This classic action movie, and recent addition to many Top 10 Holiday Movie lists, features an array of firearms that serve as a gun time capsule for 1988.
"Die Hard" is simply one of the best action movies ever made. Period. It had so many original ideas that have been copied so often, I don't know that something like it can ever be made again—maybe after a few more decades pass.
Nothing about the first "Die Hard" film should have worked. It was a violent action movie set against a Christmas Eve backdrop in a corporate office building. The lead role, which was intended for established actions stars like Sylvester Stallone, was played by a guy known for light romantic TV fare like "Moonlighting," and not much else. It was an odd choice.
Plus, the actor playing the antagonistic bad guy was a British actor who was practically unknown in the U.S. The director, John McTiernan, had a huge hit with "Predator" in 1987, but that was his only claim to fame at the time.
What we got was actually an incredible movie where the hero wasn't an army-of-one, but more of an everyman put into an extraordinary situation, and somehow just keeps fighting his ass off.
Today, the movie is a classic, and has actually become a Christmas movie staple for a lot of people.
The Firearms of the Original "Die Hard"
The guns used in the film are very indicative of the time the movie was made.
To set things up, NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is in Los Angeles to visit his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and kids at Christmas time after the couple has been separated for several months. Holly took a lucrative job that required her to move to Los Angeles, and John refused to leave New York.
John McClane's Beretta
Even though he's off duty, McClane still carries his sidearm, a Beretta 92F pistol that he normally wears in a leather shoulder holster. Most people think his gun is a Beretta 92FS, but it's actually a slightly earlier model that is nearly identical.
McClane uses a Beretta 92FS in the next two "Die Hard" sequels, "Die Hard 2" and "Die Hard With a Vengeance," though he switched it up to a SIG SAUER in "Live Free or Die Hard."
We all know the rest of the story by now: a group of terrorists take over the building when it's empty for the holiday break, save for a Christmas party on one of the upper floors of the Nakatomi Building.
They take the party guests as hostages and use them and a list of bizarre demands to buy time while they break into the building's elaborate safe to steal hundreds of millions of dollars in bearer bonds.
When they strike, McClane is barefoot and in a tank top. He has just enough time to grab his pistol, and we presume the spare mags, before ducking into a stairwell to avoid being rounded up with the other hostages.
McClane keeps his Beretta with him throughout the movie, and Willis, who is left-handed, actually had the handgun modified with an extended slide release and mag release, which may have made the sidearm easier for him to operate left handed. He also reportedly picked up hearing damage from the scene where he fires his Beretta 92F through the bottom of a table to kill a terrorist above as he reloads his submachine gun because the blanks used on set were so loud and he was in such a confined space.
The Beretta is almost a character of its own. At the time, it had just been adopted in 1985 by the U.S. military to replace the revered M1911 and was representative of cutting edge 9mm, high magazine capacity handguns at a time when many law enforcement entities in the country were still carrying revolvers, including the NYPD.
The mammoth buddy cop hit, "Lethal Weapon" featured a protagonist who carried the same handgun and it was also prominently featured in that film as well.
MP5 Submachine Guns - Ho-Ho-Ho
The other weapons McClane uses are all harvested from killed terrorists/thieves, and most of them are armed with MP5 submachine guns.
When he takes out the first terrorist who comes looking for him on an upper floor still under construction, he sends his body back down to his 11 remaining buddies in an elevator with the words, "Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho" scrawled on the front of his sweatshirt. He even puts a Santa hat on him. John McClane is kind of a sick dude.
The MP5s in this movie are Heckler & Koch HK94s, which is common in Hollywood. The semi-auto civilian version of the guns are often converted to full auto and have the barrels cut down. If it has a lever-style magazine release, it's a genuine MP5, if it doesn't, it started off as an HK94.
Other Bad Guy Guns
Along with the mocked up MP5s, all the terrorist's guns are very European. Only three bad guys appear to carry handguns. We see Karl use a suppressed Walther PPK at the beginning of the movie when the terrorists take out the building's few security guards. Karl also has a different main weapon than the rest of the group, a Steyr AUG bullpup assault rifle, which was very distinctive at the time, and still is.
Heinrich is briefly seen with what looks to be a Walther P5 that he carries in a shoulder holster before McClane shoots him down and takes the detonators for the explosives on the roof.
The group's leader, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) is armed only with a handgun, a Heckler & Koch P7M13, which he also has a suppressor for. As is often done in movies, the pistol does not have an extended threaded barrel or the suppressor like the P7M13SD did. The fake suppressor is instead threaded inside the barrel, since it will only be firing blanks.
Gruber uses the pistol to execute the president of the Nakatomi Corporation, Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta), and later, Holly's cokehead co-worker Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner).
In the original script, Hans was also to have carried a Walther PPK like Karl, but perhaps to set him apart from the rest of the crew, he was given a P7M13, which was one of HK's most interesting and expensive handguns with its distinctive silhouette. That big lever that looks like a grip safety is actually a mechanism that cocks the firing pin on the striker-fired handgun, while also acting as a safety mechanism.
The Lone Revolver and Agent(s) Johnson
The only character who uses a wheelgun in "Die Hard" is Sgt. Al Powell of the LAPD, the first officer to respond to McClane's repeated calls for help. He carries a Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver in .38 Spl, which is dead on, as that was the standard sidearm of the LAPD from 1971 until 1988, when it was replaced by none other than the Beretta 92FS.
There's also some bigger hardware in the movie. When the bumbling version of a SWAT team moves in on the Nakatomi building, the bad guys blow up the cop's APC with a rocket launcher. The launcher is an original prop that is mounted on a tripod bolted to the concrete floor and includes some kind of digital aiming viewfinder.
The terrorists also have an M60, though we don't get to see it much. It's only used to turn Al Powell's car into Swiss cheese after McClane drops a body on the windshield to get his attention.
When the FBI special agents finally arrive on the scene, they do more harm than good and actually play right into Gruber's plans. And hilariously, they're both named Agent Johnson...no relation.
When the gunship helicopter flies to the building's roof pretending to be a transport chopper, Special Agent Johnson (Robert Davi) is using a Steyr SSG 69 rifle as a sniper rifle with a night-vision scope attached. There's also an M60 machine gun mounted in the door gunner position.
That Final Scene
We see McClane reload his Beretta with a second mag at least once, so we know he grabbed at least one spare mag when he grabbed his pistol. We can further assume he reloads them several times with 9mm ammo from the MP5 mags he takes off the bad guys. But at the end of the film, he is down to two 9mm rounds and an empty MP5.
He tapes the Beretta to his back, distracts the last two remaining bad guys who have Holly as a hostage, quick draws the pistol, and fires two shots on two targets like an Old West gunslinger.
It's one of the most memorable and badass moments in action movie history, directly followed by one of the best villain deaths ever put to film: the fall of Hans Gruber.
NEXT: GUNS FROM MOVIES: BLACK RAIN