Survive Hard: All The Times John McClane Should Have Died In The ‘Die Hard’ Series

Survive Hard: All The Times John McClane Should Have Died In The ‘Die Hard’ Series

In 1988, when the first "Die Hard" was released, Bruce Willis‘ everyday action hero John McClane was something of an anomaly. This was the era of the invincible action superstar – people like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who would waltz through action movies firing machine guns, surviving explosions with the casualness of someone doing laundry or putting up wallpaper. With "Die Hard," McClane was a new kind of hero — a New York City cop who is afraid of flying, who’s deeply insecure about his marriage and who, once bank-robbing terrorists seize a Los Angeles skyscraper, forgets his shoes, embodied by an actor most knew from a primetime comedy. And while there are plenty of instances where he survives against all odds, he also gets cut, bleeds, and screws up – things that these Reagan-era he-men rarely (if ever) did. As the series progressed, things became more and more cartoon-y for John McClane, until, by the fourth film, he was just as undefeatable as the heroes he was once such a refreshing antithesis to.

In an Esquire conversation between "Lethal Weapon" scribe Shane Black and director Edgar Wright, Black described what had befallen the franchise by the third entry: "John McTiernan — who I’ve had a checkered history with, but he’s a nice enough guy — made the most bizarre movie in ‘Die Hard 3.’ Some of the violence is so cartoonish — people will literally fall fifty feet and stand up and go, ‘Ow, my knee hurts.’ But that movie also has some of the most bloody, realistic, and riveting scenes. There’s this female terrorist who carries around a scythe and slits people’s throats. It has these really adult, realistic cop story thrills, then the rest of it is a comic book where they’re sitting on top of a giant bomb like an old episode of ‘Batman.’ "

As the fifth entry in the franchise, "A Good Day To Die Hard," heads to theaters this week, we thought we would run down all the instances when John McClane probably should have died (but didn’t). And yes, it’s pretty much almost every instance of peril. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers.

“Die Hard”: McClane should’ve died when….

He fell down the elevator shaft
Few people know that John McClane, in addition to being a beleaguered New York City cop trying to make amends with his estranged wife by attending a glitzy Christmas party who ends up foiling an elaborate terrorist/bank heist plot, is also part tree frog. This is the only explanation for his ability to shimmy down an elevator shaft using nothing but his toes and a machine gun (he uses the shoulder strap extensively – until it comes undone! No!). He should have plummeted to his death. Of course, that would have made the movie really short.

He was shot at through a wooden table
Simple physics: bullets go through wood. When John McClane is cornered underneath a giant, ornate, totally ’80s conference table, with a hulking, European bad guy on the other side of the table with a very large gun, logic dictates that the bad guy (named Marco! And played by an Italian soccer star!) would blast through the table and kill our relatively gnomish hero. There’s even dialogue about it! Marco says, in his swarthy Italian soccer star way, "Next time you have a chance to kill someone, don’t hesitate." AND THEN MARCO HESITATES. McClane then fires up through the table, riddling Marco with bullets, after which McClane quips, "Thanks for the advice, pal." End scene.

He fell off the side of the building when the fire hose came undone
During the explosive climax, the bad guys, led by an irrepressible Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, set off explosives at the top of the skyscraper meant to blow up all the hostages and conceal their getaway. Of course, New York cop John McClane has other plans and runs to the roof, scaring away the hostages by (of course) firing a machine gun at them. When everyone else has left the roof, the terrorists still decide to blow up the roof, which means that McClane wraps a fire hose around his waist and jumps off the fucking building. Okay, now barring the logistical hurdles of a man jumping off the top of a skyscraper tethered to a fire hose, at one point the fire hose comes unmoored from the building, at which point McClane should have plummeted to his death. Instead, he shoots out a window and lands inside, at which point the thing that the hose is attached to threatens to pull him back out the window (it probably would have – he would have plummeted again). Take that, gravity!

“Die Hard 2”: McClane should’ve died when….

He snowmobile jumps onto an 18-wheeler
"Die Hard 2" was the franchise inching towards cartoonishness (or jumping in wholeheartedly). Notable examples include the snowy jet ski chase, which has McClane running away from a bunch of jack-booted bad guys in a sequence more akin to a big James Bond action moment than the relatively human-based set pieces in the first film. At one point, he jumps his jet ski on the top of an 18-wheeler, landing safely on the other side of the highway (after blowing up one of his pursuers). In reality, and not comic book land, his jump would have fallen short and he would have been flattened by the 18-wheeler, which is a very big truck indeed, and one that would barely register running over a jet ski and a plucky cop (this time he’s a Los Angeles cop in Washington, D.C. – perennially out of place, this guy!).

He was blown up by grenades in the plane
In a moment that was played endlessly in the marketing materials for "Die Hard 2," John McClane is cornered in a military plane and then locked inside. Then, to add insult to injury, the bad guys throw grenades into the plane. And not just a couple of grenades – we’re talking a copious amount of grenades. (Terrorists are not keenly attuned to the concept of "overkill.") What’s John McClane to do? Well, if this were real life, he’d probably be blown to smithereens, but in "Die Hard 2" world, he jumps into the cockpit and hits the ejector button, propelling himself into the sky while the explosion is going on. Barring the fact that the ejector seat probably didn’t work after being riddled with bullets, the fact that he got in the seat and pulled the lever before the grenades went off is absurd, even more so for the fact that the seat propelled him clear of the explosion. It’s just daft.

He got run over by a 747
During the climax of "Die Hard 2," McClane is fighting a goon on the wing of a giant 747. (This is when he kicks someone into one of the plane’s massive engines and it results in a gory red spray. Director Renny Harlin has said openly that he was very influenced by Sam Peckinpah at the time. Even Peckinpah would have found that "a bit much.") He gets knocked onto the tarmac from the wing of the plane (ouch) and then, somehow, doesn’t get run over by its huge-ass tires. No matter. Shortly after he lights the plane on fire (via flare!) and it blows up just as it’s taking off. All of the bad guys die in a fiery inferno and everyone is happy because, honestly, airports are annoying enough as it is without terrorists.

“Die Hard with a Vengeance”: McClane should died…

When he walked around Harlem with a racist billboard
The first half of "Die Hard with a Vengeance" is pretty ingenious and has John McClane running around New York City trying to outwit a terrorist mastermind who calls himself Simon (a deliciously evil Jeremy Irons), who engages him in a particularly devious game of "Simon Says." The first thing Simon makes McClane do is head up to Harlem wearing a sandwich board that reads "I Hate Niggers." (When they filmed the scene, the neighborhood was so dangerous that the sign read "I Hate Everybody," with the word "Everybody" replaced with "Niggers" digitally. Director John McTiernan also made deals with local gang members, having them promise not to interfere with filming.) Of course, if a white man really did head up to Harlem with a sandwich board proclaiming his hatred towards black folks, he would get killed, and way quicker than the brothers recognize him in the movie. And unlike the movie they wouldn’t be threatening and throw a knife into his sandwich board first.

During the subway explosion
This one is particularly ludicrous – Jeremy Irons’ evil scheme involves him setting off a bomb in the New York subway system in order to gain access to a federal reserve of gold bricks. So he sends McClane on a wild goose chase to find the bomb, and even though McClane gets there in time, he sets off the bomb anyway. John McClane literally throws the bomb from the back of a subway car and it explodes mid-air, sending the entire subway careening out of control, through a subway platform and everything. It’s pretty cool. But the blast literally went off inches away from McClane’s face, not to mention the fact that he was in the runaway train car as it careened through the station (something that, at least from the outset, looked incredibly rough). Still: McClane emerges from the subway car, only slightly scratched up, blood loosely dribbling down his forehead.

During the bank elevator shootout
In one of the more virtuoso moments of "Die Hard with a Vengeance," John McClane finds himself in a cramped elevator with a bunch of bad guys dressed up as cops (he notices one of them wearing the badge of one of his fallen buddies). In a few quick seconds he somehow manages to kill all of the bad guys in the elevator without getting shot himself, even though there are about a half dozen of them and only one John McClane. It’s an amazing little sequence, particularly when one of the bad guy’s head gets atomized, dousing our hero in a misty fountain of gore (seconds later he explains to Samuel L. Jackson, "Don’t worry, it’s not my blood"), but it makes no sense how none of those guys, in such close quarters, couldn’t get a bullet in John McClane.

During the flood 
As "Die Hard with a Vengeance" grinds on it gets more and more fucking insane. Case in point: a sequence towards the end of the movie where McClane tours the aqueduct water system, only to be detected by one of Jeremy Irons’ goons, who sets off an explosive device that sends hundreds of gallons of water barreling towards McClane. What is a hungover New York City police detective to do? Why "surf" a dump truck, of course. The water then shoots him through some kind of drain (or something), firing him into the air somewhere along the Merritt Parkway. In the reality, McClane would have drowned, but this sequence is totally bonkers and makes very little sense, even in the tenuous world of "Die Hard with a Vengeance."

When he fell while trying to scoot down a wire from a bridge to a boat
This is an instance of over-the-top WTF absurdity that many, many people talked about at the time of the movies release and still scratch their heads bloody trying to figure out today – at some point John McClane and his buddy Zeus (Jackson) realize that the gold that Jeremy Irons has stolen is aboard a giant boat. They are on a bridge and watching the boat pass beneath them. So, naturally, they decide to shimmy on a metal wire (from the truck they’ve stolen from some other dead bad guys) from the bridge onto the boat. Are you with me so far? So they somehow shimmy towards the boat, and the truck finally gives way, coming off the bridge and sending Zeus and McClane plunging towards the boat. The wire swings back around and cuts a bad guy in half and both Zeus and McClane walk away unscathed. At any point in this episode they should have died – they should have slipped off the wire and fallen into the water, or been cut in half by the swinging wire too, or had all of their bones and vital organs crushed when they fell onto the boat. But none of this happened; there are still like 25 minutes left of movie after this. None of it makes any sense whatsoever.

“Live Free Or Die Hard”: McClane should have died….

From the numerous attempts to gun him down with heavy artillery
Ten minutes into the movie he survives nerdy geek Matt’s (Justin Long) apartment getting riddled by bullets from two guys with heavy artillery by simply crawling around on the ground. These guys are apparently smart enough to arm a computer with a C4 bomb that explodes when the delete key is pressed (don’t ask), but not smart enough to just…aim lower… Later, in a cop cruiser headed to a secure location, the McClane and Matt are met by a helicopter with major firepower that shoots up their car, manages to kill the driver and hit everything else except McClane in the passenger seat and Matt in the back. These bad guys just can’t catch a break! And then there’s the whole jumping-the-car-into-the-helicopter-scene which is just too ridiculous to bother deconstructing.

When Maggie Q had a gun pointed in his face
And what happens when the bad guys manage to get their hands on McClane? They suddenly hate guns! Maggie Q even manages to turn his own gun around on him and instead of killing him on the spot, she simply drops the clip on the floor, karate chops him until he’s on the ground, and then turns her back on him and walks away. She winds up about five minutes later at the bottom of an elevator shaft (OOH LOOK, WE’RE REFERENCING THE FIRST MOVIE NOW) thanks to McClane being given ample time to recover, find a jeep, drive it up to the fourth floor of power utility building (don’t ask) and run her over.

When Thomas Gabriel had a gun pointed at his chest
And then there’s the finale where Timothy Olyphant‘s bland villain Thomas Gabriel’s (LOL) henchman continues to be terrible at shooting, clipping McClane in the shoulder, but it’s enough to bring to the ground and leave him unarmed. So what does Thomas do? The classic “I’m-gonna-start-rambling-on-until-McClane-gets-an-opportunity-to-kill-me” routine. For a guy that managed to get a fucking fighter jet to shoot missiles at the cop (again, don’t ask…and another instance where McClane should’ve been vaporized) his desire to kill him when he easily can, suddenly vanishes all in time for our hero to get the upper hand and save the day. Seriously, just look at the image on right — just kill him! You’ve got him…no wait, stop talking….. 

Thoughts? Looking hard to "A Good Day To Die Hard?" It hits theaters, tomorrow, February 14th.

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McLain is actually David Dunn and that is why he does not die. This is why he stays away from water bodies.


I'm a bit late, anyway, agreed on most other things, but about Die Hard II, you might know a little bit more about aviation before writing this because 1) ejecting seat wasn't thrown in the air by grenades, ejecting seats really are rocket propelled (!) to get the pilot above the plane, so he wouldn't get slammed or burned by the crashing plane, or sucked in the plane's engines, and 2) 747 absolutely does not have landing gear under its wings, so there would be nothing to run him over


Football, motherf**ker. Repeat with me: foot-ball.

Bart Brown

Willis should have died at the end of the first "Die Hard," thus saving us all from the agony of the next four (my god, it seems like forty!). The second one has to be one of the most painful all-time unintentional comedy hits in modern cinema. What I could never understand was, if Bonnie Bedelia (on the plane) could talk to Willis (on the ground), why couldn't she have called the police and told them what was going on? Or did I sleep through the most important 45 minutes?

The first one's a classic — no better villain than Alan Rickman, no better nutcase killer than the late, lamented Alexander Godunov, who had made many fans with his portrayal of would-be "Rachel" ("the strapping" — as one critic said — Kelly McGillis) suitor "Daniel Hochleitner." And then there was Viggo Mortensen, in his first non-TV movie, as Daniel's brother "Moses."

Who would have guessed that apparently super-fit ballet star Godunov would die at such an early age, and Mortensen would go on to cash in on one of the greatest money-making (and artistically excellent, though not true to Tolkien) franchises of all time?


Perhaps he's a ghost and hasn't realized that he's dead…. yet.


Perhaps he's a ghost and hasn't realized that he's dead…. yet.


Perhaps he's a ghost and hasn't realized that he's dead…. yet.

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