Die Hard Beat Sheet: A Plot Guide for Writers

Whether or not you believe it’s a Christmas movie (it is), Die Hard is a classic action thriller. When a New York City police detective battles terrorists in a high-rise building at a Christmas party, the results are unforgettable. In this Die Hard beat sheet, we’ll show you how the screenplay fits Victor Piñeiro’s Screenplay Method (an underrated plot template in Plottr). Can we get a Yippee-Kay-Yay?

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Act 1: Setup

Beat 1 – A Day in The Life

Detective John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza, a high-rise building in Los Angeles, to attend a Christmas party thrown by the company his wife, Holly, now works for. She has been living and working in L.A. while he remained in New York. He hopes to heal their relationship by spending the holiday together.

Beat 2 – The Spark

McClane reunites with his wife, who has been working under her maiden name. He meets her co-worker Ellis, a coke-using egotistical jerk, and her boss, a rich jerk. As McClane cleans up for the party, a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber, overtakes the building and takes the partygoers hostage, including his wife.

Beat 3 – Do I Stay or Do I Go?

McClane escapes and hides, intending to take out the terrorists. Holly’s boss is killed for not surrendering information the terrorists want. McClane sees it happen before killing one of the terrorists, taking his gun and a bag of detonators. McClane sends the terrorist’s body down the elevator with a message: “Now I have a Machine Gun.”

Act 2: Confrontation

Beat 4 – Into the New World

John tries to alert the police, but the alarm is canceled. He then uses an emergency radio, and a lone cop, Officer Powell, comes to check things out. Getting the attention of the officer by throwing a dead body onto his car, McClane begins a dialog with him via the radio.

With the police responding slowly and reluctant to believe Powell, John begins a one-man mission to take down the terrorists.

Beat 5 – What is love?

McClane kills several terrorists and frees several hostages. Hans takes Holly hostage since her boss is now dead. Ellis tries to negotiate with Hans and is killed, leaving McClane feeling responsible.

Beat 6 – Melt Their Faces Off

McClane decides to determine what is really going on. Hans poses as one of the hostages, but McClane tricks him, figures out who he is, and confronts him.

A fight ensues—bullets are flying, there’s broken glass everywhere, terrorists are being killed. Hans escapes, and so does McClane, who hides out in a bathroom treating his bleeding feet.

McClane tells Powell to tell Holly he is sorry if he doesn’t make it out. The cops have a pool going on whether or not he will survive. The odds are not in his favor.

Beat 7 – Crossing the Rubicon

John returns to the roof and finds explosives. While he is figuring out how they were to be used, he is confronted by the brother of the first terrorist he killed. A fight ensues, and McClane finally wins. At the same time, FBI helicopters approach, intending to attack the terrorists while disguised as choppers coming to meet the terrorists’ demands. John races for the roof.

Beat 8 – False Victory

McClane chases the hostages off the roof by firing a machine gun into the air. It is a false victory, however. The FBI then fires on him and John runs. Hans orders his men to blow the roof, and the helicopters are taken out. McClane only survives by using a fire hose as a rope swing.

Beat 9 – The Long Journey Into the Night

Hans discovers through a television interview that Holly is, in fact, John McClane’s wife. He separates her from the other hostages and takes her captive. He lets John know he has her and then works as quickly as possible to empty the vault and make his escape. McClane takes the fight to him.

Beat 10 – Rock Bottom

McClane comes up with a plan and is able to dispatch most of the terrorists. The hostages flee out the front doors of the building, but Hans still has Holly. Approaching them, McClane realizes he has only two bullets left in his pistol.

Act 3: Resolution

Beat 11 – From the Ashes

McClane tapes his pistol to his upper back between his shoulders using some duct tape and Christmas tags. Shot and injured, out of options, he comes out of hiding to confront Hans. He’s able to outdraw Hans and shoot him. However, Hans stumbles out a window and grabs Holly’s arm, trying to save himself or take her with him.

Beat 12 – Time to Kick Some Butt

McClane rushes to Holly’s side, releases the clasp of her Rolex, and Hans falls to his death below. The terrorists are defeated, and Holly and McClane are reunited. A terrorist attempts one final shot at McClane, but Officer Powell draws his weapon for the first time in years and kills him. Argyle takes Holly and McClane away in his limo as they finally reconcile.

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