In 1988, Die Hard, the godfather of action movies was released in theaters, and New York City cop and everyman John McClane (Bruce Willis) has been battling terrorist baddies on the big screen ever since. Much to the chagrin of the movie-going public after the fifth installment, Die Hard has become the series that just won’t, well, die.
On February 13th, 2013, along with a couple of my best friends, I sat in a movie theater in Hamilton, New Jersey to take in a marathon of the whole series leading up to the release of that fifth movie, A Good Day To Die Hard, which killed everything for which John McClane and the series at large always stood.
The time has come at The No Seatbelt Blog to rank the five Die Hard films from worst to best, from the embarrassing to the monumental.
A Good Day to Die Hard (WORST)
The fifth installment of the series, A Good Day to Die Hard is rotten to the core. Everything that made John McClane what he’s always been – just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time – was forgotten in this film as the character deliberately went looking for trouble. McClane travels to Russia – and everybody knows nothing good ever happens there in the movies – to look for his long lost son Jack (Jai Courtney) who has gotten into some trouble of his own. Things go sour quickly, but not in true Die Hard fashion. A weak story, terrible CGI, unconvincing villain and unmotivated writing signaled what should be the death knell for this series. John McClane was reduced to a shell of his former self here.
Live Free or Die Hard
Live Free or Die Hard, released in 2007, features for the first time a fully-bald John McClane, who reluctantly agrees to pick up young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to bring him in for questioning. It turns out that the police are not the only ones looking for Farrell, and soon a terrorist plot to shut down all of America’s essential public services is uncovered. Led by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a disgraced former government official, a band of cyberterrorists holds the United States for ransom by hacking into secure mainframes and suspending everything from natural gas, to water, to emergency medical services. As fate would have it, McClane and Farrell are the only two people who can possibly thwart this most unrealistic plan. I am a huge fan of Timothy Olyphant and of course enjoyed him here as a villain, and his signature gets-so-mad-that-he-almost-cries look is not absent in this case. I am admittedly a fan of this film, and it only takes the next-to-worst spot because the first three entries in the series are on a different plane.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
The sequel to the original Die Hard takes to the skies in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, when a maniacal former military colonel and a slew of terrorist henchmen hijack air traffic control at Dulles Airport, shutting down the runway lights and holding planes hostage in the air until a drug lord is able to land and escape justice. As I’m sure you can imagine, John McClane is not okay with this, especially since his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is on one of those planes that is running dangerously low on fuel. “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” he asks himself as he dashes through an underground tunnel. This film was honestly always my least favorite out of the original three, and still is, but it has certainly grown on me and still qualifies as vintage John McClane.
Die Hard With a Vengeance
1995’s Die Hard With a Vengeance takes the runner-up spot for me, as John McClane finds himself back in New York City, getting pulled off suspension from the police force to engage in a series of dangerous tasks set forth by a mysterious man who is threatening to blow up various locations around the city. It is soon revealed that said villain is none other than Simon Peter Gruber (Jeremy Irons), the brother of Hans Gruber, the terrorist leader who met his demise at the hands of John McClane at the close of the original Die Hard film. Simon is not pleased with that, and forces McClane and his new friend, Harlem shopkeeper Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) to play his game of “Simon Says” before he blows up half of New York. Jackson ramps up the quotability of the film in his own signature way, adding plenty of laughs, as his character reluctantly gets pulled into harm’s way at every turn. Good villain, the addition of Jackson to the cast is a great choice, and McClane on his home turf makes this a near-perfect Die Hard film.
Die Hard (BEST)
We’ve come to the top spot in this list, and of course, the winner is the original Die Hard. This is the film that so many other action movies have tried to be ever since, setting an incomparable pace for the lone-wolf hero type of fare. John McClane travels to Los Angeles for a Christmas party at his estranged wife Holly’s company, Nakatomi. Once in the building, a band of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) invades the party and holds the attendees hostage, as they attempt to unlock the buildings vault that contains hundreds of millions in negotiable bearer bonds. At the first sound of gunshots, McClane flies into action, barefoot and all by his lonesome, scrambling to evade or kill the bad guys who are scattered about the building. Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one of the greatest movie villains there ever was, and the actor’s passing earlier this year will hurt for a long time to come. McClane is snide, full of jokes, and loaded with everyman mettle, making him a perfect hero. One of my all-time favorite films.
So, there we have it, my list of the Die Hard films, ranked from the worst to the best. The series saw many high points, as well as a bottomless low, but all-in-all remains a set of my favorite movies to ever hit the big screen.