Die Hard: Would a large corporation actually have $640 million in untraceable stuff in one place?

In the film “Die Hard,” villain Hans Gruber and his team of henchmen take over an office tower belonging to the “Nakatomi Corporation.” Their plan is to steal $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds - basically a totally untraceable type of financial instrument, as good as money if you’ve someone to sell them to - but make it appear as if they are terrorists and fake their own deaths so they can make a clean getaway. Of course, John McClane foils their plans.

Anyway, yippee-kai-ay for John. My question is this; would a corporation in 1986 have had any reason to have a huge fortune is completely untraceable stuff in their vault? Is there any legitimate reason at all a big international company would do that? Do companies bother with such things anymore? Or is the unspoken implication (which isn’t explored in the film) that the Nakatomi outfit is corrupt as all hell?

I’m not even sure there is any such thing as a bearer bond, at least in this century and that is truly untraceable.

Bearer bonds. With coupons attached, they’re redeemable to the bearer.

However, if you showed up at your local Wells Fargo with $640M in your backpack right after the Nakatomi Building is blown up, somebody is likely to ask a few questions.


The Nakatomi Plaza was still under construction, so maybe Mr. Takagi needed some petty cash to pay the contractors and bribe the county inspectors.

No, they wouldn’t have. And they probably would have had far better security than three guards if they did. Also, how Hans know about the bonds anyway? Who was his “inside man?”

He knew not only that the bonds were there and the amount, but also the security system for the vault, the layout of the building and the lack of security. If it hadn’t been for that meddling John McClane he would have committed a nearly perfect crime.

Here’s an article in the NY Post about possible water damage to bearer bonds due to Hurricane Sandy. In 1990, there were 20+ million bonds in that building. But those are bonds held in a central repository, not in the owner’s basement.

For all we know, the cocaine-addicted Ellis was blackmailed into giving up that information, hence Hans’ willingness to kill him at the slightest provocation. Hans was certainly resourceful, well-educated, and utterly ruthless. He could find a way.

“Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the ass.”


Almost certainly not.
Money loses value over time. Money that is not earning interest is losing value.
That $640MM will be worth less and less each year.

it seemed like the movie was going in that direction, but then it didn’t.
Might have made for an interesting subplot if it had.

Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bearer_bond
Bearer bonds have historically been the financial instrument of choice for money laundering, tax evasion, and concealed business transactions in general. In response, new issuances of bearer bonds have been severely curtailed in the United States since 1982.[2]

In the United States, since the passage of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, the issuance of debt in bearer form has been substantially curtailed. The interest paid on any such bonds issued after 1982 would not be tax-deductible by the issuer in the case of corporate bonds, and taxable income to the holder in the case of municipal bonds. In contrast, registered bonds retain favorable tax treatment.[5] A challenge to this tax treatment by the U.S. state of South Carolina was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case South Carolina v. Baker, which resulted in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 being upheld and an end to virtually all issuance of U.S. municipal bearer bonds. Then again, the movie portrayed a Japanese company. And in 1986 there would have been a lot of them still outstanding.

The bearer bonds in Die Hard were specified as being German in origin.

All that being said, the bearer bonds were simply a plot device which allowed for Hans and his crew to justify taking an entire floor of people hostage and blowing up a building, while still being small enough to move. (US$640 in bank notes would fill an entire semi-trailer with cash, and diamonds, even in an uncut state, are not nearly as fungible or untraceable as movies would have you believe.) It doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny, nor should it, as the breakneck pacing (with just a few well timed intervals for humor or pathos) of the film doesn’t really give you time to think about such questions in depth. It is also an argument for why leaving the McGuffin unseen a la Frankenheimer’s Ronin is a credible practice.


But there’s a certain value to having that much liquid and untraceable currency on-hand – especially if the company had any shady dealings – and from the model in the conference room, we know they were into construction and land development: so they absolutely had shady dealings.

I think it was Cracked.com that pointed out, though, that disguising a big robbery as international terrorism isn’t exactly the best way to keep the FBI off your back. :stuck_out_tongue:

Hans knew the FBI would be on his ass no matter what, so he used the bogeyman of hostage-taking terrorism to cover the real crime underway, set up a workable escape plan and - the main point - buy time and complicity by misdirecting law forces into “running the wrong playbook.” He as much as says so.

It wasn’t in cash. It was invested in bearer bonds.

Good point.

Nakatomi Corp. carried on with their plans to invest that money in a start up. It was a defence contractor by the name of Cyberdyne Systems.

Well, he is highly talented at Legilimency and Occlumency.

Right - the finale of the plan was to blow up the entire top of the building and leave the impression that the terrorists had all been killed in the explosion, giving them a few weeks head start on the FBI.

Yes, I can see how a subplot about the origins, fiscal uses, and banking regulations of bearer bonds would have dramatically improved the non-stop action-fest that was Die Hard.

Why, it could have been as fascinating as the whole “Trade Tarriffs*” subplot in the Phantom Menace was.

*Or whatever the hell it was

He needed the FBI there. Without the FBI’s authority and audacity to cut the power to an entire local grid tbey never could have opened the vault. The final locks on the safe were electromagnetic locks. “The locks that cannot be cut are cut automatically in case of a terrorist attack… you want a miracle, Theo, I give you the F.B.I”
And since they were planning to make it look like they all died in the end, the FBI would not been out looking for them afterwards.