The 1988 film Die Hard turned Bruce Willis into an action star and created a new subgenre of “heist” style films—where the hero faced numerous villains in a single location or restricted setting, in this case an office tower on Christmas Eve. The basic plot came from Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which was actually a sequel The Detective. That first book had actually previously been made into film adaption starring Frank Sinatra.
Now considered one of the great action films, and even named one of the best Christmas films, Die Hard has been credited with revitalizing the action genre. It has also been deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2017.
As the first film in what was to become one of the most popular and enduring action franchises, Die Hard still has a diverse “arsenal” of firearms. Throughout much of the film Bruce Willis’ character, Detective John McClane, carries a Beretta 92F—a departure from the book version, where the aging detective actually carried a Browning HiPower.
The villains wielded a variety of other small arms, including leader Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) who carried a hard chromed Heckler & Koch P7M13—a firearm that has been mistaken for a Walther PPK. Part of the confusion could lie in that fact that terrorist/thief Karl (Alexander Godunov) did use a suppressed PPK to kill a building security guard at the start of the film, while another terrorist was armed with a Walther P5.
The standard automatic weapon carried by the “terrorists” was the Heckler & Koch HK94. McClane was able to obtain one after killing a terrorist and left his body in the elevator with a message written in blood, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.” In the book, the terrorists had used Thompson submachine guns and AK-47s.
The aforementioned Karl also could be seen with a Steyr AUG assault rifle, which was reportedly chosen to show a more exotic weapon than the M16s carried by the LAPD’s SWAT team. While the AUG had already appeared on screen in the James Bond film Octopussy as well as in Robocop, it was in Die Hard that the weapon received some notable screen time.
The terrorists can also be seen with a “rocket launcher,” but it is a completely fictional weapon that seems to be little more than a tube mounted to an oversized tripod. It is unclear why a real weapon wasn’t utilized, but it could be that western weapons such as an AT-4 or LAW are single shot weapons, and for plot purposes the terrorists had to use a reloadable weapon. Still an RPG would have seemed like the more logical option.
John McClane did face fire from the bad guys and at one point came under fire from the FBI’s Huey helicopter, which was armed with an M60 machine gun.
The final bit of action in the film also involved Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), who was seen with a Smith & Wesson Model 15, which was in fact the standard sidearm of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1971 to 1988.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.