19 Things to Look for the Next Time You Watch Die Hard

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

John McClane was just a New York City cop trying to visit his wife and kids for Christmas, and then it all went wrong. Since being released in theaters 30 years ago, director John McTiernan’s Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, has earned its spot among the best action movies of all time. But how well do you know McClane’s gun-toting adventures through Nakatomi Plaza?

Say, “yippee ki-yay” cowboys, because here are some things you might not have noticed in the action classic.

1. JOHN MCCLANE’S TEDDY BEAR HAS BEEN AROUND.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When off-duty NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) steps off the plane in Los Angeles to visit his kids and estranged wife, he’s carrying a giant stuffed teddy bear as a Christmas gift. But the huge bear is more than just a present—the stuffed animal is a trademark of director John McTiernan, who later used the bear as a prop in his 1990 film The Hunt for Red October.

2. WHAT’S HOLLY MAIDEN NAME AGAIN?

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When McClane makes it to Nakatomi Plaza and signs in on the computer system with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), he’s forced to check in using her maiden name. The touch-screen computer lists her surname as “Gennaro.” But when he touches the name it switches to “Gennero.” So much for wanting to be a McClane.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

3. THERE ARE SUBTLE DIGS AT A COUPLE OF BIG-NAME ACTION STARS.

Die Hard remains a classic due to the fact that its fallible lead character was unleashed on the world during a 1980s action movie landscape that featured indestructible on-screen heroes like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both Stallone and Schwarzenegger turned down the role of John McClane, and the movie makes some inside baseball jokes at their expense for the snub.

Terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) makes fun of McClane as a kind of one-man army out of a Stallone movie, and McClane also makes a sly dig by saying the explosives on the Nakatomi roof are “enough to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

4. THE TERRORISTS GET AROUND WITH THE SAME COURIER SERVICE.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Gruber’s terrorist group arrives at Nakatomi Plaza in a green box truck that says "Pacific Courier" on the side. A similar truck that says "Atlantic Courier" on the side was used in the New York City-set Die Hard: With A Vengeance, which featured Hans Gruber's brother Simon as the villain. "Pacific Courier" also appears in Speed. All three movies featured the same production designer, Jackson De Govia.

5. NAKATOMI PLAZA WAS 20TH CENTURY FOX.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The exteriors of the film’s marquee location were shot at Fox Plaza, the real-life headquarters of 20th Century Fox, the film studio that made the film. The computer system Ellis hacks into sports the exact address of the actual building, and the (now defunct) emergency contact phone numbers were allegedly the actual numbers for the management of Fox Plaza. The building was under construction during filming, and the scenes that show it half-finished were filmed exactly as the building was at the time.

6. THE NAKATOMI ARCHITECTS MUST LOVE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT.

The 34th floor of the Nakatomi building, where Holly's company Christmas party is being held, is supposed to be a recreation of the interior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

7. JOSEPH TAKAGI HAS A LINK TO PEARL HARBOR.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) defends his homeland of Japan with a clap back at McClane’s snark by telling him, “Pearl Harbor didn't work out, so we got you with tape decks.” That’s not the only Takagi family connection to December 7, 1941.

“Akagi” is the password that opens the Nakatomi Plaza's bank vault, and was also the name of one of the aircraft carriers that took part in the fateful attack.

8. THE POLICE CHIEF WAS RIGHT ABOUT BRUCE WILLIS'S OTHER JOBS.

Lovable police officer Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) tries to convince Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson (Paul Gleason) that McClane is a cop by referencing his ability to spot a phony ID on the terrorists in the building. But Johnson doesn’t believe him, saying, “He could be a f***ing bartender for all we know!” It’s a funny quip, but also true: Willis used to be a bartender in New York before getting into the acting business.

9. WILLIS SUFFERED PERMANENT HEARING LOSS BECAUSE OF THE FILM.

A scene from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

McTiernan wanted to give the gunshots in the movie an overly realistic feel, so he had the production rig the blanks to be extra loud. Much to Willis’s detriment, the move cost him parts of his hearing. In the scene where Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, the actor is holding the gun extremely close to his face. The resulting shots caused the actor permanent hearing loss.

In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, Willis recalled the scene, saying, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’"

10. THERE ARE SOME REAL FALLS.

In the scene where McClane makes an epic jump into an elevator shaft, the stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent—but missed completely. The resulting footage shows the actor slipping further down the shaft. McTiernan and co-editor Frank Urioste kept it in the final cut because it made the scene more harrowing.

Similar trickery happened during the filming of Gruber’s death scene stunt: McTiernan allegedly told Rickman—who did his own stunt for the scene—that he would be dropped 70-feet on a count of three. But to get a look of real terror on Rickman’s face, McTiernan had him dropped on the count of two, hence Gruber’s memorably terrified look before he plunges to his death.

11. THERE ARE LOTS OF VISIBLE STUNT PEOPLE.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Willis attempted to do as many of his own stunts as he could, saying, “I think doing my own stunts whenever possible adds a lot to the production value of the film,” and “John [McTiernan] can get the camera close, because he doesn’t need to disguise the stuntman.” But the production hired as many as 37 stuntmen to pull off McClane’s death defying stunts—and a lot of them are visible. Be on the lookout for Non-Bruce Willises in most fight and explosion scenes.

A scene from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

12. HANS GRUBER AND HIS GOONS DON’T ACTUALLY SPEAK GERMAN.

Americans might think the German language that Gruber and his goons speak to one another sounds legit, but it’s actually gibberish. The grammar, diction, and pronunciation don’t actually match up. In the German release of the movie, Gruber’s group were described as being from "Europe" instead of Germany.

Weirdly enough Willis was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

13. GRUBER’S GOONS ARE CLUMSY.

In the shot where some of Gruber’s men enter Nakatomi Plaza, the terrorist on the left as they walk through a doorway almost runs into the door frame. The camera cuts away before he actually does, but the gaffe doesn’t bode well for Gruber or his men for the rest of the movie.

14. THE TERRORISTS ARE ALSO REDUNDANT.

The rocket launcher Gruber's men use to stop the LAPD’s armored vehicle breaks the same window in two different scenes.

A scene from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A scene from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

15. MCCLANE ISN’T ALWAYS BAREFOOT.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

McClane spends much of the movie running through broken glass with bare feet, which must have been terrible for Willis—except it wasn’t. The actor was given a pair of specially made rubber feet as a safety precaution. The fake appendages can be seen in the scene when McClane jumps off the ledge as the FBI shoots at him from the helicopter.

16. NAKATOMI PLAZA STANDS ALONE.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The scene where McClane glances out of the window of Nakatomi Plaza to see a woman couldn’t actually happen. Shots of the Nakatomi building in the movie show that there are no buildings close by or buildings of comparable height that close for McClane to see.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

17. THE HO-HO-HO TERRORIST MIGHT STILL BE ALIVE.

A scene from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When McClane fights and kills the grey-sweatshirt-wearing terrorist and leaves his famous “Now I Have a Machine Gun—Ho, Ho Ho” line written on him for Hans to find, the terrorist might not be as dead as we realized. When Hans goes to move the terrorist’s head, the actor playing him blinks.

18. THE INCREDIBLE DISAPPEARING AND APPEARING AMBULANCE.

A screen grab from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When Gruber’s terrorists enter the Nakatomi building, they leave out of the Pacific Courier box truck with nothing else inside. Later in the movie, Ellis attempts to carry out their getaway plan by driving an ambulance out of the back of the same truck, even though the extra vehicle—which would be hard to miss—wasn’t there earlier in the movie.

In a behind-the-scenes twist, Gruber’s planned getaway vehicle was actually a last-minute decision on the set, which explains the incongruity.

A scene from 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

19. HOW DID MCCLANE KNOW GRUBER WAS A BAD GUY?

In the scene where McClane unwittingly stumbles on Gruber—who identifies himself as Bill Clay and puts on a convincing American accent—it’s never made 100 percent clear how McClane realizes that Clay isn’t who he says he is. We see McClane glance up at a directory of the building's occupants, but don't get a large enough view to see whether a "Clay" is or is not listed (one would think Gruber would be smart enough to see that himself and choose a fake name accordingly). Though one might assume that that's the moment our hero knows he's not dealing with a straight-shooter, it's actually Gruber's timepiece that tips him off—a tiny plot hole that can all be explained by a deleted scene.

McClane takes notice of Gruber's watch before he hands the terrorist an empty gun, but nothing about the watch is introduced in the actual movie. There was supposed to be a scene where Hans Gruber and his team synchronize the exact same watch they all wear, and, according to screenwriter Steven E. De Souza, “When Bruce offers the cigarette to Alan Rickman, Bruce sees the watch. You see his eyes look at the watch. That's how he knows that he is one of the terrorists.”

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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