Here was the bloke from Moonlighting, who was obviously not an action hero, totally in over his head, the one man left standing in a disastrous situation but with the advantage that they didn't know, at any time, where he was. He picks off the bad guys one at a time, slowly tooling up with weapons of increasing size and power (does this sound like a video game yet?) and eventually leads to a final confrontation with a Boss character (yes, it IS a video game). And the tension is racheted up and up as we move on, slowly building to the inevitable conclusion... it's truly a great movie to watch for the first time.
But how does it get to number 13? Tension alone won't get it there - Aliens has that, so does John Q - and aside from Schindler's List there aren't many watch-it-one-time-and-you're-done movies that would really make the list (looking at you, Sixth Sense). No - it's the characters who make it. Willis really does portray the reluctant hero well, just hanging in there against professional, well-armed villains.
But then there's Al, the twinkie-eating police officer who is McClane's only real friend through the whole process. But don't forget, there's Argyle (not the soccer team OR the diamond pattern on your socks), the limo driver in the basement who REALLY saves the day at the end, and even Alan Rickman is superb as the bad guy ("I am an EXCEPTIONAL thief!" - what a perfect response, perfectly delivered). You can watch it over and over, even though you know what happens, because of the characters and the fact that without any one of them, the whole thing falls apart.
The perfect "Action Movie"? Hard to say, it's part action, part drama, part comedy and of course it's a Christmas movie also. But for both first watch and subsequent reruns, Die Hard is up there as one of the best films I've ever seen.
But there are twelve that are better.