Why 1988’s ‘Die Hard’ Remains an American Classic

The film that kick-started the big-screen career of Bruce Willis is 30 years old, yet it's even more relevant today in 2018

Yes, there’s a lot going on with Russia in this year of 2018.

We could finally see a denuclearized North Korea.

And there are those midterm elections everyone keeps talking about.

But forget all of that for a moment. The year 2018 is important because it marks the 30th anniversary of “Die Hard.”

The 1988 action classic stars Bruce Willis (who was then 33) as John McClane, a cynical New York City detective visiting his estranged wife and kids in Los Angeles for Christmas.

When McClane arrives at a party hosted by his wife’s employer at a building called Nakatomi Plaza, things go south fast. Not only does he manage to get into a fight with his wife — but terrorists take over the building and begin shooting off machine guns.

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From there we watch as McClane works his way through clueless bureaucracy and near-impossible odds to win back not only Nakatomi Plaza, but the most essential piece to his family — his wife.

When “Die Hard” first hit theaters, no one expected much from it. After people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Sinatra passed on the role of McClane (yes, Sinatra — he was 73 at the time he was offered the role), Bruce Willis ended up taking the lead. He was known then only as a television star from “Moonlighting,” and his mug barely made the original movie poster.

Back in the ’80s, it was a struggle for actors to move from television to film — and no one expected much from “Die Hard” or Willis.

When the film was actually released, though, it hit hard. It expanded its theater count, and Bruce Willis was suddenly the biggest movie star in the world.

Today, where are the McClanes, the quick-witted, cynical heroes who do the right thing when circumstances demand it?

People responded to the film’s rebellious attitude toward government authority (the federal agents in the film are buffoons) and the sharp wit and authenticity Willis brought to the lead role. McClane was not an oversized action star throwing off one-liners; he was an Everyman forced to save the day simply because no one else was around to do it.

One of the strengths of the original film is how McClane struggles to piece a plan together — and then improvises when his plans go wrong.

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Even 30 years after the original film’s release, “Die Hard” (rated R) continues to impress.

Willis’ famous lines from the movie have become viral memes, four sequels have been made (with a fifth on the way), and the movie was even preserved by the Library of Congress last year.

The truth is that despite its age, “Die Hard” is more relevant than ever. It’s a celebration of the blue-collar hero, the everyday American who knows the right thing to do no matter what overpaid government stooges think. It’s about standing up and doing something not for accolades or attention, but because it’s the right thing to do in that place and time.

Today, multiplexes are filled with content driven by CGI (computer-generated imagery) and headed by super-powered beings who are, frankly, difficult to relate to for anyone. Where are the McClanes, the quick-witted, cynical heroes who do the right thing when circumstances demand it?

Maybe cinema has moved on and there won’t be a “Die Hard” for a new generation, but at least we’ll always have this role and the movie that jump-started the still-successful career of Bruce Willis.

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