Very few movie buffs would argue that Die Hard is the greatest action movie of all time. It blended thrilling big-screen spectacle with genuine plot and character development in a way that no other action film has ever quite achieved. And while its sequels haven’t quite lived up to its greatness – with some being solid actioners in their own right and others being shamefully awful and undeserving of the Die Hard name – fans still have a soft spot for Bruce Willis when he’s in character as reluctant hero John McClane.
10 A fighter jet chasing McClane across a highway in Live Free or Die Hard
This one can be filed under “completely absurd,” but it can also be filed under “utterly entertaining.” McClane is chasing the cyberterrorist Thomas Gabriel in one truck while Gabriel escapes with McClane’s kidnapped daughter and sidekick in another truck. The FBI sends in a fighter jet to get Gabriel to stand down, but Gabriel reroutes the jet to attack McClane instead. So, McClane desperately drives around a crumbling highway while the jet blasts all the supporting pillars with missiles. He ends up clinging to the wing of the plane before the pilot ejects and McClane slides down a toppled tarmac road away from the explosion of the jet crashing and burning.
9 McClane and his son crashing a helicopter into Chernobyl in A Good Day to Die Hard
Anyone who has seen HBO’s critically acclaimed Chernobyl this year will know that the climax of A Good Day to Die Hard is utterly ridiculous – like, Fast & Furious level ridiculous. First of all, the characters drive from Moscow to Chernobyl in an afternoon when, in reality, it would take days, and then when they arrive at the highly radioactive city, they have a big action set piece that would kill all of them. Still, if you suspend your disbelief, the spectacle of John McClane and his grown-up son Jack jumping through windows and crashing helicopters is a sight to behold.
8 McClane removing a bomb from a subway train in Die Hard with a Vengeance
The third Die Hard movie, Die Hard with a Vengeance, has an interesting premise: a criminal mastermind with a personal grudge against John McClane sends him and the whole NYPD on a wild goose chase with a game of “Simon Says” to distract from their real plan, to empty the Federal Reserve of all its gold. One of the first things that Simon makes McClane do is jump onto a moving subway train and carefully remove an active bomb.
Since Zeus has failed to get it deactivated (the plan was always for the bomb to go off to blow a hole in the side of the vault), McClane has to get through all the panicking passengers, launch it out the back of the train, and somehow survive the explosion. And since this is John McClane, he does.
7 McClane versus Karl in Die Hard
There have been plenty of excellent fist fights in the Die Hard franchise. In fact, they’ve sort of become a staple of the series, with McClane facing off against a hulking henchman twice his size at some point in the second act of every movie (with the exception of the fourth one, in which the henchman was smaller than him, but far nimbler and more acrobatically gifted). The best of these fights is easily this one, from the original film, in which McClane fights one of Hans Gruber’s goons named Karl. It’s a classic Die Hard fight, with added emotional weight, since McClane killed Karl’s brother earlier in the movie.
6 The snowmobile shootout in Die Hard 2
The big action sequence at the midpoint of Die Hard 2 combines two types of action scene. It’s both a chase, with McClane and the military team pursuing the bad guys through a blizzard atop snowmobiles, and a gunfight, with all the parties firing at each other. It also contains the movie’s mind-blowing plot twist that the military team is in cahoots with the bad guys. McClane realizes that the guns’ magazines are color-coded according to whether or not there are real bullets in them. The gunfight is all for show and McClane suddenly doesn’t know who he can trust.
5 All the lights going out in a busy tunnel in Live Free or Die Hard
This one comes after McClane’s terrible night at Matt Farrell’s apartment. They barely made it out alive, but he got the kid and he headed to D.C. and that seemed to be the end of it. And then, the next morning, McClane drives Matt into a tunnel to evade the cyberterrorists as the scope of their threat becomes clear, and then they just shut off all the lights in the tunnel, leaving them in a pitch black, running for their lives from speeding cars whose drivers can’t see where they’re going. McClane’s solution is to fly a police car into the side of a helicopter.
4 The elevator standoff in Die Hard with a Vengeance
Ron Burgundy would have some choice words about how quickly this scene escalates. McClane gets into an elevator with some cops at the Federal Reserve and soon realizes that they’re not real cops – they’re henchmen working for Simon Gruber.
So, he starts joking about his lottery numbers, reaches into his pocket to get the ticket, and suddenly yanks out a gun and takes out every single guy in there in an intense standoff that lasts mere seconds. Captain America is the king of taking down several bad guys at once in an elevator, but John McClane got there first and it was far bloodier.
3 McClane fighting the villain on the wing of a plane in Die Hard 2
When it became apparent that the premise of Die Hard 2 was essentially the same as the first one, with a skyscraper setting swapped for an airport, it was inevitable that someone would end up getting thrown into a jet engine. In the movie’s climax, just when it seems like the villains might escape in their own plane, McClane hops onto the wing from a helicopter as it storms across the runway and fights the main bad guy, Major Grant. Right before tossing Grant to his death, McClane tells him that he’s “got enough friends.” This guy lives and dies by his one-liners.
2 Mercenaries attacking Matt Farrell’s apartment in Live Free or Die Hard
The great thing about the Die Hard movies (except for the fifth and most recent one) is that John McClane is never expecting to get into action. He’s called in to pick up a computer hacker named Matt Farrell right when he’s about to head home and call it a night, then Matt’s apartment is attacked by assassins in tactical gear and he’s swept up into a national conspiracy. Matt had narrowly avoided having his computer blown up by the rigged “Delete” key when John knocked on the door, but during the skirmish with the mercs, a Terminator figure falls off the shelf and hits the key anyway.
1 McClane jumping from the roof of Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard
This is the action sequence that truly encapsulates the John McClane character. Through wacky misunderstandings and unfortunate circumstances, he often finds himself in life-threatening situations that he has to think on his (bare) feet to escape. In the first movie, this is summed up in one scene: the roof jump. McClane gets all the hostages onto the roof and signals to the FBI helicopter, but since they see a man waving a gun around near the hostages, they assume him to be the terrorist who captured them. This leads McClane to tie a fire hose around his waste and jump off the roof to narrowly avoid an explosion. Most of McClane’s impressive feats – including this one – are done on a wing and a prayer.