Since Retrobacktive’s inception I have long ached to write an article detailing to the finest point the amalgamation of genius that is Die Hard. It is the apex of 80s cinema. Yet there has always been an invisible curtain of refrain. What, after all, is there to lend to its legacy? Die Hard is widely considered the greatest action/adventure movie of all time. As a whole there’s little left to examine. More obscure matters always pressed.
Now, however, a sad and poignant moment draws the collective conscious of the cinema world back to arguably the film’s most impressive attribute.
In 2003, the American Film Institute rated Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s cold and calculating antagonist, as the 46th greatest villain in film history. The man who brought the iconic character to life was Alan Rickman. And by all accounts his portrayal should have earned at least a top ten spot on AFI’s list – if not an Oscar.
Rickman was born in London in 1946. He began his career on stage after studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Few people realize Die Hard was actually Rickman’s first film role. He was skeptical of the part, but fortunately for moviegoers was talked into it by the production team. Rickman’s serpentine Hans Gruber was a perfect foil to Bruce Willis’ gritty John McClane, and he is more times than not the scene-stealer throughout the film.
Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. deSouza, in a 2015 Creative Screenwriter interview, best summed up Alan Rickman’s character. “Who’s the protagonist of Die Hard? It’s Hans Gruber who plans the robbery. If he had not planned the robbery and put it together, Bruce Willis would have just gone to the party and reconciled or not with his wife. You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.”
Rickman drives the film with venomous motivation that is equal parts eloquent and ruthless. Reviewing Die Hard some 27 years later, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor playing Hans Gruber; the film’s huge success launched the English actor’s film career. Rickman went on to appear in numerous memorable roles throughout his life: the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Potion Master Snape in the Harry Potter film series, and Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Alan Rickman passed away on January 14, 2016 from pancreatic cancer.
Rickman once said he often played “the character you’re not supposed to like.” But given the outpouring of shock and dismay over the star’s recent death, it seems safe to say Rickman was a master of creating characters audiences couldn’t get enough of. His contributions to cinema will be sorely missed.
By two I’d have told him pretty much whatever he wanted to hear.
Happy trails, Alan.