MOTW: Top Five Quotes From "Die Hard"

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
February 13th, 2013

MOTW: Top Five Quotes From "Die Hard"

Never before in the history of awesome movie quotes have so many owed so much to one movie, as with the 1988 blockbuster classic, "Die Hard". Any decently organized and well-made movie can be expected to turn some kind of profit at the box office. This is especially true of enormous, totally over-the-top action flicks. It is a rare classic, however, that manages to permanently enter the culture and alter the very lexicon of ordinary people. The first film in the "Die Hard" series is exactly that kind of rare classic, and below are five of the very best lines that movie has-indeed, in context these are some of the best lines ever committed to the page of a Hollywood screenplay. And no, one of them will not be "Yippee-ki-yay".

"Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash."
The Harry Ellis character in "Die Hard" seems to have been written to encompass everything that was horrible about high-rise corporate culture in the 1980s. Ellis is a swaggering jerk who can't appear in a single scene without embarrassing himself and everyone around him. As a pompous, arrogant middle-management big-mouth, Ellis is filled with boundless unfounded confidence in his own abilities. He delivers this line to Holly right before he learns that the "Eurotrash" in question is considerably less than impressed with glad-handing hucksters who think they can "handle" a gang of super terrorists.

"Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
What's great about this line is not just the casual way that it manages to convey a quiet foreshadowing of the doom that the audience knows ultimately awaits Hans Gruber, although it certainly does that. What really sets this line apart and makes it memorable is that it's a casual taunt, tossed off recklessly by McClane in the heat of the moment when he scrawled it on the shirt of a dead terrorist, that expresses holiday cheer while people have been taken hostage in a towering skyscraper.

"I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite."
This delightful line is spoken near the climax of the movie, when Holly sees Hans Gruber snatching up the valuable bearer's bonds which were the targets of the robbery all along. Somewhat taken aback that Gruber isn't actually a member of the Baader-Meinhof gang, she blurts out: "You're nothing but a common thief!" The above line is Gruber's displeased and somewhat defensive retort as he gathers her up to use as a human shield and make good on his escape. What's nice about this line is the perfect attitude of shock-almost betrayal-Holly expresses when it dawns on her that all this time, she hasn't been the victim of a political crime, but rather an armed robbery. The defiant pride in Gruber's response is the perfect complement, as if he takes a great deal of pride in his work, and doesn't care for someone who can't appreciate it.

"Only John can drive somebody that crazy."
At one point, the hostages fear that McClane might have been killed. This fear evaporates when Holly sees Karl get news he doesn't like and go wild with rage. When Karl smashes a large glass table, Holly knows for sure that her husband is still alive. The implicit message to the audience here is that Holly, by virtue of being married to McClane, has either seen this rage before in other people or felt it herself. Turning it into a comforting reassurance that he hasn't been killed was an extremely canny move on the part of the screenwriter.

"But, all things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."
This quote is delivered by McClane himself. What makes it great isn't anything intrinsic to the line itself, but rather its context. It certainly is a rare work of fiction that dares to go both high and low at the same time. The makers of "Die Hard" were obviously so confident in their work that they put a high-culture quip commonly attributed to Oscar Wilde in the mouth of John McClane, action hero extraordinaire. At the same time, this line definitely doesn't feel tacked-on or gratuitous in any way. When Wilde spoke the line a century earlier, it may have expressed a wistful remembrance of a distant city he loved, but in "Die Hard," it's clearly a wish-almost a prayer-to be anywhere else, which is the driving motivation of the character.