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The Entire Die Hard Timeline Explained

In 1988, the very first "Die Hard" movie was released, and Bruce Willis forever became synonymous with New York City cop John McClane. For the next 25 years, Willis would reprise his role as McClane for another four movies, with the most recent being 2013's "A Good Day to Die Hard." Following Willis' retirement from acting in 2022, the 2013 film became the de facto end of the McClane saga. Even today, the series remains one of the most enduring in Hollywood, and people regularly watch the original as the ultimate Christmas action movie.

During his brilliant fictional career, McClane manages to take down some of the toughest foes in modern cinema history, ranging from the methodical to the downright deadly. By the end, McClane emerges as a heroic but flawed individual, struggling to keep his personal life intact while protecting the streets (and world) as a cop. The series also gave rise to one of the greatest catchphrases in action hero history: "Yippee ki-yay, mother f*****!"

Starting at Nakatomi Plaza in "Die Hard," and ending at Chernobyl in "A Good Day to Die Hard," McClane's exploits were as large as the movie screens they first appeared on. From fighting East German terrorists in Los Angeles, to working with Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) in Harlem, and finally venturing to the cold depths of mother Russia, this is the entire "Die Hard" timeline, explained.

The McClane family before Die Hard

While we never see any flashbacks of John McClane and his family prior to the events of the first "Die Hard" in 1988, there are a number of things that can be inferred from the films about their life before that fateful Christmas. For the 11 years leading up to the events of the first film, John has been working as a police officer in New York City. At some point, he marries a woman named Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), and they have two kids together. One of them is named Lucy, and the other is named John Jr. after his father.

While originally the McClanes are very much in love, a rift begins to develop between them over work. Six months prior to the events of the first "Die Hard," Holly takes both of the kids and moves to Los Angeles, California for her job. However, John refuses to move because he is too dedicated to his job as a New York City police officer and has a backlog of cases. In addition, he thinks that Holly's gig will quickly flame out and she will end up wanting to come back anyway.

After the move, they become estranged enough that Holly starts to use her maiden name of Gennaro again instead of McClane, which he does not know about. On Christmas Eve 1988, John travels to California for a reunion with his wife and kids, setting the stage for "Die Hard."

John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza

The first "Die Hard" starts with John McClane landing in Los Angeles after flying in from New York. A young limo driver named Argyle picks him up, and they head to Nakatomi Plaza to meet his wife Holly McClane (now going by Gennaro) for her company's Christmas party. After arriving, the McClanes briefly reunite and go back to Holly's office. While in her office, McClane removes both of his shoes and rubs his toes on the carpet in an effort to calm his nerves from flying — a tip he learned from a fellow passenger on the airplane.

While McClane is in Holly's office, East German terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his crew infiltrate the building and kill the security guards on duty. They quickly make their way up to the building's 30th floor, where the Nakatomi Christmas party is being held, and take everyone hostage — everyone except McClane, who escapes from Holly's office before the henchmen can take him. Gruber is there to steal $640 million in untraceable bearer bonds, which are located in the Nakatomi vault.

Meanwhile, on the 32nd floor, McClane sets off an alarm to get the terrorists' attention. They send up one of their henchmen, Karl, to see what's going on, and McClane kills him after a brief struggle. He then sends Karl's body down to the 30th floor on the elevator with the message "Now I have a machine gun HO-HO-HO," alerting Gruber to his presence.

The fall of Hans Gruber

After John McClane sends Karl's dead body down to the 30th floor, he radios the Los Angeles police department. Reluctantly, they send Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) to check things out, but he does not realize what's going on — until McClane sends a dead body flying into the windshield of his car. This finally brings the heist to the attention of the police, who show up in force at the front doors. Hans Gruber sends more of his team to find McClane and take him out, but this only results in McClane killing them and getting the detonators to their C4 explosives.

McClane, who left his shoes in Holly's office, is barefoot and severely wounded, but able to continue. Outside, the FBI takes over for the local police, and inside, Gruber and his team succesfully access the vault and steal the money. Gruber requests a helicopter to take him and his team away, but he really plans on killing everyone so he can fake his death and escape with the money. 

McClane realizes this and saves the hostages from being blown up, but Gruber figures out that McClane and Holly are married. Gruber takes Holly hostage to draw McClane out, but during their final duel McClane shoots Gruber, causing him to fall backwards out a window to his death. Holly and John make it downstairs where they are taken away by Argyle, but not before Holly can punch an overzealous reporter in the face.

Deja vu at Dulles Airport

Two years to the day after the events of the first film, "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" begins with John McClane arriving at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. to pick up his wife Holly McClane, where he promptly gets a parking ticket. Unbeknownst to McClane, there is also a black flight headed to Dulles carrying General Ramon Esperanza, who is being extradited for his role in drug trafficking. Disgraced former Colonel William Stuart is also at the same airport, while his team quietly takes over a church near the airport's runways.

After noticing suspicious activity involving a bag, McClane follows a few of Stuart's henchmen into the bag sorting area, where he kills one of them after a brief gun battle. Due to the increased traffic from Christmas, airport police chief Carmine Lorenzo refuses to lock down the scene for a full investigation and orders McClane to stop, as he is worried the delayed flights will cause a massive headache.

Using his old friend Sgt. Al Powell from "Die Hard," McClane investigates anyway and finds out the fingerprints of the henchmen he killed are from a dead body from years ago. As McClane is trying to make Lorenzo and his air traffic controller aware of the suspicious bodies, Stuart takes over the entire airport control room. He informs Lorenzo and McClane that he is taking over the airport to rescue Esperanza, and orders them to comply with his demands.

A fiery ending

With the airport now in Colonel William Stuart's control, the planes scheduled to land are forced to either depart to other airports or endlessly circle above — causing them to eventually run low on fuel. John McClane becomes increasingly incensed at the situation, knowing his wife is on one of the planes running out of fuel.

McClane, engineer Leslie Barnes, and a SWAT team try to communicate with the planes behind Stuart's back, but this only results in Stuart crashing a plane to show his authority. A Special Forces team led by Major Grant — Stuart's former commander — then shows up to take over. Meanwhile, General Ramon Esperanza is able to overpower the guards on his transport and kill the pilot, landing the aircraft himself at Dulles. However, McClane shows up and wounds Esperanza, barely escaping himself under a hail of gunfire.

Participating in an attack on the church with Grant's men, McClane realizes Grant and Stuart are in cahoots, with both of them using fake ammunition to make it look like they are firing at each other. After alerting Lorenzo about Grant's double-cross, McClane commandeers a news helicopter and lands on the wing of Esperanza's plane as it is taking off. After killing Grant, McClane opens up the fuel door of the plane and ignites the line of gas, blowing up the plane and killing Stuart, Esperanza, and company. McClane and Holly then reunite, and Lorenzo rips up the parking ticket McClane had acquired earlier.

John McClane plays Simon Says

Years after the events of the second film, John McClane is estranged from his wife and kids and on suspension from his job in "Die Hard with a Vengeance." While McClane's on suspension, a terrorist going only by the name Simon blows up a building during the morning rush hour traffic. He then calls the police department and demands that McClane be reactivated and sent around the city to perform various tasks in a bizarre game of "Simon Says." A reluctant McClane is picked up and sent to Harlem, where he's forced to stand in the street with a sign expressing a racial epithet.

Sensing trouble, local electrician and business owner Zeus Carver comes to McClane's aid to stop a potential riot from breaking out. Simon then requires that Zeus join McClane on his escapades, next sending them to the subway where another bomb is waiting. After they escape the explosion, government officials inform McClane that Simon is actually Simon Peter Gruber, the brother of Hans Gruber — the villain McClane vanquished in the first film.

Simon then calls the police department and speaks to McClane, knowing that the FBI is listening in on the call. He informs them he has placed another explosive in a random elementary school, requiring McClane and Zeus to carry out more tasks or he'll detonate it. This sets off a huge panic within the police department, who are restrained from evacuating the schools under Simon's threat.

McClane vs. Gruber: Part Deux

As John McClane, Zeus Carver, and the New York City police department scramble to find which elementary school is wired with a bomb, Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) shows up at the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. Pretending to be a city engineer he is able to get access to the building. Once inside, his team overpowers the guards and breaks into the gold reserves held in the underground vaults. They then begin trafficking the gold out of the Fed through underground tunnels using stolen dump trucks.

Meanwhile, McClane and Zeus are still running around the city when McClane realizes that all of the attention is away from the Federal Reserve, and he deduces that Simon's real plan is to steal everything. He races to the Fed and winds up in the tunnels. Realizing that McClane is onto him, Simon floods the tunnels to kill him, but McClane escapes. Zeus and McClane then track Simon to a tanker on the Long Island Sound, but Simon gets the upper hand, tying both of them to a massive set of explosives.

McClane again figures out Simon's plan, which is to fake blowing up the gold and keep it for himself, similar to what his brother had planned at Nakatomi Plaza. Escaping the tanker, Zeus and McClane again track Simon down to his hideout, where he dies during a helicopter explosion. McClane, having saved the day, then places a call to his wife Holly, hoping to get back together.

Thomas Gabriel starts a fire sale

Years removed from the events of the third film, John McClane begins "Live Free or Die Hard" still estranged from his family. His daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is attending Rutgers University in New Jersey. She refuses to answer her father's messages and goes by her mother's maiden name of Gennaro instead of McClane. After traveling to Rutgers to confront her on a date with her boyfriend, McClane is sent to Camden to pick up hacker Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) for the FBI.

However, as McClane arrives to pick up Farrell, a group of mercenaries is trying to assassinate him. Farrell had previously done hacking for a group while thinking he was fixing flaws in a system, when in reality he was providing an algorithm to crack a government security system for villain Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). Trying to tie up loose ends, Gabriel's mercenaries arrive to kill Farrell, and he only escapes with McClane's aid. As McClane transports Farrell to Washington D.C., Gabriel attacks the transportation, financial, and utility sectors of the country, causing havoc and mass panic.

Farrell quickly realizes that Gabriel is instituting a "fire sale," which will destroy the nation's infrastructure and send society back to the technological equivalent of the Stone Age. After escaping another attempt by Gabriel's mercenaries, Farrell and McClane head to the eastern hub's utility center, knowing Gabriel will have to be there in person to control it.

Ending the fire sale

John McClane and Matthew Farrell show up at the eastern hub utility center, where they find Thomas Gabriel's crew. McClane takes them out as Farrell reactivates the security system they had disabled. Gabriel calls his crew to find out what the problem is, only for McClane to answer. Farrell is able to capture a picture of Gabriel's face through his webcam, which he sends to the FBI so they know who is responsible.

When the FBI gets the picture, they realize that Gabriel is a former Department of Defense employee who went rogue after his suggestions for upgrading cyber security were ignored and he was fired. McClane and Farrell then meet up with Farrell's hacker friend Frederick "Warlock" Kaludis (Kevin Smith). After Warlock hacks into Gabriel's system, Gabriel calls them through Warlock's webcam, and they are able to trace him to the Social Security Administration (SSA) building in Woodlawn, Maryland.

As McClane and Farrell head to Woodlawn, the FBI realizes that Gabriel has broken into the SSA. They deduce that he is planning on downloading all of the country's financial data, which already began downloading there when the fire sale started. McClane and Farrell arrive at Woodlawn, but Gabriel captures Farrell and has Lucy kidnapped. McClane follows them to an airport hanger, where he kills Gabriel by firing a gun through his own chest and into Gabriel's heart. Afterwards, Lucy and her father reconcile, while Farrell and Lucy express romantic interest in each other.

Meet Jack McClane

Several years after the events of the fourth film, "A Good Day to Die Hard" finds John McClane once again estranged from a family member — only this time it's his son, John McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney). Going by Jack, he is in a Russian jail after assassinating a man on behalf of Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch). At the same time, Komarov is also in jail, seemingly a political prisoner of Viktor Chagarin, the Russian defense minister. Unbeknownst to Jack, John travels to Russia to be at his upcoming trial, during which Jack has promised to testify against Komarov.

However, as Jack enters the courthouse, Chagarin's henchman detonates a row of car bombs outside, plunging everything into chaos. Jack helps Komarov escape from the destroyed courthouse and they drive away in a stolen work van. As they are making their getaway, John walks in front of the van, stunning Jack and allowing Chagarin's minions to catch up. After a long chase, Jack and John are able to escape the henchmen and reunite.

Jack quickly reveals that he is in Russia working for the CIA, and he had strategically placed himself at the courthouse to intercept Komarov during the bombing. They are ambushed again, resulting in Jack's colleague being killed. After being led to a hotel by Komarov to grab a security file Jack needs to bring down Chagarin, Komarov is taken by his daughter, who reveals herself to be one of Chagarin's accomplices.

McClane Dies Hard for the final time

After kidnapping Yuri Komarov, his daughter and Viktor Chagarin's henchmen try to take out John and his son Jack McClane, but the McClanes break free after an epic gun battle. Knowing the safety deposit box is at the former Chernobyl nuclear site in Pripyat, Ukraine, John and Jack steal a bunch of guns from Chechnyan mobsters before heading there. Jack explains to John that Komarov and Chagarin had previously worked together, stealing uranium from Chernobyl and selling it. After the partnership went south, Chagarin had Komarov put in jail and tried to have him killed to silence him.

Jack and John show up at Chernobyl, where they find Komarov and Chagarin's team already there. Komarov executes Chagarin's henchmen, revealing that he and his daughter had been working together all along to double cross Chagarin — who is killed. Jack and John then confront Komarov, finally realizing that he was the mastermind behind the entire plan and that the stockpile of uranium there is his personal vault.

In one final epic "Die Hard" battle, Jack kills Komarov by throwing him through the blades of a spinning helicopter piloted by his daughter. Both of the McClanes then bait her into a suicide attack on the building they're in, escaping at the last moment as she and the building go up in flames. The franchise ends with John and Jack reconciling, as Jack proudly decides to call himself John McClane Jr., instead of Jack.