Save Ferris, VII: Die Hard—A “Yipee Ki Yay” Retrospective

By Michael Dellapi

Via The Main Line

The movie “Die Hard” is indicative of the stance I have that a movie is practically nothing without a strong antagonist. A movie with a good villain ultimately leaves you wanting more. There have been countless times where I have wished for a movie to have a spinoff sequel solely devoted to the antagonist’s background. However, I recognize the inherent problem with this line of thinking. An antagonist’s entire personality is practically defined by the way that they interact with other characters. Specifically, the antagonist/protagonist dynamic is ultimately what fills in the blank slate of the villains’ existence.

An entire movie dedicated to a villain is a “telling instead of showing” endeavor, trying to lay a character’s entire existence into a few hours of screentime in an effort to appease the needs of the audience. The success of “Die Hard” lies in how relatable it’s antagonist is, ultimately carving the very identity of action movies to come after it.

Die Hard” is an undeniable staple of the action movie genre, establishing many of the cliches that would try to mimic its popularity. The popularity of these cliches is a double edged sword to say the least. Looking back now, one cannot help but feel an immediate sense of familiarity, for example, when the movie introduces an overly commanding police chief that wants to interfere with the protagonist’s actions. The existence of this character pervades from film to film, but I came to a realization while watching “Die Hard.”. I had to step outside the context of what I know about modern film and imagine how impactful this movie actually was.

Surprisingly enough, the annoyingness of the chief actually adds to the level of relatability of the film. It calls to mind that sensation of knowing what you have to do, but an authority figure assuming that they know what’s best based on status alone. John McClane, however, is essentially a representative of a total power fantasy. He blatantly spits in the face of authoritative orders to do what needs to be done, primarily because he falls under the “chosen one” archetype. He’s a rather unique symbol of the archetype, as he’s just a person that happens to be in the right place at the right time, but he’s also the only person that can get the job done.

John McClane is the complete antithesis to Hans Gruber’s almost brilliant villainy. The antagonist is in total control of the scenario throughout the film, whereas McClane is only able to work around the obstacles he presents. Even the way that Gruber dresses completely contrasts the protagonist’s character. Gruber presents himself fashionably throughout the entire ordeal, his entire garb highlighting this sense of economic superiority. Whereas McClane is resourceful, Gruber holds the resources themselves. He has money and power from the moment he is introduced, and the dynamic between the two characters is ultimately what makes Die Hard” such an iconic action movie.

Michael Dellapi is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at


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