What is the difference-maker between a forgettable film and a film that is rewatchable and recommendable for more people?
The same three features that make pro wrestling ultrapopular and megaprofitable. Yes, really! I call them the 3 Count!
Using pro wrestling terminology, I’ll review “Die Hard” for its 3 Count, and other pro wrestling concepts, to see why “Die Hard” is still one of the most popular and profitable movies of all time.
Let’s get ready to “Die Hard”!
Absolutely everyone on the planet has heard of “Die Hard.” It’s arguably one of the most over action movies of all time. Not only did it make over 5x its budget when it was released, it’s also one of the highest rated movies of all time. Its legacy includes a ton of sequels, the start of Bruce Willis’ action movie push, the beginning of the “Die Hard on an X” action genre (e.g. “Speed” is “Die Hard” on a bus), and the annual conversation about its status as a Christmas movie.
Hey, should we just go-home now because the 3 Count Movie Review rating is obviously going to be a Hall of Famer?
No! Let’s still give “Die Hard” the 3 Count Movie Review treatment, and SPOILER ALERT!
Let’s look at the trailer’s Butts in Seats Gimmick, the marketing hook that’s supposed to make people say, “I’ve got to see that!”
The Butts in Seats Gimmick
A New York cop is trying to rescue his wife and other hostages by battling a faction of murdering thieves in an LA skyscraper. “Die Hard” is like a cage match with guns! It’s a big, expensive, R-rated action movie, so it needs to appeal to tons of action marks and make a ton of cash. And the trailer makes “Die Hard” look like a fun movie for all.
Now, let’s look at the movie’s 3 Count, starting with Babyfaces vs Heels (good guys vs bad guys), one of the most basic ingredients for emotional investment in any story.
The 3 Count
1. Babyfaces vs Heels
Yes, “Die Hard” has babyface vs heels! Let’s start with the main babyface, the iconic “cowboy” John McClane.
What babyface credibility does McClane have? First of all, he’s got a noble goal. He’s an outnumbered, unprepared, underdog doing his best to eliminate the heel team and save lives. That makes his situation hard enough, but other “babyface” characters (the LAPD, FBI and a coked-up salesman named Ellis) keep blind tagging in and making things worse for John. This creates empathy within the viewer for John.
But John McClane also has the qualities every pro wrestling babyface needs.
- Likeability. McClane pops you because he’s funny as hell. He never stops running his mouth, and it helps his connectivity with the audience.
- Selling. And he sells his ass off! McClane always shows his disappointment, anger and pain, which is great. His vulnerability makes him relatable.
- Firing-up. After all the selling McClane does, his fire-ups keep him from looking weak. He’s constantly pulling off last-second kick-outs in certain death situations. Check out the following NSFW clip for a classic John McClane fire-up. It’s got the 3 steps of a classic John McClane fire-up:
- McClane is near-death.
- He pulls a desperation maneuver that kills a heel.
- He says a one-liner, like it was no big deal.
McClane’s fire-ups have another notable, signature quality: impulsive resourcefulness. He reminds me of ECW’s Sandman. Neither John McClane nor Sandman think about what they’re going to do. They just DO what they’re going to do! If McClane needs to kill a guy on the other side of the table, he just unloads the clip through the table. When Sandman’s in the ring, but wants to hit a guy outside the ring with the Singapore cane…
Meanwhile, Hans Gruber and his crew are the movies’ heels.
Hans leads the faction of thieves/terrorists that get heat with John in Nakatomi Plaza. Hans and his crew have all the qualities of classic wrestling heels, like lying, and stealing. Of course, that’s on top of all the murder they commit in Nakatomi Plaza while trying to buy time until they can get into the vault.
Gruber leads a dedicated team of armed killers, which means the heels have a big advantage the babyfaces don’t have; the heels are a cohesive team. They all have different heel gimmicks, like psychopathic killer, heel security guard, and computer nerd (nerds were jobbers in 80s movies, but Theo in “Die Hard” is an annoying, computer nerd heel). But the whole team has the same goal: follow Hans’ plan to get rich. They’re like a mostly German version of the Heenan Family!
So far, “Die Hard” is 1 for 1 for the 3 Count because it has babyfaces vs heels. Off to a good start!
Now, let’s look for Top Talent in “Die Hard.” Top Talent wrestlers (and movie characters) stand out from everyone else for their charisma, quotability, distinctive appearance, fun-to-imitate qualities, and huge drawing power at the box office. So, does “Die Hard” have any Top Talent?
2. Top Talent
Although “Die Hard” is full of great characters, too many to cover in this review, McClane and Gruber are the film’s Top Talent characters.
- He runs his mouth so much that he’s created multiple, quotable, “wrestling t-shirt ready” catchphrases. Hell, even the line he’s best known for has been considered the greatest one-liner in movie history. (That line is my pick for the Most Over Gimmick of the movie, the thing that resonates from the movie the most. It’s as good as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s “Gimme a Hell Yeah” or The Rock’s “If You Smell What the Rock is Cooking.”)
- His signature appearance is easy to cosplay: dress slacks, undershirt, machine gun, a little color on the face, and shoeless feet. It’s like he’s got a working-class hero gimmick (which is a great counterpoint to Gruber’s coiffed facial hair and expensive powersuits.)
- He’s got tons of “wrestling t-shirt ready”quotes as McClane. But his biggest standout quality is his unique delivery of dialogue, which slips back and forth between being melodic and robotic.
The following clip is McClane and Gruber’s first interaction in the movie and captures the performances that helped make them both Top Talent. NSFW language!
“Die Hard” has a 2 Count, so far!
Now, let’s look at how well the storytelling technique of pro wrestling, called Ring Psychology, can be applied to “Die Hard.”
3. Ring Psychology
Ring Psychology is the form of storytelling wrestlers use to create the emotional peaks and valleys in their matches while they fight for the story’s momentum. Let’s look at the Ring Psychology for “Die Hard.”
Act 1: Entrances
The ring is the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles!
Babyfaces’ entrances: The babyfaces are a fractured team. They either argue with each other, or they’re total strangers, and some of them don’t enter until Act 2 starts. Then, McClane ends up having to start the match-up without shoes on, like he’s Jimmy Snuka or something. This is a bad start.
Heels’ entrances: The heels start hot! They enter as a team, kill security guards, rough up some helpless jobbers at an office Christmas party, and shoot the office’s manager, all because they want access to the building’s vault. Damn, how much heel heat can people get just walking in the building?!
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a Money in the Vault match! The match ends when either the hostages are saved and the terrorists are dead, or when the terrorists escape with all the loot. FALLS COUNT ANYWHERE IN THE BUILDING!
Act 2: Ring the Bell!
“Die Hard” has fantastic Ring Psychology once the conflict starts. The pattern of cutoffs and heat and hopespots creates great pacing and escalating intensity. Here’s an example:
McClane pulls the fire alarm to tag in cops and firemen. Good thinking!
Cutoff and Get Heat
But the terrorists call in a false alarm and send Tony in with his machine gun to squash McClane. Tony and McClane face off in singles competition, and…
They fall down some stairs, and Tony breaks his neck. Pure, dumb luck worked out to McClane’s advantage, and now he has a machine gun. Ho – Ho – Ho.
Cutoff and Get Heat
McClane calls the cops with Tony’s walkie talkie, but they don’t believe his story! They’re not going to help! The terrorists find John and send him retreating; he runs, hides, does a high-risk maneuver in a huge air shaft and loses his machine gun. No – No – No! Then, he nearly gets discovered and killed in an air vent by psychopathic Karl! But Karl powders when he is called away. Pure, dumb luck that John survived.
And so it goes! Skipping ahead, one of my favorite highspots is when McClane throws a dead terrorist’s body out a window and onto Sgt Al Powell’s cop car to smarten him up about the terrorists. Here it is with a little pro wrestling I threw in…
Act 3: The Go-Home
The go-home of the movie is pretty spectacular, and it starts with McClane at the lowest point in the movie.
Hans has all the momentum. He got access to the vault and is planning on sending the hostages to the roof, then exploding it so he and his crew can powder in all the confusion. His plan is nearly complete.
Meanwhile, shoeless John is in the bathroom and selling while pulling chunks of glass out of his bare feet, getting foot color everywhere. He’s also saying his good-byes over the walkie-talkie to Sgt. Powell. John thinks he’s going to die! I mean, he is really down and out and about to lose to Hans!
But John stops to ask himself what Hans was doing near the roof earlier when McClane nearly had Hans captured. Asking that question is the beginning of McClane’s comeback.
Fire-up and Comeback
McClane staggers upstairs, finds the pile of C4, and a jolt of energy shoots through him as he fires-up! He kills the taller, stronger, psychopathic Karl in a brutal hand-to-hand fight, he sends the hostages downstairs to safety and pulls the amazing highspot with the rooftop jump just as the pyro goes off and explodes the roof.
In a clean finish, McClane goes over when he saves Holly after killing all the terrorists and sends Hans flying a few dozen floors to the ground below. According to Royal Rumble rules, Hans loses because he was tossed to the outside and both feet touch the floor.
After all of this, when the terrorists are dead and the hostages are not, John and his wife Holly reunite, and live happily ever after. (Well, according to the sequels, they don’t, but whatever.)
The Ring Psychology in “Die Hard” is awesome. It’s one of the greatest action movies ever for a lot of reasons, including that it isn’t go, go, go the whole time. After each big scene, there’s a rest hold scene that follows, then another action scene. This makes for a build of escalating intensity all through the movie with nice pacing. That’s 3 for 3 in the 3 Count!
The Blow OFf
“Die Hard” has the 3 Count, and a strong 3 Count, to boot! Man, “Die Hard” has everything you need to make a classic movie! Classic and likable babyfaces vs dastardly heels, iconic Top Talent characters as iconic as the biggest wrestlers of all time, and Ring Psychology that creates a fun ride for everyone. And its legacy should be the envy of any filmmaker, because few films have a bigger cultural impact than “Die Hard.” And let’s agree on this now… “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie! Yippee-Ki-Yay, wrestling marks! “Die Hard” is a Hall of Famer!