Everyman John McClane, New York City cop and Terrible Husband, heads out to La-La-Land on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with his estranged wife and their two tiny tots (eyes all aglow, of course). He's about as comfy in L.A. as a fish would be on a bicycle, so when he shows up at his wife's office—on the 30th floor of the brand new high rise Nakatomi Plaza, he's more than a little out of his element.
It's a good thing, then, that a handful money-grubbing pseudo-terrorists show up, looking to get their hands on the $640 million worth of bearer bonds in the Nakatomi company vault. They waltz into the Christmas party and hold everyone hostage.
Except for John McClane.
The leader of the terrorists (we're using that term loosely) is a German dude named Hans Gruber, and he tells the hostages he's here to hold the boss man, Mr. Takagi, accountable for his corporate greed. Yeah, not so much. When he takes Mr. Takagi to the boardroom, he reveals that he's actually after the $640 million in bearer bonds that Takagi's got stashed in the company vault. When Takagi won't give up the security code, Hans shoots him, point blank.
McClane witnesses this and realizes the terrorists mean business. He accidentally reveals himself, so Hans sends Tony, one of his mooks, off to do away with McClane. The two have a showdown, and McClane wins, so he sends Tony down to Hans in an elevator with a Santa hat and a message: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
While Gruber proceeds with his villainous plan to crack the vault, McClane does his best to evade the terrorists and get help. He manages to get Sergeant Al Powell, a nearby cop, involved by hurling a dead body (that would be another of Gruber's henchmen) out of the window and onto Powell's black-and-white.
With the cops on the scene, the tension ramps up. The local police chief—Robinson's his name—orchestrates a SWAT siege, which fails spectacularly, much to McClane's dismay. He manages to take out a few more baddies by dropping a makeshift bomb down an elevator shaft. He's also managed to suss out the terrorists' plans: they're gonna blow the roof. Bad news.
McClane scrambles about the building a bit more, trying to thwart Gruber's plans and rescue the hostages, but he's not having much luck. As the hostages are herded to the roof—where they're sure to be blown up—McClane takes out a few more bad guys in the process, including Karl, the brother of Tony. He then manages to get the hostages off the roof to safety and discovers that Hans Gruber has his wife, Holly. The roof blows up, and McClane swings off onto a lower floor using nothing but a fire hose. He's ready to take down Hans once and for all.
All he's got left is a Beretta with two bullets and a machine gun. So he tapes the Beretta to his back, closes in on Gruber and Holly, and just when Gruber is about to shoot him, he rips the gun from his back, fires, and sends Gruber flying out the window. The only problem? Gruber takes Holly with him. Now all that's standing between Gruber and certain death is Holly's gold Rolex. McClane unfastens it, Gruber falls to his death, and Holly and McClane are reunited—for good.
As McClane and Holly emerge from the wreckage of the building, McClane spies a man who can only be Sergeant Al Powell, his sidekick, on the ground. The two embrace, and Holly introduces herself as Holly McClane—it looks like their marriage is back on. Just when everyone seems safe, Karl rears his massive blond head and aims a machine gun right at John and Holly.
But never fear: Powell is here to save the day. He blows Karl away with his six-shooter. Just then, Argyle shows up in the limo, and McClane and Holly ride home in style. It's gonna be a happy holiday.