On January 14, 2016 iconic British actor Alan Rickman passed away at the age of 69. He has portrayed a plethora of villains during his career, including Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise but most notably Hans Gruber in the action classic Die Hard.
Rickman made his film debut in the 1988 movie Die Hard alongside action star Bruce Willis as the main antagonist Hans Gruber. The film takes place in Los Angeles, California at Nakatomi Plaza, where protagonist John McClane (Willis) is attending a holiday party with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia).
Hans Gruber is not a villain that viewers sympathize with; however, he is considered one of the greatest villains of all time according to Xfinity’s list of greatest movie villains. In order to be such a great villain, a character must have three things that I call “The Gruber Formula”.
First, a villain must be smart. Gruber’s intellect is one of his qualities that is most appealing as a villain.
Gruber and his “terrorist organization” used terrorism as a front to distract the police from the major robbery they were trying to commit, which was a smart move on Gruber’s part. They wouldn’t be expecting a getaway car with $640 million, they would be expecting an explosion.
One of the major demonstrations of Gruber’s intelligence was his first face-to-face meeting with McClane, where he pretended to be an escaped hostage in order to gain McClane’s trust. McClane was the only one who was able to outsmart Gruber by giving him a handgun with no bullets.
Second, a villain must have grace under pressure. Gruber was so calm during the events of Die Hard that it was scary. There was a man roaming around Nakatomi Plaza killing off members of his team and putting his operation in jeopardy, but he remained calm.
He had backup plan after backup plan, like he expected everything to go wrong. If Mr. Takagi wouldn’t give him the code to the vault, he had someone on his team who could break into the vault instead.
Finally, a great villain can’t be too farfetched. For some villains, being clinically insane is what makes them so great: for instance the Joker from The Dark Knight. But Hans Gruber did not need to be insane to be a strong villain.
One of Gruber’s most appealing qualities is that he is not a maniacal serial killer. Many villains get their reputation from excessive killing, whereas Gruber got his reputation from his extremist views that got him kicked out of his past terrorist organization.
To be a good villain, a character doesn’t have to be a maniac. Hans Gruber received his title of one of the best movie villains of all time while keeping his sanity.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not playing ‘the villain’. I’m just playing somebody who wants certain things in life; has made certain choices, and goes after them,” Alan Rickman once said on his notorious villain. Hans Gruber had the motivation of a hero and some of the qualities of a typical hero, yet he has them as the main antagonist.
Hans Gruber has become one of the most influential villains in the movie industry thanks to these qualities, and even after the passing on Alan Rickman, his infamous role as the German terrorist leader will continue to live on within the two hours and ten minutes of Die Hard.