Die Hard (1988) Screenplay Analysis

Die Hard (1988), written by Jeb Stuart Steven E. de Souza, is considered by some to be the classic Christmas movie.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: “SECOND REVISED DRAFT October 2, 1987”
  • Type: Spec
  • Page Count: 125
  • Reading Speed: Medium
  • Setting(s): Los Angeles
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning one day
  • Genre(s): Thriller, Action
  • Theme(s): Love, Terrorism
  • Protagonist Change: Minimal

Overall Thoughts

There’s not much to write about a story like Die Hard because is such a straight and formulaic screenplay. It doesn’t help that I read the script a week ago and am starting to forget what stood out, but in the same sense, that’s kind of the point: There’s just not much here.

The story revolves around John McClane. Who’s John McLane? He’s Steve McQueen, Sean Connery. Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Paul Newman, Paul Blart and perhaps The Rock (for the youngins) combined. That is, he’s a badass.

And there’s a love interest. And there are terrorists whose mission is never really that clear. There are entertaining supporting cast members, like William, and cops over their head. You know that 55-year old sidekick with a thinning hairline who’s in every movie with a strong lead? Yeah, he’s in this one. Basically, all the archetypical characters are present.

Perhaps in 1988 Die Hard was revolutionary. Although I’ve seen a lot of movies from that time period and nothing suggests to me that it was. It’s worth stressing though that the story does work on paper. There are no serious flaws, and it has strong world building, dynamic characters (specifically McClane), and a good enough premise.


Terrorists overrun a tower in L.A. and take hostages, one of whom’s recently separated husband happens to be visiting from NYC and guess what: He’s in the tower too. And he’s a NYPD officer. And it’s Christmas Eve. Ohh my!

Hans makes some trivial errors for a cold-blooded mastermind. One example is allowing Holly to talk to McClane over the CB while McClane advances (Page 112).

Likewise Heinz and Karl are simply blown in a rain of bullets away on Page 117, which feels like a convenient but not all that satisfying way to move the story on.


See above. You would think Hans, the lead terrorist, might abandon his plans when McClane kills off 80% of his squad, but apparently not.

More specifically, by Page 58 (46% of the way through the script) McClane had already stolen a key component (detonators) to their plan, yet Hans soldiers on in the hopes that McClane will be taken alive and that for some reason he will tell them where he has hidden the detonators.

Dialogue & Pacing

A few lines appeared like they would lead somewhere but did not. For example, on Page 77:


(to Holly)

I’m tired of sitting here getting cramps on my legs waiting for the cops or your husband to get us all killed…

Unless I’m mistaken (always possible… perhaps probable), at this point in the film it wasn’t obvious to the terrorists that Holly was McClane’s husband. So, I expected Holly to tell Ellis to shut the heck up or for Hans to overhear this conversation, but nothing came of it.

Likewise in another scene William seemed to understand that the terrorists were closing in on McClane. He either had to have known German or had just sensed that McClane was in danger to pick up on this. I presume the latter. Perhaps it worked in the movie.

The pacing was fine, although in regard to story McClane is a bit like the shark in jaws or a cockroach: He just won’t die.

Another note on the unique writing style. Some of the lines are simply confusing to visualize. Here’s one (Page 70:

The service elevator arrives on the third floor and James moves across the room toward the window with the anti-tank weapon. At the window, Alexander puts down his rifle and takes the weapon from James.

So, let’s break down this sequence:

  1. The elevator stops.
  2. James, holding the anti-tank weapon, exits.
  3. James walks to the window.
  4. Alexander notices James.
  5. Alexander puts down his rifle.
  6. Alexander takes the anti-taken weapon from James.

Here’s how I would write it: The service elevator arrives on the third floor. James, holding the anti-tank weapon, exits and moves toward the window, where Alexander stands. Alexander puts down his rifle and accepts James’ weapon.

It’s the same length, but it’s significantly clearer to me what’s happening on the first read through. I had to reread some of the action lines in this script a few times because of the writing style. Perhaps it’s just personal taste.

Emotional Impact

A standard blockbuster. There’s definitely a strong dynamic between McClane and Holly but at no point will one forget this an action movie.

Best Part of The Script

One particular scene to note is when McClane thinks he’s found a trapped office worker that ends up being a terrorist, who plays along. There’s a fun reversal that is somewhat expected, but it still satisfying. Unfortunately I did not take down the page number.