Director John McTiernan’s 1988 action blockbuster may have us rooting for the shoeless, wise-cracking John McClane (Bruce Willis), but the effortlessly conniving Hans Gruber (the late Alan Rickman) was the real star of Die Hard.
Smart, savvy, and unnervingly professional, Hans led his gang of thieves’ takeover of a major metropolitan high rise with a refined, confident nonchalance, and became the blueprint for all action movie villains that came in his wake.
There may be an ongoing debate on whether or not Die Hard is a proper Christmas movie, but there’s no arguing that Hans is the defining villain of the action movie genre, partially because he’s so very clever (and stylish). For the next time you need to prove that you are an evil genius and a true great one, remember these words from the infamous Hans Gruber.
“‘And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ Benefits of a classical education.”
Right off the bat, Hans just oozes charisma — not just because of his worldly charm, but the way he effortlessly works such specific historical references into conversation, (even though he fudges the quote a little bit). First impressions are very important, and Hans ensures that he will make a lasting one as he recalls Alexander the Great and how he reacted to dominating such a large portion of the civilized world.
Point being, small-talk never elevated anyone to the status of greatness, so don’t be afraid to drop a little bit of insight into the conversation now and then. So long as your comments are intelligent, articulate, and a little bit charming, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be remembered long after your introduction.
“I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask.”
Even when Hans ends up disappointed in something, rather than letting his temper flare, he expresses his unhappiness with the same monotone, graceful cordiality that he’s known for. Take note: it’s inevitable that things aren’t going to go your way in life. How you handle them is going to speak volumes about your character which will have a hand in whether you are remembered or cast aside.
“You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?”
Sizing up your opponent is vital to maintaining your greatness, and Hans is able to do it while taking a couple none-too-subtle shots at our hero, not to mention American culture on the whole. Hans mocks the archetype of the lone hero defeating an army of bad guys against all odds (which is just a bit ironic, considering the circumstances).
Regardless, this is peak Hans Gruber. A meticulously organized super-thief with a towering intellect who struts through Nakatomi Plaza 100% confident in his plan, despite John McClane being a constant, henchman-killing thorn in his side. Knowing your adversary is key, but getting under their skin can reveal more about them than anything.
“I read about them in Time magazine.”
This is Hans’ grandeur on full display. Looking to buy him and his team time, Hans starts rattling off the names of political prisoners around the globe, all to send law enforcement on a diplomatic wild goose chase. As he seamlessly chatters on about group after group, Karl (Alexander Godunov) tilts his head in confusion, to which Hans simply mutters that he’d read a story about them in-between making his “official” demands.
Sure, substance is an admirable quality to have, but sometimes there’s no substitute for rattling off a couple of headlines you skimmed over in your Twitter feed to make you sound like a well-read expert on global affairs. There really is a certain majesty to someone who is a true and accomplished bullsh*t artist.
“Shoot the glass!”
Hans’ and his merry band of terrorists had a lot at their disposal. Brute strength, automatic weapons, computer savvy, and even the ability to blend in when the situation called for it. While Hans was a master planner, he deserves a lot of credit for adaptability. Cornered by John McClane? Fake an American accent and pretend to be a hostage. Have John McClane cornered? Notice he’s barefoot and use that to your merciless advantage.
You can spend weeks, months, even years orchestrating something, but unless you’ve got the ability to think outside the box and use the moment to your advantage, you’ll find out first hand the meaning behind the expression “best laid plans.”
“When they touch down, we’ll blow up the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they work out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach earning twenty percent.”
The exclamation point at the end of Hans’ scheme: he and his crew lay waste to a building, further preoccupying the authorities, giving them more enough time to disappear into paradise. Even as John McClane continues to be a real obstacle in their path, Hans never abandons this idea. True greatness is remaining undeterred by life’s obstacles, and holding fast to your dreams.
Great aspirations can do a lot, but you need a certain tenacity to help keep your goals front and center, along with a determination to keep going no matter what. If not, you’ll be tempted to give up at the first sign of trouble. Granted, if your dreams involve stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in bearer bonds, you should probably rethink your life. Just sayin’.
“I am an exceptional thief.”
He can have a renegade police officer running barefoot through the skyscraper he’s holding hostage, he can lose his henchman one by one, and have most of the LAPD and a couple of Feds surrounding him, but he doesn’t really seem to get agitated until Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) accuses him of being a common thief. A clear believer in greatness being it’s own reward, everything Hans does, he does with a distinct sense of style. Regardless of his motivations (or actions, for that matter), you can’t deny that Hans Gruber epitomized the very essence of greatness.
After all, if you don’t believe in your greatness, you can’t expect others to. And if that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time before your plan goes down like, well… you know where I’m going with this.
You can pick up Die Hard on Blu-Ray here.