1988: Die Hard
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Steven de Souza and Jeb Stuart
It never should have worked. I mean, look at that poster. That wouldn’t have been out of place in an issue of TV Guide advertising the next episode of some detective show. Especially considering the guy on it was best known for a decidedly non-action hero role on a romantic TV comedy. And was eighteen months removed from this:
And yet here we are twenty-five years later and Die Hard is one of the most beloved action films of all time. Not only that, it became a blueprint, forever a part of the cinematic lexicon as “Die Hard on a ________.” Bruce Willis proved to indeed be the face of a tough New York City cop, Alan Rickman gave us one of the greatest villains of all time, and John McTiernan brought it all together in a breathless package of constantly escalating stakes, perfectly timed humor, and spectacular yet clever action. It’s become an unlikely Christmas tradition given its holiday setting, and a handy litmus test for anyone who wants to test a potential friend. If you don’t like Die Hard, who knows what else might be wrong with you?
All of that ties into why Die Hard is here on this list. But there’s a personal connection too. And it has to do with how I didn’t see Die Hard.
I’ve mentioned plenty of times how my dad and I were a constant movie-going duo. Good stuff, bad stuff, we sat through, innumerable weekends while I lived at home. And as it happened, we ended up with passes to a sneak preview of Die Hard. We weren’t sure it would be good, but for free, we’d give it a go. But as the time to leave neared, my parents got into some inane argument. There was some family drama at the time that had everyone on edge, the kind that helps escalate simple disagreements into a good old-fashioned shouting matches. And to be honest, I was a little sick of it.
There I was minutes away from driving away with my dad to some silly action movie. If I did that, I felt like I was taking his side. If I stayed home, I felt like I’d be siding with my mom. And to be honest, I felt like they both held a fair share of the blame. I stood by listening, holding the passes in my hands. And that’s when it occurred to me that I had a third option. I interrupted their argument by tearing the passes in half, tossing them on the kitchen table, and informing my parents that I was going to a friend’s house until they both decided to grow up. And then I got the hell out of there before they could say or do anything.
I stayed out long enough to make sure everyone was asleep by the time I got home. I slept in long enough for my dad to have left for work before I emerged from my room. Yeah, not the bravest of moves, but I’d never really asserted myself like that to my parents before, so I had no idea how they’d react. When I finally talked to my mom that morning, she said my dad was fairly surprised, and that I’d pretty much defused the argument.
That was it, really. Sure, there was a small bit of tension when my dad got home, but it was soon forgotten. There were no delusions that I’d put an end to all the drama — that would take much more than ripping up some movie tickets — but I’d taken a stand. It felt like one of those moments that Daniel Stern would earnestly narrate over on The Wonder Years.
My dad and I saw plenty of other movies together, but Die Hard never was one of them. I ended up seeing it with some friends, and with no small amount of guilt. But if the incident proved anything, it was that the bond between me and my parents was strong enough to withstand such things. And whenever I see my dad these days, I try to take him to a movie. I figure I owe him a few.