In Hollywood’s storied history with tenacious action heroes, there are few as beloved as Bruce Willis’ John McClane from the Die Hard franchise. And, as they say, what’s a hero without their villain?
The Die Hard movies have delivered some of the most stand out bad guys in cinematic history with its revolving door of highly-trained thieves who run into the beleaguered cop. McClane is consistently accused of being ‘the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time’ but things always seem to go much more wrong for the villains who cross him.
These are our picks for the ten best villains from the Die Hard franchise so far.
10 Major Grant
Major Grant is the commander of a Special Forces anti-terrorism squad who appears some time into the events of the crisis at Dulles Airport in Die Hard 2: Die Harder. It initially seems as if the Major and his men are there to resolve the situation but McClane soon discovers that Major Grant has been working with his contemporary, the antagonist Colonel William Stuart, to accomplish his goals.
Major Grant is a memorable character because of actor John Amos' commanding performance but also because of his death, where he fights McClane on the wing of a plane that's taking off before being sucked into one of the engines.
9 Johnson and Johnson
The two FBI agents, similar to Major Grant in Die Hard 2, appear some ways into the initial hostage situation at Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. However, they are not revealed to be in league with the movie’s main antagonist and his goals (though they do end up helping him through incompetence). They are still, by no means, heroic characters and end up being a dangerous force working against John McClane.
After expressing a lack of concern for the safety of the hostages with a dangerous plan, they fly into the situation on the roof of the building with guns blazing. After one of the Johnsons attempts to kill McClane in the confusion, the terrorists detonate the explosives on the roof, killing the agents and resulting in McClane’s iconic leap from the top of the building.
8 Mai Linh
The right-hand woman of the main antagonist in Live Free or Die Hard (A.K.A. Die Hard 4.0), Mai Linh is a mysterious character played by Maggie Q. Clearly ruthless and highly trained in hand-to-hand combat, she’s a formidable opponent.
Like many Die Hard villains, her most memorable moments come out of her death. In a great example of the fourth movie’s ability to effectively scale its action scenes up and up until they reach a point where the audience never expected them to go, Mai Linh dies in a close-quarters fight with McClane inside an SUV which, itself, is stuck halfway down an elevator shaft.
The so-called ‘Tech Guy’ of the original Die Hard’s group of supervillainous thieves. Theo is such a minor character in the overall scheme of things that he could easily have fallen into total obscurity if it wasn’t for actor Clarence Gilyard’s exuberant performance.
Perhaps best remembered for his reaction to a large explosion with “Oh my God! The quarterback is toast!” Theo became one of the most memorable parts of Die Hard as a result and his character still echoes today in Die Hard-Esque siege movies that require a computer whiz.
Considering that he’s the only member of the group of thieves to survive the events of the movie, it’s a shame that audiences never got to see him again.
Played by singer/songwriter Sam Phillips in Die Hard with a Vengeance, Katya is, ironically, a mute character but a hugely iconic part of the movie thanks to her deadly looks alone. She’s a fearless soldier and the second-in-command to the movie’s main villain.
With her oval 90s shades and a cigarette dangling carelessly from her mouth, she’s an unforgettably cool villain that saunters through the most dangerous situations in the movie. She’s perhaps best remembered, though, for her curved, claw-like, dagger and her vicious use of it.
5 Karl Vreski
Played by former Bolshoi Ballet dancer Alexander Gudonov, Karl Vreski is the most memorable of all of the original Die Hard’s henchmen. When his brother, Anthony, is killed by McClane relatively early on in the movie, and McClane uses his body to taunt the other thieves with the famous words “Now I have a machine gun Ho-Ho-Ho” written on it, Karl becomes determined to personally kill McClane as painfully as possible.
After being successfully defeated, and left hanging by the neck by McClane, Karl suddenly springs back to life as his body is being taken out of the building. Before he can shoot McClane, however, he’s taken out by police officer Al Powell, having rediscovered his mojo.
4 Thomas Gabriel
The main villain of Live Free or Die Hard, Thomas Gabriel is a former analyst from the Department of Defense who, as villains in such action movies often are, was fired for attempting to reveal the country’s electronic vulnerabilities in a misguided fashion. His revenge against the government takes the form of a ‘fire sale’, which uses cyberterrorism methods to shut down the United States’ infrastructure.
Though he spends the majority of the movie in his mobile command center attached to an 18-wheeler - kept constantly moving throughout Washington, D.C. so as to avoid detection - he’s no pushover in his final confrontation with McClane. Forcing McClane to shoot him through his own shoulder as Gabriel holds him hostage and tortures him by pressing the barrel of the gun into an open wound.
3 Colonel William Stuart
Perhaps best remembered for his mesmerizing naked martial arts routine at the beginning of the movie, Colonel William Stuart is the leader of a group of military conspirators in Die Hard 2: Die Harder who seek to free an imprisoned dictator from screenwriter Steven E. de Souza’s fictional South American country, Val Verde.
Stuart engages McClane in a hand-to-hand fight on the wing of a plane as it takes off, just after McClane kills Major Grant. He’s able to defeat the comparatively-schlubby, and severely beat up, McClane with ease and throws him from the wing but not before McClane is able to open the wing’s fuel hatch. Down on the runway, McClane is able to light the spilled fuel and blows up the plane with Stuart onboard.
2 Simon Gruber
The brother of the main antagonist of the original Die Hard, Simon Gruber is as equally cunning, and equally intoxicated by his love of his own villainy, as his sibling. His taunting games of “Simon Says” over the phone echoing the same back-and-forths that McClane has in the first movie.
Simon is played to perfection by 90s villain icon Jeremy Irons and he comes off as the only actor really capable of living up to the original Gruber brother in any way. He’s ultimately dispatched in an explosive helicopter crash but an alternate ending sees him die in a much more bizarre incident involving a game of pseudo-Russian roulette with rocket launchers.
1 Hans Gruber
The one and only. Hans Gruber is arguably the best bad guy to ever grace the silver screen and, while he’s as well-written as the rest of the movie, the lion’s share of the credit has to go to the incomparable Alan Rickman for his performance; which was his very first credited screen role.
Delightfully devious and infinitely quotable, Hans Gruber is a byword for the kind of villain who audiences often root for against the hero. Initially masquerading as a terrorist with political goals, Hans, like his brother, is really just in it for the money. His apparent vanity and dissatisfaction with those who he deems less intelligent than himself (which is just about everyone) allows him to come off almost like a Disney villain. A thread that Irons continues with relative ease in Die Hard with a Vengeance.