anybody again.

    McClane: Sorry, man.

    Powell: Hey, man, how could you know?

    McClane: I feel like shit anyway.

    The conversation starts out smooth, with some clever banter that hints at the easy friendship they've slipped into. But then it takes a turn for the depressing, as Powell tells McClane his big mistake as a police officer.

    Talk about sharing. This is some heavy stuff, and we're betting Powell feels pretty vulnerable divulging it to a stranger over the radio. It's a mark of their trust—and just how much they've come to value each other, too. After all, McClane feels "like shit" for something he had nothing to do with. That, ladies and gents, is empathy. Aw.

    Powell as Plot Point

    Powell's confession sets a few things in motion as well. McClane, who likes to keep the playing field even, uses his newfound closeness with Powell as an opportunity to confess his sins too. In their next scene, he tells Powell to deliver an apology to his wife in case he doesn't make it.

    And, of course, Powell's admission gets his own redemption arc rolling, too. Now that we know he's afraid to brandish his weapon—and that's why he sits at a desk all day scarfing Twinkies—we know it's a big deal for him to shoot Karl in the movie's final scene. Much like McClane redeems himself and his marriage, his sidekick Powell redeems himself and his career, proving he can, in fact, "live with a mistake."

    P.S. For more on those Twinkies, see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory." For more of those Twinkies, please pay a visit your nearest 7-11.

  • Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner)

    We wish we had something nice to say about Harry Ellis, but if we're being honest, the dude's a butthead.

    There, we said it.

    Greed is Good

    Harry Ellis is slimy, opportunistic, and coke-addled. He's basically Gordon Gekko, but in L.A. When we first meet him, he's hitting on Holly (paws off, dude, she's taken), and we're a bit suspicious that he's got his eye on her (as McClane possessively points out) in order to advance his own career. When he meets John, he's fresh off snorting coke off of Holly's desk, so it's not like he's good at first impressions. We don't like him, McClane doesn't like him, and no one else seems too keen on him either. The look on Takagi's face in this early scene says it all.

    Minding His Business

    Ellis approaches the world like one big business opportunity, which is exactly what gets him killed in the end. He's always looking for an angle, and that angle usually has to do with money. He tells Holly to show off the watch he gave her—a corporate reward—to McClane, and says, in the smarmiest, most possessive way possible:

    "It's a Rolex."

    Gross, dude.

    So it's no surprise that, a few hours into the hostage situation, Ellis decides to take matters into his own hands in the worst way possible. After snorting some cocaine, he tells Holly he's going to handle the situation:

    "Hey babe, I negotiate million-dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this eurotrash."

    1. Don't call your coworker "babe."
    2. Don't call Hans Gruber eurotrash.

    This is a classic case of an inflated ego missing the memo. Holly knows that Hans and his henchmen are serious business. But Ellis, hopped up on cocaine and greed, thinks he knows best. So he goes in to wheel and deal with Gruber.

    He frames the negotiation like a business deal ("It's not what I want—it's what I can give you."). He tries to convince Gruber he can give him what he wants—"business is business." Gruber's intrigued, and Ellis thinks he's sealed the deal:

    "Hans, bubbe, I'm your white knight."

    (Fun fact: Hart Bochner, the actor who played Ellis, actually improvised the "bubbe." Which totally makes the line, right?)

    Ellis is riding high at this point. A Hans henchman grabs him a Coke, and he thinks he's gonna sail through this deal. When he raises McClane on the horn, hoping to hand him over (and the detonators) to Gruber, John sees right through the situation. He knows Ellis is going to die, and sure enough, he does. McClane does his best to save him, but no dice.

  • Joe Takagi (James Shigeta)

    Poor Mr. Takagi. Director John McTiernan calls him "the one victim of this story." While that's not entirely fair—Ellis may be a butthead, but he didn't deserve to die—it is worth noting that his death is one big, drawn out bummer.

    When we meet Mr. Takagi, he seems like a nice man and a good boss. He's Team Holly, he's welcoming to McClane, and he delivers a rousing holiday speech to his corporate troops. This is not a Harry Ellis situation—when Takagi dies, it's not because he's getting what's coming to him. It's because Hans Gruber is ruthless, amoral, and really really wants those bearer bonds.

    Most important, Mr. Takagi is a stand-up guy. Against Holly's advice, he reveals himself to Hans Gruber in order to save his employees from further danger. And when Hans questions him, he won't give in. He swears he doesn't know it, and that's a lie. The code is "Akagi," and if we're to believe production designer Jackson DeGovia, that's the name of the ship Takagi served on in World War II (a detail that doesn't mesh with the backstory outlined by Gruber earlier on). Of course, in denying Gruber this information, Takagi is delaying the inevitable by a mere half hour or so, but there's no denying it's pretty noble of him nonetheless.

    Takagi. What a mensch.

  • Karl (Alexander Godunov)

    Karl. He of the golden locks.

    If we had to sum up Karl's character arc in one sentence, it would be this: the blondest guy in the world is a one-man revenge machine.

    Well, that's not quite accurate. To suggest he's a machine would imply that he's good and efficient at vengeance, which, as we all know, is just not the truth. He kinda stinks at it, actually.

    We can see from the get-go that Karl is, well, impulsive. In an early scene, as Gruber's grunts hustle and bustle about the building, setting everything in motion for Hans's plan, Karl's brother Tony is calmly and methodically fiddling with phone wires. Karl comes along and just chops straight through them all with chainsaw, forcing Tony to furiously finish his work before it's rendered moot. "Not cool, dude," Tony's face seems to say.

    That impulsiveness pretty much defines Karl throughout the rest of the movie, and it's only made worse when he discovers that McClane has killed his brother. Karl wants blood. He even says exactly that. Later, when Hans talks about neutralizing McClane, Karl gets the great line:

    "I don't want neutral, I want dead."

    Okay, Karl, we get it. McClane is yours to kill.

    Blond on Balding

    Hans Gruber may be Die Hard's central villain and John McClane's most worthy adversary, but we'd like to point out that Karl is actually the one McClane clashes with most, at least physically speaking. The two of them have three central showdowns:

    1. The air duct scene.
    2. The knockdown, drag-out rumble below the roof.
    3. The final shootout.

    Let's break this down.

    The air duct scene isn't so much a showdown as it is poor McClane trapped like a sitting duck in a metal tube while Karl indiscriminately fires bullets in his direction. Karl clearly has the upper hand in this scenario, and McClane is saved only by dumb luck as Karl gets called away.

    For much of the rest of the movie, Karl throws hissy fits until he finally gets his chance for vengeance, when he and McClane meet on the roof.

    "We are both professionals," he says, "This is personal."

    The two then proceed to kick the crap out of each other in a fight so gory and violent it wouldn't look out of place in a Game of Thrones finale.

    P.S. Fun fact: The man who plays Karl actually had classical ballet training. Which maybe explains why his high-kicks to McClane's face are so stinkin' graceful.

    He's Aliiiive

    As the movie plows through its climax, we're all sitting pretty thinking Karl is dead as a doornail. Yeah, not so much.

    He has one last chance to prove himself an even worthier adversary to John than Hans. He manages to sneak down to the front of the building, and just when we all think John and Holly are safe, he rears his blond head. Emerging from a blanket like some sort of machine-gun-toting zombie, he attempts to do McClane in, once and for all. And once again, he's thwarted, thanks to the fast fingers of one Sergeant Al Powell.

    Poor Karl. Nothing ever goes right for him, even when he manages to defy death.

  • Gruber's Henchmen ()

    Most folks, when thinking of all the so-called terrorists on Gruber's team, remember Karl and Theo and…

    … that's about it.

    But, frankly, there are a lot of henchmen to keep track of. In the beginning, the multinational crew are a well-oiled machine—each completing his part of the plan with ease. But as the movie progresses and John McClane becomes the proverbial fly in the ointment, their oiliness starts to get a bit stickier.

    And as that happens, their quirks and shticks emerge, which helps us tell them apart and remember their roles. We'll give you the lineup in the order in which they get killed.

    The Line-Up

    There's Tony, whose main usefulness in the movie seems to lie in getting killed by McClane and then used as provocation so that Karl can launch his revenge vendetta. He's hard to forget because (1) he wears the world's tightest sweatpants (why didn't Gruber ever give him fashion advice?), and (2) he has some seriously amazing grandpa glasses.

    And then we have Heinrich, the explosives expert. You'll remember him because he has a glorious blond, curly mullet. He dies rather abruptly when he and Marco head down to the boardroom to find McClane.

    Speaking of Marco, he's the Italian of the group, and he gets shot in the legs and, um, other places when McClane ices him from underneath the table. Marco also receives the dubious honor of being the body that McClane hurls out the window to "welcome" Sergeant Al Powell "to the party."

    We call James and Alexander the rocket launchers. Why? Because that's pretty much all they do. They launch two rockets at the SWAT vehicle that attempts to infiltrate Nakatomi Plaza, and then they die when McClane sends a C-4-strapped computer down the elevator shaft to greet them.

    It took us a few viewings to finally realize that the man we all call "Fabio Hair" does in fact have a name: Fritz. He's the one with the long, luscious locks who helps Karl go after McClane in the air vent and then dies when McClane discovers that Bill Clay is, in fact, Hans Gruber, and a shootout ensues.

    Franco is the guy who pours Harry Ellis his final Coca-Cola. He's pretty much your garden-variety lackey in every way, although he does meet a spectacularly gruesome end when McClane shoots out his knees with a machine gun. It's exactly as gross as you imagine.

    The Candy Man, also known as Uli, meets a rather gnarly and unceremonious death at the hands of McClane's Beretta as he descends from the roof toward the end of the movie. But that's not before he oh-so-awesomely grubs on a pilfered Crunch bar while waiting for the SWAT teams to storm the building. Dude's cool as a cucumber, until he's dead as a doornail. Fun fact: Al Leong, the actor who portrayed Uli, improvised that little candy detail. Genius, don't you think?

    Theo, the tech-savvy vault-cracker, is a walking snark machine. He knows what he's doing, but he's not afraid to have fun while he's doing it. He cracks jokes all the time—including when it's least appropriate. He's pretty cold-blooded, but his cocksure attitude makes for some pretty great one-liners. Our favorite?

    "You didn't bring me along for my charming personality."

    Theo meets a rather poetic end when Argyle, still hanging out in the limo in the parking garage, sees him trying to make a getaway in an ambulance, and blows straight into the driver's side door. We can't say for sure whether Theo's dead (Argyle punches him, just for good measure), but it's clear he won't be bothering McClane anymore.

    Little Kristoff is Theo's assistant in cracking the vault, and he almost makes it to the end. As the movie approaches its climax, Gruber sends Kristoff, well, off with an armful of bearer bonds, presumably to go make his getaway with Theo. But McClane, desperate to finally save his wife, decks poor Kristoff and the bonds go sprawling. His fate—like that of his boss man Theo—is left unknown.

    Huey Lewis 2.0, also known as Eddie, makes it the longest out of all of Gruber's henchmen. He stays safely ensconced behind the reception desk in the lobby for much of the movie and is with Hans for the final showdown with McClane. He finally meets his maker when McClane rips his cleverly taped Beretta off his back and shoots Eddie, after turning his gun on Gruber.

  • Minor Characters ()


    Guys. Where would we be without Argyle?

    As McClane's fast-talking, wisecracking limo driver, Argyle enters the movie early and stays with us throughout. To be fair, he doesn't do much but hang out in the parking garage, wishing he could do more. But Argyle gets his moment to shine when he takes out Theo, who is clearly the most annoying (and yet most entertaining) of all of Gruber's goobers.

    Plus, Argyle's got killer taste in music. Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis"? Now there's a holiday song we can get behind.

    Chief Dwayne T. Robinson

    How can we put this nicely? Chief Dwayne T. Robinson is a straight-up waste of space. He's oafish, boorish, and a plain old moron. He orchestrates the failed SWAT siege and pretty much makes a fool of himself with every decision he makes.

    Why are we so harsh on the guy? Because he doubts McClane, that's why. We see Chief Robinson repeatedly complaining about McClane's actions, and even blaming him for Harry Ellis's death. Not cool, dude.

    Everything you need to know about this guy is summed up by this line: "I've got a 100 people down here, and they're covered with glass."

    McClane's response? Priceless.

    FBI Agents Johnson and Johnson

    The Johnsons—no relation—swoop in at the end of the movie, and they're after guts, glory, and, quite frankly, urban combat. When they take over the investigation from Chief Robinson, they make it clear that they're not really interested in saving hostages so much as waxing bad guys.

    And they prove that quite well when they shoot at McClane while he's standing on a rooftop full of hostages. They've got some seriously itchy trigger fingers, and it's only a matter of time before fate takes them down a peg (or twenty). They meet their end when the rooftop explosion McClane tried to warn everyone about takes out their helicopter. You're right, Special Agent Johnson: it really is "just like Saigon."

    SWAT Team

    The SWAT team doesn't do much except get their butts kicked in a siege attempt. Seriously, they make no progress whatsoever, and even manage to lose a few men in the process. It's an all around bummer, but it does give Theo a chance to snark about their tactics. Our favorite moment in this scene? When the SWAT team member has a run-in with a rose bush. When you see a SWAT member freak out over a little rose thorn, you just know this ain't gonna go well.

    Richard Thornburg

    This guy really earns his first name. He's opportunistic and more than a little grotesque. He's shown reveling in the damage and destruction of Nakatomi Plaza, clearly pleased that it's going to make for some great television. And when he finds out who Holly McClane is, he actually goes to her house, threatens the nanny, and puts her tiny children on TV. Yeah, it's gross.

    Dude gets his comeuppance in the end though, when Holly decks him with a mean right hook. Do not mess with the mama bear's cubs.

    News Anchors and Personnel

    Back at Richard Thornburg's studio, there are plenty of media types milling around, trying to get the best coverage, and interviewing tenuously qualified pundits to comment on the situation. If we're being honest, Die Hard doesn't have a lot of kind things to say about the news media. They're portrayed as conniving buffoons—and that's putting it mildly.


    The McClane kids' nanny seems like a stand-up lady. Perhaps Holly says it best when she asks, "What would I do without you, Paulina?" Her big moment in the movie comes when reporter Richard Thornburg shows up on their doorstep, demands to speak to the children, and threatens Paulina with deportation. Ugh. That guy is the worst.

    McClane's Children

    The McClane children do get some moments in the spotlight—on the phone in an early scene, and on TV as the movie approaches its climax—but for the most part, they're pretty much family fluff. They're there to remind us what John and Holly are fighting for, and why their marriage is worth saving.

    911 Dispatchers

    Shmoop's favorite detail about the 911 dispatchers is that, after they hear what could only be gunfire coming in over the radio, they decide to send a single black-and-white to do a drive by. Because, yeah, when you hear gunfire, sending one lone cop to check things out is really the way to go.

    Assorted Hostages

    The hostage who gets the most airtime is Holly's secretary, Ginny. She's pregnant—very much so, in fact—and spends most of the movie being a damsel in distress. Her one chance to help out comes when McClane wants to know where Holly is, and Ginny tells him that Hans took her. Thanks, Ginny.

    As for the other hostages, all you really need to know is that they're Nakatomi employees (and perhaps friends and family of said employees), and that they're in a right pickle. They spend most of the movie held at gunpoint on the building's 30th floor, until they're frantically herded to the roof by the terrorists, and then frantically herded off the roof by a crazy-looking John McClane.