Great Scene: “Die Hard”

February 2nd, 2013 by

Hard to believe, but it was 20 years ago that the action movie Die Hard was released. It grossed $138M worldwide – not bad for a movie with a production budget of just $28M. People forget, but Bruce Willis was not a huge movie star when Die Hard came out. Fresh off his success in the TV series “Moonlighting,” Willis had had only one starring movie role in the underwhelming Blind Date (1987). So it was a huge gamble for 20th Century Fox to go after Willis, especially for an action movie, when he had made a name for himself as a light romantic-comedy lead. But to his credit, producer Larry Gordon finagled a $5M offer to Willis, he bit, and the rest is history.

The scene here is taken from the shooting script – note the scene numbers – but still retains some great action-writing. Note the use of intercuts between various characters and sub-locations within the primary setting — those quick bits of business help to sustain the action. Also, the writers use CAPS on key words to highlight not only sound but also movement — that is one way to ‘direct’ a script without using directing lingo (e.g., ZOOM IN, TILT UP, PAN ACROSS) as the capped words naturally draw the reader’s attention. Caps can be overdone, but used judiciously, they can help break up scene description and punch certain key actions for readers.

348     THE ROOF                                              348

        McClane herds the last of the hostages inside, starts for the
        door himself, when with a ROAR and a CHATTER of rotors, the
        lead chopper zooms overhead!  McClane throws himself down on the
        ground, looks up as the chopper banks in a tight turn and then
        from the open side GUNFIRE erupts!  Shocked, McClane DIVES out
        of the way of the bullets that stitch across the door.


        descending, SCREAMING and HOWLING as a chopper SWEEPS past a
        window on a loop back towards the roof.

350     IN THE CHOPPER                                        350

        Both Johnsons FIRE AWAY

                                BIG JOHNSON
                 Bank and we'll nail him!

351     THE VAULT ROOM                                        351

        Hans whirls towards Kristoff.

                 Blow the roof.  Now!

                 But Karl and Uli are up there --

        CAMERA ADJUSTS to show the remote detonator on a table.  Hans
        goes to it.

352     THE ROOF                                              352

        McClane DIVES away from another burst.

                 You assholes, I'm on your side -- !

        They come in on another pass.  Desperate, he looks around, see
        a fire hose.  Makes up his mind.  With the chopper LOOMING UP
        behind him, he slings Uli's weapon, runs to the fire hose,
        unreels three yards, loops it around his back and under his legs.
        He looks over the edge, hesitates:

                 Fuck this...

        Bullets HIT all around him.  He JUMPS:

353     THE VAULT ROOM                                        353

        Hans extends the antenna...HITS the button.

354     LONG SHOT - THE ROOF                                  354

        The helipad EXPLODES!  A FIREBALL rolls into the sky.

355     THE HOSTAGES                                          355

        lose their footing on the floor.  Dust and debris fall down,
        but they're okay.

356     JOHNSON AND JOHNSON'S CHOPPER                         356

        STRAINS to avoid the rising fireball...can't!  It's CAUGHT in
        the explosion!  It tips over, a rotor hits the roof -- it
        CRASHES, EXPLODES, tumbles down the side of the building!

357     MCCLANE                                               357

        Dangling against the side of the building, he DUCKS and winces
        as FLAMING DEBRIS soar past him.

358     THE ROOF - HOSE WHEEL DEVICE                          358

        Flame ROARS TOWARDS it, engulfs it.  It JERKS on its foundation
        PIVOTS 180 degrees as several bolts slip:

359     MCCLANE                                               359

        DROPS several more feet.  He swallows, then KICKS against the
        side of the building, his bloody feet leaving smears.  The
        shatterproof glass doesn't budge!  Wincing as more FLAMING DEBRIS
        sizzles by, McClane levels the machine gun, KICKS off from the
        building, SWINGS back ten feet -- reaches the zenith of his
        arc -- FIRES the gun and sails back in:

360     INSIDE THE BUILDING                                   360

        McClane SMASHES through the shattered glass, SAILS inside, rolls
        onto the floor, PLOWING through furniture and decor.  Finally
        he STOPS, catches his breath with relief...rises to one knee:

361     UP ON THE ROOF                                        361

        The fire hose mounting is BLASTED off the roof, SAILS past the

362     OUTSIDE THE BUILDING                                  362

        The hose mechanism tumbles downward!

363     INSIDE                                                363

        McClane is YANKED off his feet, dragged towards the window!

364     THE HOSE WHEEL - OUTSIDE                              364

        It SLIDES down the side of the building!  The hose PLAYS OUT
        on the edge of the windowsill, dragging McClane towards his death!

365     MCCLANE                                               365

        CLAWS at the help.  Inches from the shattered window,
        he braces his legs against the sill, groans as he fights the
        weight of the hose and the reel.  One foot SLIPS.  Only his
        already wounded foot keeps him indoors.

        He scrambles to untie his improvised rappeling rig -- gets free
        just before the hose nozzle CRASHES out and into the great beyond!

        Winded, strength ebbing, he staggers to his feet -- just in time

366     THE ROOF                                              366

        to RECOIL from another staggering explosion!

367     THE HOSTAGES                                          367

        They scream, cry out:

368     IN THE VAULT ROOM                                     368

        As Holly covers her head from falling plaster, the men work
        like automatons, piling up the bonds.

369     MCCLANE                                               369

        recovers from another AFTERSHOCK, runs up the steps -- is
        momentarily amazed to HEAR a "ding" from the elevator -- he looks

370     THE SHAFT                                             370

        where suddenly the WALL EXPLODES OUTWARD as an ENTIRE ELEVATOR
        CRASHES THROUGH THE WALL, swinging on its cable like a
        demolition ball on a crane!

371     BACK TO SCENE                                         371

        McClane runs up the steps as brickwork flies past his head like

372     THE ELEVATOR                                          372

        reaches the apex of its swing, drops down in an arcing turn:

373     WIDE SHOT                                             373

        the elevator CRASHES into the stairs!  The section McClane in
        on SNAPS LOOSE!  At the last minute McClane LEAPS towards:

374     THE VAULT FLOOR BALCONY                               374

        and catches it as stairs and elevator CRUMBLE behind and beneath
        him!  With his last effort, he hauls himself onto the balcony
        and them moves off!

                                                    CUT TO:

A paradigmatic action movie set of scenes.

[Originally posted Aug. 8, 2008]

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