MOTW: Yippie-Ki-Yay, Five Quotes that Defined "Die Hard"

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NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) becomes the only hope for a small group of hostages, one of whom is his estranged wife, trapped in a high-rise L.A. office building that's been seized by a group of terrorists on Christmas Eve. At the helm of the heist is evil mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Based on a novel by Roderick Thorp and directed by John McTiernan, Die Hard is the first of five films in the ultra successful action series.
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
January 30th, 2013

MRR's Movie of the Week: Yippie-Ki-Yay Movie Lovers: Five Quotes that Defined "Die Hard"

When the original "Die Hard" premiered in 1988, audiences were introduced to the heroic John McClane (Bruce Willis), an everyman police officer who found himself in an unwinnable situation against terrorists under the command of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McClane and the film defied expectations to become a major hit leading to four sequels. Part of the original's success stemmed from its use of sarcastic dialogue, which allowed Willis to use his roots as a sitcom actor to make McClane a wisecracking anti-hero. Some of that dialogue has become iconic, making its way into the pop culture lexicon, while other lines helped define the film's characters and their motivations. These quotes are what made "Die Hard" not only an action flick, but also a movie with rich characterization and humor.

"Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister."

After fighting off some of Gruber's henchmen at the top of Nakatomi Plaza, McClane finds himself walking on broken glass in bare feet. He picks up one of the fallen gunmen's shoes, only to find the footwear to be too small. In an era of over-the-top action films with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger playing muscle-bound superheroes, here was Willis as a broken-down New York cop in search for shoes that fit. It's a small, throwaway line in the middle of a pitched battle that says so much about McClane's character. Nothing was going his way, yet he still took a moment to make a sarcastic comment as if he were at a Los Angeles comedy club instead of a war zone.

"Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho."

The best action films have strong villains and "Die Hard" had one of the best in Hans Gruber. Alan Rickman plays up the character's smarts and droll humor, becoming the perfect foil for the hapless McClane. Reading a message from McClane after he has defeated some of his thugs, Gruber says the line, "Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho," with wit instead of anger. He enjoys the cat-and-mouse game that's being played and relishes the opportunity to face off against an equal. Dialogue like this not only enriched the characters, but added tension to the inevitable confrontation between Gruber and McClane.

"Come out to the Coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..."

The premise of "Die Hard" not only upended action movie conventions, but its setting during the holiday season made it a different type of Christmas movie. John McClane is a cop who has come out to the West Coast to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). The mix of marital strife with a holiday setting adds an element of intrigue in the film when McClane has to rescue his wife to save his marriage. When he first arrives, he feels regret over his choice to come to Los Angeles. But, when the terrorists strike, he'll do anything to save Holly. Even as he sits in a claustrophobic air vent, saying the "come out to the coast" line to himself, his biggest motivation is to ensure Holly is safe so his family can survive.

"This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly."

Another underlying theme of the film is a clash of cultures. Hans Gruber continuously taunts McClane by calling him a "cowboy," with allusions to John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone being used to cut the hero down while making a sly commentary on American culture. Even the use of Nakatomi Plaza and its Japanese owners as a growing sign of globalism in the late '80s makes McClane uneasy. He's unsure of their culture, wealth, and influence on his wife. Meanwhile, Gruber's band of terrorists is similar to the revolutionary groups that had gained prominence in Europe during the '70s. His wish for release of his comrades is symbolic of many of terrorist demands during the era, while his ultimate goal of stealing bearer bonds is indicative of the rise of capitalism throughout the world. All of these ideals and cultures come together in the explosive situation at Nakatomi Plaza, with McClane taking the role of the cowboy against a gang of outlaws and bandits. Just swap Nakatomi Plaza for a dusty, old town and you have yourself a modern western.

"Yippee-Ki-Yay"

The most famous quip in "Die Hard," "yippee-ki-yay" is McClane's response to Gruber deriding him as a cowboy. A defining piece of dialogue from the original film, it would be used once in each subsequent "Die Hard" film. It's even been a part of some of the promotional materials for the latest sequel, "A Good Day to Die Hard."Its use was never more effective, however than when used as a retort to the German terrorist who had taken over Nakatomi Plaza. Both an act of defiance and a rallying cry, "yippee-ki-yay" became the signature line from "Die Hard," and the quote most associated with the film series.