by Patrick Bromley
It's science fact that Die Hard
is the best action movie of all time. If you don't think so, here are 22 movies that prove the theorem by ripping off its formula with varying degrees of success. No action movie has been imitated more.
1. Sudden Death
(1995, dir. Peter Hyams) At the peak of his mainstream success, Jean-Claude Van Damme made one of the very best Die Hard
rip-offs, pitting his security guard against Powers Boothe in Die Hard
-at-a-hockey-game. Director Peter Hyams (who would team with Van Damme for several movies, including Timecop
and Enemies Closer
) is very aware of the fact that he's paying homage to the greatest action movie ever made and does so with a slick, violent, often silly tribute that ratchets up the crazy (a fight in a mascot costume, Van Damme on ice) without sacrificing the same blue-collar-guy-in-an-impossible-situation thing that made Die Hard
2. No Contest
(1995, dir. Paul Lynch) On paper, this Die-Hard
-at-a-beauty-pageant effort is one of my favorite imitators. It casts Playboy
Playmate and '90s HBO hump queen Shannon Tweed as the John McClane. In the Hans Gruber role? Andrew Dice Clay. Robert Davi plays the Sgt. Al. Rowdy Roddy Piper is the Alexander Godunov. HOW CAN THIS FAIL? The answer: by being dreadfully fucking dull. All the wacky casting in the world can't make up for an uneventful script and leaden direction by Prom Night
's Paul Lynch. It was a big enough hit on HBO that a sequel, No Contest II
(aka Face the Evil
) was made two years later. Tweed reprises her role; Lance Henriksen steps in as the bad guy. Because of course he does.
(1996, dir. Raymond Martino) Best viewed as a companion piece to No Contest
, 1996's Skyscraper
casts fellow Playboy
Playmate Anna Nicole Smith as the world's largest-chested helicopter pilot who has to stop a criminal from getting his hands on some world-ending device. Almost of the film's dialogue appears to be looped, with Anna Nicole apparently sounding out her lines phonetically. John McClane she is not. Of course, John McClane never had any long, lingering shower scenes or slow motion sex. Advantage Anna Nicole. She even gets to do the Die Hard
"jumping over the side of the building" move! And then dangles there like a slack yo-yo filled with pills and regret. That the movie exists at all is a miracle, as evidenced by these outtakes
. "I'm leading your hairspace!"
4. Under Siege
(1992, dir. Andrew Davis) Steven Seagal's biggest critical and commercial success does Die Hard
on a boat as Seagal's Casey Ryback ("I'm just a cook!") takes on a team of pissed off soldiers. He also has the help of Erika Eleniak, a former Playboy
Playmate. I'm sensing a fucking theme there. Solid villain turns from Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones elevate this above many Seagal movies of the era (era). This is usually called Seagal's best movie, but I'm guessing that's only by people who haven't seen Out for Justice
(2003, dir. Sidney J. Furie) The first of Dolph Lundgren's two Die Hard
rip-offs casts him as a soldier-turned-teacher fed up with the horrible kids at his school and on his way towards a resignation when he's forced to chaperone detention one last time. It just happens to be the same day that murderous criminals invade the school to hide the $300 million in cocaine they've hijacked. Dolph and the juvenile delinquents have to take on a bunch of armed killers and take back the school! Part Die Hard
, part Toy Soldiers
, mostly disappointing.
6. Command Performance
(2009, dir. Dolph Lundgren) Dolph Lundgren's second Die Hard
imitation. This time he writes, directs and stars in Die Hard
at a rock concert, playing a drummer who must singlehandedly stop a group of terrorists when his band is asked to open for a pop star (Melissa Smith, whose greatest claim to fame is not
making girl groups Danity Kane and The Pussycat Dolls on their respective reality TV shows) performing a concert in Russia. A true renaissance man, Lundgren even gets to do his own drumming in the movie. It's impressive. And yes -- he does get to kill someone with drumsticks.
7. White House Down
(2013, dir. Roland Emmerich) One of two Die Hard
-in-the-White-House movies released in 2013 casts Channing Tatum as the John McClane (complete with white tank top!) who must protect President Jamie Foxx when terrorists take over. All of the ingredients are here for a really good DH
rip-off, but director Roland Emmerich can't help himself from inserting a bunch of stupid, tone-deaf comedy. Plus the movie cheaps out in a few areas where it counts -- like explosions and outdoor photography. Little things. Apologies to F-Head Chaybee for not liking this movie more.
8. Olympus Has Fallen
(2013, dir. Antonine Fuqua) White House Down
was beat to the box office by Olympus Has Fallen
, the first of last year's Die Hard
-in-the-White-House epics. Gerard Butler lacks the "everyman" quality of John McClane (which Channing Tatum captured well despite being a total dreamboat), but OHF
picks up the slack by taking the action seriously and really going for the hard-R shit. This is the Die Hard
imitation with the most head stabbings. It, too, relies on a lot of CGI explosions and goes on at least a half hour too long, but it's the kind of action movie that's all too rare these days.
(1994, dir. Jan de Bont) This is a Die Hard
rip-off on paper only, as a simple plot description makes it sound like Die Hard
on a bus. In reality, Speed
became its own subgenre of action movie (itself imitated by movies like Chill Factor
and Speed 2: Cruise Control
) by taking a basic premise and committing to it 100%, casting good actors, having smart writing and taut, capable direction. Speed
is nearly the classic that Die Hard
is, only it's not Die Hard
. That's ok. No movie is. Except Die Hard
. Who wants to watch Die Hard
(1993, dir. Renny Harlin) Sylvester Stallone does Die Hard
on a mountain! A group of thieves, led by a faux-British John Lithgow, misplace millions of dollars on a snowy mountain (I know) and enlist professional Stallone to help them find it. Gorgeous scenery (particularly in 70mm), brutal violence and a grandiose, operatic feel make this one of Stallone's better '90s efforts...as long as you're not paying attention to things like dialogue and performance. This movie features the wordiest and most awkward bad guy send-off line in movie history. Director Renny Harlin knows his way around a Die Hard
rip-off, having helmed Die Hard 2: Die Harder
just a few years prior.
(2000, dir. David Giancola) Years after Cliffhanger
, we get another Die Hard
-on-a-mountain effort, only this time it's at a ski resort and The Goonies'
Sean Astin is the John McClane (sucks to his ass-mar). Astin already did a Die Hard
imitation nine years earlier with Toy Soldiers
, but this one has Bruce Campbell with a shaved head playing the bad guy. As Die Hard
rip-offs go, this one's not very good. As Sean Astin movies go, it's also not very good.
12. Point Blank
(1998, dir. Matt Earl Beesley) Die Hard
in a mall! Mickey Rourke is at rock bottom playing Rudy Ray, a cop whose sent in to stop a group of bad guys who take over a mall (because one of the bad guys is his brother). An impressive collection of action movie character actors that includes Danny Trejo, Kevin Gage, Frederic Forrest, James Gammon and Paul Ben-Victor help compensate for what is an otherwise by-the-numbers action film. Rourke just doesn't work as this kind of action hero, neither the relatable everyman nor the larger-than-life superman. He's just openly miserable.
13. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
(1995, dir. Geoff Murphy) Steven Seagal's first (and only?) sequel follows up one of the best movies of his "theatrical" period with one of the weakest, sticking him on a train with a daughter (pre-stardom Katherine Heigl) and a sidekick (Morris Chestnut) that's even more shrill and annoying than the stripper from Part One. This feels like a sequel in name only, like a script for a movie called Dark Territory
was bought and barely rewritten to be a follow-up to Under Siege
. It's only noteworthy for Eric Bogosian's turn as the movie's villain, as he manages to outdo Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey combined in the over-the-top department.
(2002, dir. Bob Misiorowski) Van Damme's second Die Hard
rip-off doesn't really deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Die Hard
. It barely deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Under Siege 2
. Considered even by the most devoted Van Damme fans (like myself) to be among his worst films, Derailed
finds JCVD fighting off a train of terrorists bent on obtaining a chemical weapon. And wouldn't you know his family is on the train? Also on the train: Laura Elena Harring. Protect what's important, JCVD. Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson's script was rewritten and the movie feels lazy and by the numbers even for a DTV effort. Stick with Sudden Death
15. Deadly Outbreak
(1996, dir. Rick Avery) Sooner or later, every action star and/or Playboy
Playmate makes his or her Die Hard
rip-off. This is international kenpo champion Jeff Speakman's. He's an American visiting a chemical weapons laboratory in Israel when it's taken over by a terrorist (Ron Silver). It starts out as Die Hard
before morphing into Speed
(see what I mean about that movie become its own genre?). International kenpo champion Speakman plays Dutton Hatfield, which is an excellent name, but is never able to transcend being international kenpo champion Jeff Speakman, a talented martial artist (and probably very nice guy) who just doesn't quite pop on screen.
16. High Risk
(1995, dir. Wong Jing) A feature-length "fuck you" to Jackie Chan, this Hong Kong actioner (also known as Meltdown
in the U.S.) casts Jet Li as a cop who leaves the bomb squad after a tragedy and starts working as the stunt double for martial arts star Frankie Lone (Jacky Cheung, spoofing Jackie Chan). Li and Cheung are trapped in a hotel that's taken over by thieves and have to take matters into their own hands, making it part Die Hard
and part The Hard Way
. The movie is mostly notable these days for the digs it takes at Chan, who it suggests is a drunk and a lech and doesn't really do his own stunts. Ya burnt, Jackie.
17. Lethal Tender
(1997, dir. John Bradshaw) It's Die Hard
at a water treatment facility! This direct-to-video effort finds Jeff Fahey as the John McClane, who has to team up with Carrie-Anne Moss to stop a takeover of the city's water supply by Gary Busey and his main henchman Kim Coates. This one is as generic as they come, from the period when Fahey was still wrongly playing leading man roles instead of the character parts he's so good at. Also, his jacket with the furry collar is a constant distraction. Busey is Busey and Coates has fun, but it's one of the last movies on this list you should bother checking out. Also, what's with that title? I can see it making sense if this was Die Hard
at the Treasury or something, but it's a water plant. No water puns? Nothing?
18. The Taking of Beverly Hills
(1991, dir. Sidney J. Furie) It's Die Hard
in the richest city in the country! A limping Ken Wahl plays Boomer Hayes, star quarterback and the only man left in Beverly Hills to stop an army of corrupt cops and mercenaries from looting the whole city. As a Die Hard
rip-off, it's not great. As a ridiculous early-'90s action movie, it's a hoot. So many football puns.
19. Hard Rain
(1998, dir. Mikael Saloman) Die Hard
in a flood! Continuing his inexplicable ascent from teen hearthrob to DTV action hero, Christian Slater plays an armored truck driver who must singlehandedly stop a heist during the worst rainstorm in history. The overqualified cast also includes Morgan Freeman, Minnie Driver and Ed Asner. This has held up better than a lot of the titles on the list, most likely because of its impressively staged action sequences (I mean, they really did use all that water) and its commitment to being a straightforward genre film. There aren't enough of those anymore.
20. Passenger 57
(1992, dir. Kevin Hooks) An early Die Hard
imitator that's clever in the way moves the single-space location from Die Hard
's relatively large and open skyscraper to the inside of a single airplane. Wesley Snipes steps in as the ONE THING THEY DIDN'T COUNT ON in a movie that works as one of the few successful post-'70s blaxploitation movies. It rightly made Snipes an action star, and while it's probably not his best movie, it belongs somewhere in the top five.
21. Executive Decision
(1996, dir. Stuart Baird) The second -- and best -- of the Die Hard
-on-a-plane movies of the mid-'90s is hardly Die Hard
at all. Kurt Russell has to lead a military team onto a plane in MID-FLIGHT to stop a hijacking, and the results are tense and exciting and really good. Steven Seagal is the military guy in charge, and the movie has the balls to SPOILER kill him off before he can even do anything.
22. Air Force One
(1997, dir. Wolfgang Peterson) Die Hard
with the President! Harrison Ford is all "Get out of my dreams, get off of my plane." Gary Oldman is all "Do you have my money? Don't splash pot." This movie was a huge hit. I do not understand why.
Re: Air Force One - um, because it's awesome? Because Ford is engaged, and not yet the depressing miserable old person he turned into soon afterwards? Because Oldman is great, and the direction suspenseful and exciting? Because the Constitutional White House drama is a very cool angle? Don't tease us like that, Patrick; if our memory is playing tricks on us and it's not the towering achievement our kid selves thought it was, tell us why we're wrong! :PReplyDelete
I too also really like Air Force One though I haven't seen it in a long time I remember it being one of the better die hard rip offs but it may be time for a revisit.Delete
I also second "AFO" as an awesome "Die Hard" ripoff. Just the fact this much thought and intelligence went into writing it (as far as the movie being about something, as the constant back-and-forth between Ford and Oldman dialogue goes) and so many AAA stars appear in a big-budget Hollywood movie that goes for a violence-fueled 'R' rating (you know it'd be cut down to PG-13 today to get more butts into seats) was kind of a minor miracle back in '97.Delete
So it's decided, then. We demand that Mr. Broms clarify his stance!Delete
First off, this was an amazing Heavy Action article! I have never heard of No Contest or Point Blank and they are now on my must see list. Die Hard in a mall?! (I love "Mall" movies for some reason, which is weird cause I hate malls except for Time Out and Orange Julius.)ReplyDelete
I love that you point out that Die Hard is scientifically the greatest action film ever. That is 100% correct and inarguable. Die Hard is the film I have seen more than any other. When I was in college I had to make a trip to visit a girl I was seeing at another college and I TAPED Die Hard onto a cassette to listen to on the way down, that's how much I F-ing love Die Hard!
I love that you think Speed can hang. When I saw Speed in the theater I proclaimed that it was the best action flick I had seen since Die Hard. I don't know if I still feel the same, although I still dig it. I think The Raid is the second best action movie ever now.
Hard Boiled, Speed, Lethal Weapon and With a Vengeance are in the top ten.
Thanks for the shout out btw on White House Down! No love lost my friend. As you know, I love it because in my heart of hearts I honestly believe that Emmerich was given this script and he secretly said "What the F? This is another Die Hard ripoff! So, F- it, I'm going to remake Die Hard!"
What about the Raid 2? That movie has some of the best action sequences I've ever seen in my life and it's for sure in my top 3 action movies of all time. I enjoyed the first raid but the second one holy shit.Delete
I really really liked the Raid 2. However, I think it's length really hurt it. The Raid was non-stop intense action from the first 10 minutes on. I do think that you have a legit argument though for it being a top contender.Delete
Yea I can see how the length could be a problem for some people, I was def. exhausted by the end of it. I just thought it had a better story than the first one and the fight sequences were so beautifully executed and choreographed and each one just got better and better. Both fantastic movies though.Delete
"The Raid" action movies, amazing as they are, are not really "Die Hard" movies. There's a formula/template to the "Die Hard" ripoff, and though "The Raid: Redemption" comes the closest of the two to it, it's still not really a "Die Hard" type of movie.Delete
We weren't saying they were die hard movies we were just talking about our favorite action movies in general I think.Delete
OK, got it. My bad, sorry. :-(Delete
Hey hey hey no sad faces sir. This is a happy place.Delete
OK, then, pretend happy faces coming right up: :-) :-) :-)Delete
I always hear people say "oh my god I've seen that movie like, literally, 100 times." (I hang out with valley girls) but I'm pretty sure I've actually, literally, realistically seen Die Hard 100 times. I was the only kid in 2nd grade whose favorite movie featured a graphic head shot.ReplyDelete
But, speaking of Air Force One, I caught a few minutes on TNT a few weeks ago, and there's a tense scene where Harrison Ford (wait a second....President Harrison, President Ford?) heroically sends a fax, and I believe that is the exact moment when serious action movies died. So you're off the hook, Michael Bay.
"heroically sends a fax" just made me spit out my coffee haha!Delete
".. then dangles there like a slack yo-yo filled with pills and regret." Priceless.ReplyDelete
I love the shout-out to the mainly forgotten Hard Rain! The children of the future will look back in amazement that the late ‘90s were a time when a 70 million dollar action movie could be made starring a B-level actor with impressive practical effects and stunts about shootouts in a flood. This movie couldn’t/wouldn’t be made today in the mainstream and we are worse off for it.ReplyDelete
"Hard Rain" is currently streaming on Netflix Instant if anyone is interesting in checking it out.Delete
Great work. Thats a column and a half.I can't argue against Die Hard. Its pretty much perfect. Or as close as you can get.ReplyDelete
Im a big Passenger 57 fan. Its got some great lines "Do you ever play Roulette. Always bet on Black" its so bad its good.
I'll stick up for Chaybee. I liked White House Down. It felt like a fun movie. Its the President with a rocket launcher. Now there's something you don't see everyday. Ive only seen it once and it probably won't hold up again. But i was in the mood for brainless fun and that's what I got
Theres a few in there I don't know of to look out for in the future. Cheers
Lovely to see a mention of Out for Justice (granted in no relation to the article.) Excellent Seagal flick although I love a bit of Above the Law purely because Nico is mentioned at least 3 times in every sentence.ReplyDelete
The credits sequence of Above the Law where master Seagal is beating up his students in slow-motion is one of the pinnacles of his (or any) career.Delete
I like "Under Siege" much better than "Out for Justice," which rocks my world too. I own them both (on HD-DVD no less!) and "Under Siege" is definitely the one that gets watched more often because, well, how can you beat "Die Hard" on a boat, really?Delete
Thanks for this awesome column Patrick. Die Hard is one of the greatest movies ever made and if I was to sit down and make a concrete top 5 favorite movie list it would probably be on there. I was happy to see some of these movies get a shout out because growing up they were some of the first R rated movies I ever saw and that always makes an impression on a young man. I remember I had to go spend the summer with my aunt in California when I was around 9 or 10 and I didn't know anybody and i got major homesick so I'd hide away in the guest room and watch all the action movies that were lying around the house. Cliffhanger was one of the movies that got me through that hellish summer and Speed was another one and Total Recall. I watched those movies so many times over those few months that I'm pretty sure I almost wore out the tapes and after that a heavy action fan was born. I'm happy to see sudden death get some representation on here too because I remember watching that movie on cable alot when I was younger and i used to think it was so great. I love Die Hard and the influence it's had on the action genre for better or worse and I will always hold alot of these movies close to my heart for what they meant to me as a young impressionable youth and what they still mean to me now. They just don't make action movies like they used to folks.ReplyDelete
I just finished watching Sudden Death a few hours ago. Then I check out FThisMovie, and what's on the front page? Monkey-fighting Sudden Monday-to-Friday Death!ReplyDelete
The universe is a more mysterious place than we give it credit for.
Oh, a great article btw, I just might have to check a few of these out (only seen about a third of the movies listed).
A local radio show I listen to names Out for Justice as one of the greatest mindless action films in the history of the medium.ReplyDelete
Patrick want to say thanks for writing such a fun column. Let the kids have their comic book movies. Heavy action is my jam. #HeavyAction4LifeReplyDelete
I'm just curious, why 21 movies? Anything to do with blackjack, the age when you can drink, vote and die for your country at once, or is there an ascending/descending order? Great article. I just saw the first two "Expendable" movies for the first time over the weekend and I'm on a high from enjoying the ever-loving shit out of both of them (will listen to the podcasts tomorrow and try and track down "Expendables 3" is it's still playing anywhere near me), so the Dolph movies in this article sound like they'd be right up my alley right now. Too bad Scary Movie Month's coming though, can't watch them all at once because that... would be uncivilized.ReplyDelete
I think Con Air and The Rock meet the criteria for Die Hard rip offs as well, now, please put the bunny back in the box!ReplyDelete
So far as I'm aware, they are usually considered part of the "Die Hard on an X" cycle, though The Rock really wasn't very good and Con Air was AWESOME!Delete
Oh boy, is this an area I've gone familiar with recently. I took a class on action cinema last semester and we spent a week discussing the "Die Hard on a Something" film as we came to know it. The movie that week was Die Hard, but we spent a lot of time discussing the various characteristics that make up the formula and studying all the patterns. Now I've actually started writing a Die Hard imitator of my own that brings some interesting new twists on the old ideas.ReplyDelete
I've even been going as far as to basically watch every Die Hard imitator I've been able to get my hands on for inspiration. Out of the ones I've seen so far, I would have to say that Con Air (Die Hard on a prison plane) is probably my personal favorite with The Rock (Die Hard in Alcatraz) arguably being the worst (you can see my review here: http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/12/the-one-michael-bay-movie-people-didnt.html).
Out of the ones you list here, I've seen about four of them (Speed, Air Force One, and both "Die Hard in the White House" movies from 2013), all of which I enjoyed though I'd agree that Olympus has Fallen is definitely a bit more entertaining than White House Down. Speed is fun and Air Force One is pretty exciting.
Yeah... about Air Force One. I loved it so, so much as a teenager. When I watch it now I always find it pretty boring. But I loved it so much long ago that I can't break myself away from my nostalgia and say I don't like it. It's strange.ReplyDelete