Die Hard (Story Structure/Breakdown)
Screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. De Souza
Based on the novel "Nothing Lasts Forever" by Roderick Thorp
Point of Attack | Set Up
John McClane arrives in Los Angeles from New York to visit his estranged wife and children (in an attempt at reconciliation) during Christmas.
Inciting Incident | Catalyst
During a Christmas Eve office party, a group of "terrorists" seize the Nakatomi building where McClane’s wife works and take 60 employees hostage, including McClane’s wife, Holly. McClane, who was at the party, escapes being captured by slipping into the stairwell and going to another floor but remains trapped inside the building.
Call to Action (and Debate)
McClane immediately answers the call to action (there is no "debate") and begins formulating a plan to save his wife and the hostages.
First Turning Point | Plot Point 1
“Terrorist” Hans Gruber kills Takagi and McClane is thrown into a dangerous situation.
SUCCESS & FAILURE (FIRST ATTEMPT TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM) – McClane sets off the fire alarm to notify 911 dispatchers of an emergency situation. But the “terrorists” are tapped into the system and notify emergency dispatch it is a false alarm. No help arrives. And now, the “terrorists” are aware of McClane’s presence and are determined to kill him.
SUCCESS & FAILURE (COMPLICATIONS ENSUE) - Two “terrorists” attack McClane. He manages to kill them and acquire one of their two-way radios and a gun. McClane uses the radio to contact emergency dispatch to report the situation – but the dispatcher doesn’t believe him and the “terrorists” hear his call. Now the brother of one of the ‘terrorists’ he killed is on a mission to take him out. Karl and two other “terrorist” chase McClane into an airshaft. Just before they are about to find him and kill him, the ‘terrorists’ retreat to the hostage area.
A patrol officer finally drives by the Nakatomi building but determines nothing is amiss. Just as the officer is driving away, McClane tosses a body onto the windshield of the police car and fires a volley of shots from a machine gun. Now he has their attention. The police are on their way to the building. A brief moment of victory.
DESCENT (THE VILLAIN IS MORE POWERFUL THAN THE HERO) – Hans kills an employee named Ellis and the police blame McClane for the death. The "terrorists" blow up the SWAT truck and stop the FBI team from entering the building by hitting them with a hail of bullets. The bad guys are winning.
Crisis Point | Second Turning Point | Plot Point 2
While looking for the detonators McClane acquired from one of his “terrorist” kills, Hans and McClane run into each other. Hans tricks McClane into believing he is an innocent hostage. McClane is attacked by Karl, loses the detonators to the "terrorists” and Hans gets away, only to take McClane’s wife, Holly, as a personal hostage.
REFLECTION & ENLIGHTENMENT – McClane figures out that Hans plans to slip away with the stolen money by blowing up the roof of the Nakatomi building with the hostages (so the FBI will believe he and the other "terrorists" have died in the explosion).
RUN UP TO THE CLIMAX – McClane ascends to the roof and gets the hostages out of danger then sets out to find his wife, Holly. The roof blows up and McClane uses a fire hose to swing down the building and through the glass onto a lower floor.
Climax | Final Confrontation
McClane confronts Hans and shoots him with a gun he has hidden and taped to his back. Hans crashes through a window and falls several stories to his death. McClane has killed the bad guys, and saved Holly and the hostages.
Resolution | Denouement
McClane and his wife stumble out of the Nakatomi building, bruised and battered and hugging one another. Officer Powell shoots Karl dead, Holly punches out the annoying television reporter, and the limo-guy, Argyle, drives the couple off into the sunset.