As far as action (and Christmas) movies go, John McTiernan’s Die Hard is damn-near perfect. It says a lot about a Bruce Willis movie when Bruce Willis isn’t the one delivering the worst one-liners (that honor belongs to Clarence Gilyard Jr., who plays computer nerd Theo—a.k.a. “The quarterback is toast!” guy). Which isn’t to say that the movie is flawless, or without plot holes. But thanks to Steven E. De Souza, the film’s co-writer, we now know the answer to one of the questions that has been nagging us for nearly 30 years.
In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Willis—as NYPD detective John McClane—stumbles upon criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman, in his feature film debut) who puts on a pretty good American accent to try and earn the trust of McClane, who is messing up the whole hostage situation Gruber has created. The two men kick back, smoke a cigarette, and chat it up like Nakatomi Plaza isn’t in the midst of a terrorist takedown. But at some point in the conversation, McClane realizes that Gruber is not good ol’ "Bill Clay" from the 29th floor.
After McClane hands Gruber a gun, it becomes clear to the audience that the wily detective knew he was being played. But what tipped him off? Gruber’s watch! What watch? Well, that’s a good question.
At a screening event for The Running Man, De Souza explained that a deleted scene would have made that clear. “There was originally a scene at the beginning of the film where Hans Gruber and his team all synchronize their watches, and the audience sees that every one of them is wearing the exact same watch,” wrote CinemaBlend’s Dirk Libbey. “As John McClane begins taking down the bad guys in the building, he notices this fact when searching the bodies, so when he sees Hans Gruber's watch, when handing him a cigarette, he knows he's dealing with another one.”
For total Die Hard diehards, the reason why the scene was scrapped is interesting, too: The ambulance that appears at the end of the movie as Gruber’s planned getaway vehicle was a last-minute decision on the set. Had the deleted scene played out as shot, the ambulance would be nowhere in sight—thus confusing viewers. So McTiernan opted to cut McClane’s timepiece revelation instead. Can we get a yippee-ki-yay?