‘Tis the season, which means Die Hard had better be in your queue for a holiday binge-watch (and yes, it IS a Christmas movie. There’s an ornament and everything.)
The real question I’m posing is this: Is John McClane a romance hero?
First of all, what makes a romance hero?
Everyone’s definition of a “romance hero” is different. My minimum requirements are:
- A romance hero has a code of honor
- A romance hero takes care of his tribe
- A romance hero protects the vulnerable, often putting himself at risk
Romance heroes aren’t always the “white hat” do-gooder in a story. They can be criminal masterminds, tricksters and even murderers. They usually commit acts of violence in order to protect or avenge a loved one (which is why action-movie heroes fit so well into the Warrior archetype.)
A romance hero’s family and tribe can count on his decisiveness and competence. He’ll be there for them, no matter what—and no matter the odds (which is, coincidentally, part of Die Hard’s alternative taglines.)
And yes, a fictional villain can be all of these things, too. But the romance hero’s value system is what makes him the guy to root for. He’s there to protect and provide for his tribe. The villain (like one Hans Gruber) is only in it for himself—whether it’s riches, power or unmarked bearer bonds.
So, back to John McClane as a Romance Hero. Here’s my case:
1. John’s entire reason for being there is to win back his wife
John McClane doesn’t even like California, but he flies across the country—during peak travel season—in an attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly, and visit his two children.
Once he arrives at Holly’s company’s holiday party at Nakatomi Tower, things don’t go as planned. There’s no epic reunion. He sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s not even seen as Holly’s husband at the office, which cuts deeper than the smarmy businessman’s comments.
John doesn’t care much about what people outside of his tribe think of him, but he does care about how Holly views him.
John works hard as a NYPD cop, maybe too hard. So when Nakatomi Tower is overrun by German terrorists, he immediately goes into Action Mode.
Who cares if there are 12 of them and only one of him? He’ll figure something out and protect the people inside.
Because when things go bad, John just does what needs to be done.
2. Hans Gruber uses John’s relationship with Holly against him
Once Hans realizes that Holly is John’s wife, he seizes the opportunity to take a more important hostage and draw his opponent into the open. How much more vulnerable will John make himself to protect someone who’s more than a random civilian? How much further will he go?
It’s also in this moment that we see Holly’s complete faith in her husband’s competence. To her, Hans is just another criminal.
He’s a thief, no matter how he tries to dress it up with masterminded plans and a calm demeanor. And even with their estrangement, Holly knows that John is a dogged cop…even if he does drive her crazy.
3. Once he’s reunited with his wife, John is happy to rest
After a true action-packed scene involving a helicopter and a fire hose, John happily watches Holly serve a mean right hook to an intrusive reporter. He puts his arm around her and they walk away.
He’s not pursuing the case as a workaholic cop anymore. He’ not stepping up to the FBI agents to berate them.
John did what he had to do; he kept his family safe and got them back. He’s good to leave and rest.
And you know what that is? That’s growth.
So, what do you think? Could John McClane join the ranks of a romance hero?
Are there any other action-movie stars, or leading men in non-romance genres, who you consider a romance hero?