The Unassuming Origins Behind Bruce Willis' Signature Die Hard Scene

It's always great when a movie is quotable, when you can take catchy lines from a film and repurpose them to fit into your own daily life. Most likely, at one point or another, you have found yourself, in a moment of disorientation, telling someone, "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore!" Or perhaps, you've passionately whispered, "My preciousssss..." while coveting something you've long desired. If you've felt like pulling a Jack Dawson while sailing on a boat, you've definitely stood at the bow of a ship and screamed, "I'm king of the world!" — most likely to everyone else's displeasure. 

My point is that movie catchphrases are incredibly important to fans, and oftentimes for the people making the movie, there's no telling just what single, specific line audiences are going to love the most. At least, that's the case with John McTiernan's "Die Hard," a movie chockfull of deliciously quotable one-liners with one among them that stands out above all the rest.

A franchise catchphrase is born

In the iconic scene where John McClane and Hans Gruber communicate with one another via walkie talkie, Gruber tries unsuccessfully to guess just who exactly McClane really is. Their back and forth banter is infectious to watch, and at one point, Gruber asks McClane if he's "just another American who saw too many movies as a child" and so now he "thinks he's John Wayne." McClane sassily corrects him, telling him that he was more of a Roy Rogers fan than anything. "I really liked those sequin shirts," he taunts. And then just before evading one of Gruber's henchmen, he whispers into the walkie, "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*****!" And just like that, a catchphrase is born.

Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza spoke with Creative Screenwriting about how this iconic scene came to be. It turns out that both he and Bruce Willis were fans of Roy Rogers when they were young, and Rogers's famous catchphrase was always "Yippe-ki-yah, kids!" Wanting to include this somehow in the film, the line was altered a bit and put into the script. "That line was from me," says de Souza, taking credit for the brilliance behind one of the best moments in "Die Hard." 

De Souza also talks about the popularity of this now famous line. He says, "Whenever you think you're writing a line that's going to catch on, it never does," going on to explain that once the movie is released to the world, it's out of the writer's hands. "The audience decides what is the takeaway line," he says. And decide they did because Willis's perfect delivery of that famous Roy Rogers quote — albeit embellished a little for the adults in the room — has become one of the film's most memorable moments.