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Section Header
Die Hard
2002 Varèse

2011 La-La Land

Composed and Conducted by:
Michael Kamen

Produced by:
Nick Redman

Performed by:
The Hollywood Studio Symphony

Labels and Dates:
Varèse Sarabande
(February, 2002)

La-La Land Records
(November 29th, 2011)

Also See:
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Live Free or Die Hard
A Good Day to Die Hard
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Audio Clips:
2002 Album:

13. Assault on the Tower (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

18. Ode to Joy (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (249K)
Real Audio (155K)

19. The Battle (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (250K)
Real Audio (155K)

20. Gruber's Departure (0:27):
WMA (177K)  MP3 (219K)
Real Audio (136K)

Several bootlegs long existed for this score. The 2002 Varèse Sarabande album (catalog number: VCL 0202 1004) was limited to 3,000 copies and was available only through the label's site or online soundtrack specialty outlets. It sold out within a year and eventually fetched prices over $100. The 2011 La-La Land album was limited to 3,500 copies and was also available through the same specialty outlets. It sold out within two days and escalated from its original retail price of $30 to $60.


Die Hard

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Sales Rank: 203011

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Buy it... only if you are a diehard fan of the movie and seek one of its collectible albums in order to hear the music that Michael Kamen originally intended for the film before the recording was butchered in the final editing process.

Avoid it... if you expect the few moments of memorable, original material you recall from this soundtrack in context to compensate for an otherwise mundane composition and extremely unsatisfying sound quality.

Die Hard: (Michael Kamen) You can't help but marvel at the fact that the 1988 surprise summer hit Die Hard somehow worked out brilliantly in the end. To fully appreciate the film and its music, you have to know about the disastrous production stories of both. Before audiences rose up and cheered Die Hard on to the highest levels of action genre excellence, the movie was slated to be a total flop. Early trailers for the film were so poorly received that subsequent previews for it appeared without Bruce Willis, the unknown star, featured in a single frame. Willis plays the smart-talking John McClane as an everyday cop turned hero with a fascination with Western cliches, facing impossible odds against a force of highly motivated and sophisticated German thieves who have taken over a nearly completed skyscraper that, appropriately, was about to serve as the real life headquarters for the film's studio, Twentieth Century Fox. The inversion of several expected plot moves in Die Hard gave it enormous appeal; at a time when brute super-hero movies abounded, the concept of a scared, overpowered, and injured cop faced with the task of avoiding and eventually overcoming criminals so well organized and antithetical to the definition of "terrorists" that you might root for them was a significant departure for movie-goers. Still, the studio was convinced that Die Hard would die a quick and complete death, and that lack of confidence led to several problems which would affect the handling of the soundtrack for the final cut. Producer Joel Silver had worked with composer Michael Kamen in the Lethal Weapon franchise, and the composer's exciting new sound (combining an orchestra with rock elements) was in high demand in films, on television, and for pop stars and their bands at the time. Unfortunately, due to the considerable butchering of the final edit of Die Hard as panic set into the last stages of production, Kamen's score was chopped into little bits and totally rearranged. Some of his material did not even make the cut, his duties replaced by cues from John Scott's Man on Fire and James Horner's Aliens (the latter an irony in that it was also hacked to death when inserted into its original context). Instead of using the full score, the director and editors took a handful of Kamen cues and simply looped them over and over again for several scenes, ironically giving the entirety in context a sense of cohesion that is lacking when examining the music that the composer originally recorded for the film.

Because Die Hard has always attracted significant interest, collectors clamored for Kamen's score on album, and yet, for fifteen years, that treatment never came. The demand for the soundtrack was fierce, too. Bootlegs abounded, and fans rushed to record stores to buy the "Michael Kamen's Opus" compilation album in the late 1990's just to get a few minutes of a suspense motif from the film (arbitrarily renamed "Takagi Dies"). The two subsequently official, limited albums have both sold out and become collector's items. This hysteria has always been a bit puzzling, because the score for Die Hard has never been remotely as much a classic as the film it accompanied. In fact, the score is remarkably pedestrian when heard out of context, perhaps giving legitimate basis for its significant rearrangement in the final cut. Even as it was heard in the film, portions of the score were distracting, and its personality was nearly completely overshadowed by the use of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" to represent the evil, calculated Hans Gruber (played delightfully by Alan Rickman) and his colorful henchmen with a touch of humor and sophistication. It was director John McTiernan's idea to apply "Ode to Joy" in this fashion, and Kamen followed that lead by incorporating the melodies of "Singing in the Rain," "Winter Wonderland," and "Let It Snow" throughout (the last song is realized in fully vocalized form at the end). To his credit, Kamen expertly integrates the first three of those melodies into the majority of his cues, starting immediately with stealth as the criminals take control of the building. There is indeed an original six-note theme for Die Hard, heard best on strings in "And If He Alters It?," though only the first four notes of the idea are really memorable. Kamen withholds this theme until the second third of the film, and while some listeners may associate the idea with McClane himself, its applications seem more like a representation of nuisance to the villains. Interestingly, the best extension of this idea would come from Marco Beltrami in his music for 2007's belated franchise continuation, Live Free or Die Hard. Otherwise, Kamen's score is defined by a series of repeated, pseudo- Western and pseudo-oriental riffs on acoustic guitar and lightly jingling bells representing the holidays (again in humorous mode). The Western riffs occupy much of the cat and mouse game played in the first half of the movie, fulfilling McClane's cowboy mould. The striking, percussion-led action explosion heard in "The Fight" (or "Tony and John Fight" in later cue attribution) was tracked several times into the remainder of the score, becoming the de facto motif of hand to hand combat.

The remainder of the score consists of blurts from the lowest registers of the ensemble, lengthy sequences with the plucking of strings, vague jingling holiday rhythms, and themeless progressions that occasionally strike some intriguing notes (as in "Going After John Again") but are otherwise anonymous. As McClane eludes his would-be killers and conducts his attempts to contact the police, the score follows the same low-key path that it did when the terrorists first secured the building. A very wet mix to some of the twangy electric guitar and low string plucking in these sequences causes a sense of ambience adequate for the unfinished portions of the Nakatomi Plaza, also alluding to the nightmarish nature of the hostage situation. These techniques are a marginally sufficient representation of the Plaza and the hide and seek game within, but the score does finally kick it into a higher gear for its two most violent scenes of confrontation and the story's set action pieces on a larger scale. In the "Under the Table" and the "Gruber's Departure" sequences, Kamen explores a Barnard Herrmann-like rhythmic series of brass exclamations that eventually increase in pace as they reach the climaxes of their scenes. These brass blasts unleashed as Gruber falls to his death in slow motion, despite the fact that Kamen did not originally intend for this motif to be used in this circumstance, yield perhaps the score's single most memorable moment. The immense, harmonious force of these performances is so disparate from the remainder of the score's material that they truly are easily recognizable highlights. For the film's two major explosion sequences, atop the building and below as SWAT forces encroach, Kamen provided relentless snare rhythms that were in part dialed out of the film. As recorded, "The Battle" is another ball-busting passage worthy of an appearance on compilations. Ultimately, however, Die Hard is a score best appreciated in its highly rearranged form in context, because the lengthy series of suspense cues early in its running time, regardless of their effectiveness, is frightfully generic. With this final point in mind, Kamen's music for Die Hard doesn't translate well onto album. Only once the party really begins, and the Plaza is under siege by the ineffectual police and FBI force, does Kamen's score begin to hold its own. Even during the climax of the film, as the vault of the Plaza is opened by the terrorists, Kamen's original music continues to take a back seat to his own victorious re-recordings of "Ode to Joy." The same applies to the score's revisitation of that mode in its end credits. There is no actual, original resolution music recorded by Kamen for the movie, either, everything after the Gruber death scene tracked in from other sources.

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Overall, the weak early and middle portions of the Die Hard score function to basic degrees in the film, sometimes as mere sound effects, and the movie might have succeeded just as well without it. Even Kamen's somewhat creative Western-styled identity conjured to represent the "Roy" alter-ego of McClane is understated. The score's final two cues will be redemptive for many listeners, however. This assault material saves the whole from mediocrity, providing fifteen minutes of very strong, orchestrally dynamic and engaging music both in film and on album. The lack of a more clearly defined and developed theme for McClane restrains the score, however, though honestly, even if Kamen had written such evolving material into his score, the rearrangement of his recordings in the editing process probably would have nullified the gain. For some viewers, the "Ode to Joy" usage is so identifiable with the terrorists that McClane, musically speaking, is inherently a second favorite. In any case, Kamen's work was finally released on a legitimate CD album in 2002 as part of the limited Varèse Sarabande Club, with only 3,000 copies available and eventually selling for hundreds of dollars once out of print. The 77-minute presentation substitutes the song at the end for a disparate instrumental version of "Let It Snow." In 2011, La-La Land Records provided an even fuller presentation of Die Hard, assembling all of the score (and a fair amount of the source material) from the best available sources for a 3,500-copy pressing that also sold out quickly. While the 2011 product doesn't add a substantial amount of Kamen's original music, it does collect all of the recordings, some in mono sound where necessary, in a better presentation and includes some alternate and bonus tracks at the end. What listeners may forget is that the master tapes for the Die Hard recording were never very clear to begin with, and some of them were simply missing (including the notable "Fire Hose" cue). The sound quality is muffled at best and nearly unlistenable at worst. So poor is the soundscape that not even a good remastering could give this recording a sense of life, and that important aspect of both the 2002 and 2011 albums should serve as another warning flag to casual listeners. Given the fact that the Die Hard albums maintain bloated prices on the collector's market, any fan should be forewarned that the hype generated in regards to this score often doesn't take into account the very challenging muffling of ambience. The labels both did excellent jobs of working with the what was available and providing Kamen's work in the best possible fashion, but an overrated score with poor sound quality cannot be overcome by even the best album presentation. *** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Michael Kamen reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.14 (in 14 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.21 (in 32,993 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.9 Stars
Smart Average: 2.91 Stars*
***** 108 
**** 123 
*** 179 
** 151 
* 128 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Something weird!
  Richard Kleiner -- 5/15/09 (9:59 p.m.)
   Let it snow
  Alucard -- 12/20/07 (8:42 p.m.)
   Re: Where can I get Die Hard now?
  Thom Jophery -- 2/18/07 (12:41 p.m.)
   Re: Music at the end of Die Hard
  Dan the man -- 2/2/07 (4:03 a.m.)
   Re: Music at the end of Die Hard
  Tomek -- 11/3/05 (2:36 p.m.)
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 Track Listings (2002 Varèse Album): Total Time: 74:27

• 1. The Nakatomi Plaza (1:50)
• 2. Gruber's Arrival (3:40)
• 3. John's Escape/You Want Money? (5:52)
• 4. The Tower (1:49)
• 5. The Roof (3:57)
• 6. The Fight (1:07)
• 7. He Won't Be Joining Us (3:53)
• 8. And If He Alters It? (2:39)
• 9. Going after John Again (4:33)
• 10. Have a Few Laughs (3:29)
• 11. Welcome to the Party (1:00)
• 12. TV Station/His Bag is Missing (3:52)
• 13. Assault on the Tower (8:16)
• 14. John is Found Out (5:03)
• 15. Attention Police (3:38)
• 16. Bill Clay (2:02)
• 17. I Had an Accident (2:37)
• 18. Ode to Joy (3:36)
• 19. The Battle (10:15)
• 20. Gruber's Departure (1:56)
• 21. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!* (2:00)

* instrumental version performed by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn

 Track Listings (2011 La-La Land Album): Total Time: 107:52

CD 1: (49:53)
• 1. Main Title* (0:38)
• 2. Terrorist Entrance (4:05)
• 3. The Phone Goes Dead/Party Crashers (1:51)
• 4. John's Escape/You Want Money (6:00)
• 5. Wiring the Roof (1:51)
• 6. Fire Alarm (2:04)
• 7. Tony Approaches (1:41)
• 8. Tony and John Fight (1:11)
• 9. Santa (0:55)
• 10. He Won't Be Joining Us (3:01)
• 11. And If He Alters It (2:39)
• 12. Going After John (4:29)
• 13. Have a Few Laugh/Al Powell Approaches (3:31)
• 14. Under the Table (1:55)
• 15. Welcome to the Party (1:09)
• 16. TV Station (2:47)
• 17. Holly Meets Hans (1:19)
• 18. Assault on the Tower (8:35)

CD 2: (57:59)
• 1. John is Found Out (5:03)
• 2. Attention Police (3:54)
• 3. Bill Clay (4:09)
• 4. Shooting the Glass (1:05)
• 5. I Had an Accident (2:37)
• 6. The Vault (3:07)
• 7. Message for Holly (1:07)
• 8. The Battle/Freeing the Hostages (6:53)
• 9. Helicopter Explosion and Showdown (4:00)
• 10. Happy Trails (1:12)
• 11. We've Got Each Other - written by John Scott (1:56)
• 12. Let It Snow - performed by Vaughn Monroe (1:43)
• 13. Beethoven's 9th (End Credits Excerpt) - written by Ludwig Van Beethoven (3:54)

Bonus Tracks:
• 14. The Nakatomi Plaza (1:45)
• 15. Message for Holly (Film Version)* (2:46)
• 16. Gun in Cheek* (1:01)
• 17. Fire Hose* (1:00)
• 18. Ode to Joy (Alternate) - written by Ludwig Van Beethoven (2:10)
• 19. Let It Snow (Source) - performed by Michael Kamen (1:58)
• 20. Winter Wonderland (Source) - written by Felix Bernard and Dick Smith (1:25)
• 21. Christmas in Hollis - performed by RUN-DMC (4:49)

* mono source

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts of both the Varèse and La-La Land albums include in-depth notes about the score and film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Die Hard are Copyright © 2002, 2011, Varèse Sarabande, La-La Land Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 3/20/03 and last updated 12/22/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2003-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.