12 Hours Watching John McClane: The Diary of a Die Hard Marathoner

One reporter went to a movie theater to watch all five Die Hard Films. This is his story.

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A poster featuring cast members Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney hangs behind a crowd as the actors met with fans to celebrate the opening of their new film "A Good Day To Die Hard" in New York on Feb. 13, 2013.

Today is February 14, Valentine’s Day. But more importantly, today marks the release of the fifth film in the Die Hard quintilogy, A Good Day to Die Hard. To commemorate the occasion, Regal Cinemas showed all five films back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back over the course of twelve hours at nearly 100 theaters across the country. I was there for all of it—the good, the bad, and the McClane. Here’s what went down…

11:00 AM (EST): An endeavor such as this naturally required the use of a go-bag. Unfortunately, mine was mostly filled with Lunchables and expired Regal Crown Club cards. I would not be a good action hero. (There may have also been a sandwich and banana in there, but that’s beside the point.)

11:30: I don’t know why, but I half-expected to see a massive crowd gathered outside the theater—maybe even John McClane (Bruce Willis) himself—to greet us. But no, pretty much just your average 11:30 on a Wednesday morning crowd in the lobby, which is to say nobody.

11:50: Apparently there wasn’t much competition for my chosen seat—all the way in the top/back corner of the stadium seating theater, which I figured would allow me to live-tweet and write notes under my jacket without bothering anyone. Not having anyone in my row helped too.

11:55: And here we go! Theater is about one-third filled and people do not seem to be especially excited to be there, but that might just be an energy-saving tactic. Following a brief on-screen message from John McClane himself, we’re off.

12:00 PM EST: Die Hard
PLOT: New York City police officer John McClane goes to visit his wife at Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Plaza on the day before Christmas. Terrorists hold the building’s occupants hostage and it’s up to McClane to save the day (that last part will become something of a pattern throughout the marathon).

12:05: Die Hard‘s first scene reminds me that I’ve never really tried the post-flight “make-fists-with-your-toes-and-run-them-along-a-rug” technique that McClane’s seatmate on the flight from New York to L.A. recommends. Do people still do this? Did anyone?

12:08: First appearance by Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner), who its been said bears a striking resemblance to Ben Affleck’s character in Argo. Feel free to see for yourself.

12:15: Argyle! Always felt a little bad that his plans for the night got ruined. Still, he  manages to squeeze in what remains the lone hip-hop song (Run D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis”) in the history of the franchise before dropping McClane off at Nakatomi Plaza.

12:16: After McClane finds out his wife is using her maiden name and makes his way upstairs, we find out he’s definitely not okay with other men kissing him on the cheek, even during the holidays. Noted.

12:20: The baddies—led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)—have arrived and Theo (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) is the first to kill someone in cold blood, which must be very jarring for anyone who knows him primarily on the deputy from Walker, Texas Ranger.

12:22: Annnnnd McClane is officially in his signature white (soon to be soot-colored) undershirt. Hope he’s ready to get real comfortable, cause that’s going to be his look from now until pretty much forever.

12:39: With the baddies taking over Nakatomi plaza, McClane has begun talking to himself, occasionally as two distinct people, so you know things are about to start happening. Awesome things.

12:42: Here marks John McClane’s first kill of the day (Carl’s brother, aka “Generic German Baddie #1”) via stair-induced neck-breaking. Something tells me this won’t be his last.

12:45: It’s worth mentioning the lengths to which screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza go to establish Hans Gruber as one of the most memorable villains in action movie history. He’s equal parts sophisticated (discussing suits and quoting Alexander the Great to Takagi), humorous (“He won’t be joining us for the rest of his life” after shooting Takagi) and terrifying (see previous). And the way Rickman plays the character only contributes to that—no subsequent Die Hard villain has even come close to measuring up.

12:50: If I were to pinpoint the exact moment when everyone got a pretty good idea that we had a special action-movie on our hands, I’d say it came right around the time that McClane sends Carl’s brother down in the elevator with “Now I Have a Machine Gun. Ho-Ho-Ho” written in blood on his chest.

12:52: Our first sighting of Al Parker (Reginald Veljohnson), better known as Carl Winslow from Family Matters. Naturally, he is buying Twinkies (“for my wife”).

12:55: So McClane is being chased through the upper levels of Nakatomi Plaza by a throng of baddies, and decides the best way to evade capture is by entering, and then crawling through, a ventilation shaft. This scene explains an entire generation’s worth of claustrophobia.

1:04: Just over an hour in. McClane’s first “Yippee-Ki-Yay, M——F—–” draws ecstatic whoops from the crowd.

1:12: Worth mentioning that McClane’s wife, Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) is pretty much the only person, other than McClane himself, who successfully goes toe-to-toe with Gruber throughout the film. She is a badass. Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason, of Breakfast Club fame)? Less so.

1:16: Equally not awesome? The performance of the entire LAPD and law enforcement in general (with the exception, obviously, of Carl Winslow). A member of the SWAT team pricks his hand on a bush, then stops to say “Ow” and inspect the damage. That pretty much sums up their night. And only the LAPD of the Die Hard universe could waste an armored tank-truck so spectacularly.

1:20: It’s not entirely clear whether McClane understands how C4 works (and, to be fair, why should he?), but he just dropped a couple bricks of it down an elevator shaft so we’d get to watch the entire second story of Nakatomi building explode. I’m not an explosives expert, but couldn’t a blast like that damage the structural integrity of a skyscraper to the point where it could collapse?

1:25: “Hans, bubie, I’m your white knight.” Thanks, Ellis. Goodbye, Ellis.

1:30: Hans gives the police his demands. Does anyone know what ever happened to the nine members of the ‘Asian Dawn’?

1:31: I can’t tell you how disappointing it was to learn that Hostage Terrorist, Terrorist Hostage was not a real book. Then again, if the author thought the “Helsinki Syndrome” was a real thing, perhaps that’s for the best.

1:35: “When we commandeer your men, we’ll try to let you know.” Aren’t FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation as far as we know) the best?

1:55: It’s funny, I used to think that the fight scene between McClane and Carl was one of the most brutal I’d seen, but pretty much everything on premium-cable in the last 5 years has blown it out of the water.

2:05: Is the ‘gun-taped-to-the-back’ move the most brilliant and/or iconic desperation ploy in action-movie history? Also, RIP for Hans Gruber and Holly’s Rolex, which everyone but her seemed so excited about at the film’s start.

2:09: The day is saved and McClane finally makes it outside to see his partner/compadre, Sgt. Winslow. They stare at each other for nearly 27 seconds, which isn’t bad considering one of them is totally not cool with being kissed on the cheek by another man.

2:10: Carl Winslow has the loudest gun ever. There were automatic weapons, rocket launders, and C4 explosions throughout the movie—and none of them even came close to the massive bang made by Winslow’s pistol.

2:15: And that’s a wrap on the first one. I had initially thought that watching the movie in a theater would amplify the action, but the it actually re-enforced how funny and clever it was.

2:35 PM: Die Hard 2
PLOT: Los Angeles police officer John McClane goes to pick up his wife at D.C.’s Dulles International Airport on the day before Christmas. Terrorists override the air-traffic control system, thereby holding all inbound planes hostage in an attempt to leverage the freedom of a Latin American drug lord. McClane’s wife is a passenger on one of the planes and it’s up to McClane to save the day.

2:50: It seems that the McClanes’ marriage is flourishing, which obviously doesn’t sit well with John, since he goes out of his way to find the terrorists this time, rather than the other way around.

3:00: Say hello to the most infuriating character in franchise history, Captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz). It’s almost as though the writers asked themselves, how can we make sure the sequel isn’t as good as the original? Then they wrote this character. Even in a half-full theater, you can practically hear the audience groan every time he opens his mouth.

3:15: I won’t pretend to know much about airport security in the 1990s, but the fact that literally anyone—including a television reporter with a cameraman—can stroll up to the airport’s control tower without anyone noticing or stopping them seems problematic, no?

3:25: So the bad guys in the sequel aren’t necessarily unimpressive, per se, but there’s just no way they can measure up to Hans Gruber and his multi-ethnic band of miscreants. Col. Stuart (William Sadler) does a commendable job, though it’s surprising he didn’t fair better with the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) in his group.

4:05: I can confirm that McClane’s stalactite-to-the-eye killing method is a real crowd-pleaser around these parts.
4:15: Sometimes I wonder whether Die Hard 2 is really just the story of Dick Thornburg’s heroic quest to jump to network television.

4:25: Our second “Yippee-Ki-Yay” of the day as McClane uses his lighter to ignite a fuel trail, blowing up the baddies’ 747 as it was taking off. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the franchise’s most awesome moment, and judging by the crowd’s reaction, they might agree. (Sidenote: Growing up and watching the Die Hard films on cable, censors would always replace the last two words of the catchphrase with “Mister Falcon,” which amused me and my friends to no end. It makes no contextual sense whatsoever, and yet somehow I always find myself wishing that phrase would sneak itself into the real version.)

4:30: “Why does this keep happening to us?” — Holly Gennaro. In another movie, this and McClane’s earlier wink (“How could this sh– happen to the same guy twice?”) could come off as a little hacky, but they actually work in this context. Even in the first film, McClane can hardly believe everything that was happening.

4:35: Seems it’s 5 o’clock somewhere because the flask crowd is definitely making its presence known as the credits roll for the sequel. I had kind of expected a little fatigue at this point, but turns out that was limited to my cell phone, which is going to need a second battery any minute now.

5:00: Die Hard With a Vengeance
PLOT: New York City police sergeant John McClane has a massive hangover but that doesn’t stop terrorists from sending him on a wild game of “Simon Says” across Manhattan. The terrorists have (allegedly) placed a bomb in one of the city’s schools to distract police as they steal over $100 billion in gold from the federal reserve, and it’s up to McClane to save the day.

5:05: I’m not sure whether it’s the hour, the movie’s setting or just plain ol’ bloodlust, but this NYC crowd is PUMPED for Vengeance in a way they haven’t been all day.

5:10: From the very start, Vengeance is a much darker, much edgier film than its predecessors. Between the language, racial undertones (or overtones), and McClane’s hangover, it’s already easy to tell this won’t be an especially upbeat action film.

5:15: That said, Sam Jackson’s character—Zeus Carver—is really the first partner that McClane has had in the series. And it’s a model that each of the subsequent films will follow. Also, Zeus’ entire character arc is basically one giant PSA against Good Samaritanism.

5:25: I feel like the timing throughout the film has to bother any native New Yorker, especially getting from One Police Plaza all the way downtown to 72nd and Broadway in under 15 minutes during morning rush hour. And don’t even get me started on McClane taking the “scenic route” through Central Park to get from 72nd and Broadway to Columbus Circle. Of course, these logistical snafus are far from the film’s biggest problems.

5:45: And now we find out the head terrorist Simon (Jeremy Irons) is actually Hans Gruber’s older brother. Though he’s out for vengeance, his stuttering, speaking in rhyme and wearing a nylon blue tank top for much of the film hardly helps conveying any sense of menace.

6:00: I might not love the movie, but the Tompkins Square Park water jug brain teaser still qualifies as one of the all-time great brain-wrinklers.

6:30: The real problem with the movie is that the entire second hour is just one giant, slow-to-evolve chase scene. In the previous two films, all the action had been contained in one (relatively) small location. That said, the fact that it ends with a bad guy literally sliced in half by a falling cable is pretty awesome.

7:00: McClane opts for another climactic explosion for this edition of the “Yippee-Ki-Yay” Chronicles, and the crowd comes alive for the first time in nearly an hour. One thing that is criminally overlooked about Vengeance though, is the fact that McClane goes through this entire day with a massive hangover. The movie might not be the best in the series, but it’s almost certainly has Willis’s finest performance.

7:15: I think we’re finally starting to see signs of fatigue setting in. The flask crowd is still going strong, but the rest of us who have been glued to our seats seem a little… sleepy?

7:30: Live Free or Die Hard
PLOT: New York City detective John McClane attempts to transport a New Jersey hacker to government officials in D.C., but is repeatedly thwarted by terrorists who want the hacker dead. The terrorists aim to take permanent control of the U.S. infrastructure network and steal all of the nation’s money, and it’s up to McClane to save the day.

7:35: In all honesty, I think Live Free is my second-favorite Die Hard movie. Though it has a few weak points, it just manages to hit all the right notes in a way that most franchises that are resurrected after a 12-year hiatus are unable to do. For example, the idea that McClane is still a New York City detective and spends his nights spying on his daughter at college is exactly what you’d expect of him.

7:40: Say what you will about Justin Long, who plays hacker Matt Farrell, but he’s pretty much perfect for this role. The only possible better choice for a neurotic, gifted shut-in who’s always quick with a quip? Shia LaBeouf, of course.

7:50: Oh yeah, and Tim Olyphant is the big bad in the movie. (Tim Olyphant being the anything in any movie helps.)

8:15: McClane just killed a helicopter with a police car. Why, you ask? Because he was out of bullets, of course. He even did it while doing the whole John-McClane-talking-to-himself thing. It was excellent.

8:30: “Oh the Warlock? He’s a digital Jedi.” I wonder why Live Free didn’t get nominated for a screenwriting Oscar. I consider it a major failing that at this stage of my life, I don’t have any friends whom I’d call a ‘digital Jedi.’

8:35: The scene with McClane and the Justin Long character (I don’t know why, but I feel compelled to keep calling him that) discussing heroism may be a little too on-the-nose, but it does do a good job explaining why the Die Hard films are so popular. There’s nothing especially remarkable about McClane (other than his apparent immortality)—he’s never the strongest or smartest person in these movies—but he does what needs doing because because there’s no one else. And, well, because he can.

8:45: Safe to say that the fight scene between Mai (Maggie Q) and McClane is unlike anything the franchise had done up to that point. Even after nearly nine hours, it’s kinda impressive to note that each major fight is distinct and at least somewhat memorable in its own way (even if they all end with the baddie dying and McClane laughing).

8:55: I know the nerdy hacker character is totally played out, but Kevin Smith isn’t half-bad as the Warlock. The fact that he lives in his mom’s basement is a little cringe-inducing, though. Between that and Justin Long’s character’s terrible taste in music, the writers really hit all the hacker stereotypes.

9:10: The action gets a little more muddled once McClane and Justin Long’s character travel to confront Olyphant and the other baddies, but there is a nice call-back with McClane nearly killing a henchmen after a nasty tumble down the stairs. Remember Karl’s brother from eight hours ago?

9:15: Speaking of the time, after 9-plus hours, it seems the crowd is finally tiring. I think I lost most of my sanity back in hour 7, which would explain why my brain thinks McClane is currently driving a big-rig convertible and doing battle with an F-35.

9:30: The final scene with McClane, Justin Long’s character, Olyphant, McClane’s daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Henchman #3 is fantastic, especially the final interaction between McClane and Olyphant. Olyphant has McClane by the neck with a gun to his shoulder and tells him that his tombstone will read “Always in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time” (a nice callback to John Amos saying the same thing in Die Hard 2). But McClane corrects him and says it should actually read “Yippee-Ki-Yay M————” before shooting Olyphant in the chest (by putting the bullet through his own shoulder). Everyone in the crowd jumps out of their seats.

9:40: After nearly 10 hours, four Die Hard movies and two cell-phone batteries, I’m finally willing to admit that my mother may have been right when she said that if I watch enough garbage, my brain will turn to mush. It was well worth it. Only one more film to go…

10:00: A Good Day to Die Hard
Plot: C’mon, I’m not going to spoil it for everyone.

10:05: Though I will say, I’m usually the world’s biggest fan of trailers, they are not appreciated this time around. Crowd is borderline mutinous.

10:20: Movie starting! Explosions!

11:55: Movie ending! More explosions!

12:00 AM: That’s a wrap on the marathon. To say that the crowd is staggering out of the theater would be something of an understatement. Even the most enthusiastic of the movie-goers seem incapable of stringing more than a few words together at this point.

Still, I’d definitely recommend the experience if you’re a fan of the franchise. Fatigue didn’t really set in until around Hour 9, which is pretty good considering all the gunplay, explosions and yelling that occupied virtually the entire day. Can’t say that my opinions of the films changed all that much by watching them consecutively, though Live Free seemed even better in comparison to With a Vengeance. That said, the original is still king. See you all back here for the Fast and Furious marathon in May. Yippee-Ki-Yay to all, and to all a good night.