Entertainment Weekly recently named the first Die Hard movie the “Greatest Action Movie Ever Made.”. It is the 1988 action-thriller that found Bruce Willis in a bloody (and barefoot) game of cat-and-mouse against heavily-armed terrorists in a Los Angeles skyscraper captures some of the best cinematic tropes of action flicks from the end of the 20th century
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a modern-day cowboy taking care of business the old-fashioned way: by shooting bad guys … or blowing them up. Since then, the villains have arguably gotten more sophisticated, but Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) is still the first and the best villain of the Die Hard series. He is cold, unpredictable, and utterly heartless when it comes to who he kills.
After Hans Gruber and his henchmen overtake Nakatomi Plaza and imprison the office workers who were celebrating there. Hans begins his plot but is thwarted by cop John McClaine who was there coincidentally (“always at the wrong place at the wrong time”) on the same evening and the movie becomes that grand struggle — European smarts vs. American grit.
Gruber, Vreski and the rest of his group enlisted the help of hacker Theo to successfully break through Nakatomi’s security systems to steal the $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds that were being held at the tower in a high-security vault with 7 locks. The final lock of the safe was electromagnetic, which prompted the Gruber to assume the guise of terrorists, to allow the FBI to intervene and cut the power to the building, allowing the vault to be opened.
Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Hans Gruber was met with much acclaim as it ushered in a new kind of villain. Unlike many of the muscle-bound heroes and villains of the ‘80s, Hans was stylish, impeccably dressed, highly educated, and the very epitome of a modern man of the era. He is a cunning thief and terrorist mastermind from West Germany, a thinking man who put his mission above petty impulses of rage or vengeance.
Gruber plays on deception and uncertainty more than brawn and intimidation, from convincing the company chairman that he’s a mere terrorist rather than a robber to putting on a convincing American accent as “Bill Clay” when he runs into McClane. But his sophistication is not enough to save him from the down-to-earth John McClaine’s unique brand of counter-terrorism, borne out of a desire to save his wife Holly, one of Gruber’s hostages.
Die Hard director John McTiernan and writers Steven de Souza and Jeb Stuart reinvented the modern villains. With the Cold War coming to a close, American cinema was in search of a new villain outside the notorious Russian communists and vicious Nazis.
Die Hard was Alan Rickman’s first feature film role. Rickman was cast after producer Joel Silver saw his performance as Vicomte de Valmont in the Broadway run of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Alan Rickman’s villain became so popular with movie fans, the producers introduced his brother, Simon, as the primary antagonist of the third film in the franchise – Die Hard With a Vengeance.