What: The deaths of Special Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson (“no relation”), and subsequent collateral damage, in the 1988 action film Die Hard. I don’t have a clip, but the start of the process is shown in this DVD cover:
Why: In our discussion of the Oscars, Evon and I once returned to our category of “clicker-killers,” those films that instantly end the process of channel surfing. 1988 gave us six such films: Best Picture winner Rain Man, Bull Durham, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, A Fish Called Wanda, Earth Girls Are Easy, and Die Hard. All are built out of quotable lines, especially Die Hard, which gave us “Oh my god, the quarterback is toast!”, “Now I have a machine gun”, and “Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!” But all take a back seat to the culmination of this sequence of events. The FBI has arrived at L.A.’s Nakatomi Plaza, where Bruce Willis’s NYPD cop John McClane is battling a band of terrorists. Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush’s large-and-now-in-charge Special Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson take off to rescue the hostages in a helicopter. They callously figure maybe 20-25 percent casualties, which they can live with. Meanwhile, McClane is on the helipad, firing a machine gun to get the hostages to run. Johnson and Johnson open fire on McClane, and the helipad explodes. McClane ties a hose around himself and leaps off the roof. The helicopter suffers 100 percent casualties, and slowly barrel-rolls out of the gorgeous conflagration. As the flaming copter tumbles to earth, Paul Gleason’s LAPD deputy chief Dwayne T. Robinson deadpans, “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess.”
Impact: Coming just after his first leading role in the forgettable Blind Date, Die Hard made Willis a bankable movie star, making several more clicker-killers including The Fifth Element and The Sixth Sense. (If he ever makes a movie called The Seventh Flag, I am so there.) Director John McTiernan followed this up with The Hunt for Red October and the third Die Hard flick, before inexplicably forgetting how to direct and getting busted in a wiretapping scandal. The action movie genre changed radically, with wisecracking heroes becoming de rigueur for a decade, until Matt Damon and Daniel Craig put an end to that jibberjabber. And one odd note: This scene somehow became the second-coolest chopper crash in the series, when 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard featured McClane killing a helicopter with a car.
Personal Connection: I’ll have to retire this line because I’m posting it here, but when I’m suddenly down to a few poker chips and have no hope of coming back, I am frequently heard to remark, “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys.” Whoever laughs gets my last chips.
Other Contenders: an unseen hunter destroys the innocence of children in Bambi; Major Kong rides the bomb in Dr. Strangelove; an unidentified Arab swordsman bites the dust in Raiders of the Lost Ark; Captain Amazing is not exactly rescued by the Mystery Men; Roy Batty has seen things that you people wouldn’t believe in Blade Runner; Bill Murray ends it all (repeatedly) in Groundhog Day; Steven Seagal makes a delightfully unexpected exit in the otherwise unwatchable Executive Decision.