In 1988 Die Hard came out of nowhere and blew everyone away. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber was menacing and sophisticated; the thinking man’s terrorist. Bruce Willis was a revelation, coming in from the cold of Moonlighting and Blind Date, his only previous feature film acting credit, to make a seamless transition from comic actor to action hero.
Director John McTiernan was at the top of his game, blending a potent cocktail of suspense, action and characterisation. McTiernan had hinted at such prowess with 1987’s Predator but here he really nailed it to the wall. The dialogue was sharp, performances across the cast were top notch, and the stunts were absolutely jaw dropping.
A film that had such an enormous impact on popular culture was never going to escape without a sequel. As such the cameras started rolling on Die Hard 2: Die Harder not long after the original was doing its final rounds at the cinemas.
With no McTiernan on board (he was shooting ‘The Hunt For Red October’), uber-producer Joel Silver brought in Finnish director Renny Harlin, who had just helmed the then most successful independent movie of all time, ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street 4’.
By this point Bruce Willis was the hottest movie star on the planet. He had married Demi Moore in ’87, and they were Hollywood’s power couple du jour. With the success of the first Die Hard, the weight of expectation around the world for the sequel was huge and the hype machine went into overdrive.
The box office for Die Harder didn’t disappoint, with the sequel out-grossing its predecessor by over $100million. Critics were not quite as keen on the latest in this newly emerging franchise, but critics love to hate sequels so that shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.
The film really delivers as both a summer blockbuster and an intimate character driven thriller – no mean feat. Full of snappy one-liners, wonderfully engineered set pieces and dramatic tension it’s a hugely impressive step up to the big time from Harlin.
It took 5 years for John McLane to return to our screens again but return he did, with original Die Hard helmer John McTiernan back behind the camera for 1995’s ‘Die hard With A Vengeance’.
The setting of Vengeance is expanded from the claustrophobic confines of a skyscraper and an airport in the first 2 movies to the much larger playing field that is New York City, and the film starts in explosive fashion – literally. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” is interrupted by a bomb in downtown Manhattan. It’s a heart-stopping moment that sets expectations high; sadly these aren’t met.
Jeremy Irons plays Hans Gruber’s more pathetic brother, Simon, and this is where the trouble with the film begins. The level of threat an audience can perceive from a terrorist with a stutter who gets flustered when McLane ridicules him on the phone is, in my opinion, minimal.
Opening scene aside the lighter tone of this 3rd instalment in the series does not make for a good Die Hard movie. Even Samuel L. Jackson, playing the likeable Harlem shopkeeper Zeus Carver (great name), can’t save it. Despite these problems it became the most successful of the series at the box office, grossing over $365m worldwide.
Fast forward 12 years and we have “Live Free Or Die Hard”. It’s ludicrous and it’s over the top but my word it’s fun: John McLane is now officially a super-cop, leaping from fighter planes and driving cars into helicopters.
To my mind, however, this isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Think of what the guy’s been through in his fictional career. If I had saved Nakatomi Plaza, Dulles Airport and New York from the evil clutches of terrorists I’d feel pretty confident about leaping onto the wing of a moving jet plane and surviving.
‘Live Free Or Die Hard’ continued the trend of out-grossing its predecessor, and is the most successful of the Die Hard franchise to date.
Bruce Willis announced last year that a first draft of Die Hard 5, from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and A-Team writer Skip Woods, was finished and that shooting should begin later this year. ‘Smart People’ director Noam Murro is locked in to direct.
Regarding a possible Die Hard 6, Willis says, “for me, I want to do Die Hard 5, then one final Die Hard movie — Die Hard 6 — before finally hanging that white vest up for good”. Lord knows it’ll need a good wash by then.
The official AlwaysAround Die Hard ranking:
The worst of the series so far, #4 of 4, Die Hard With A Vengeance
#3: Live Free Or Die Hard
#2: Die Hard
#1: Die Harder
Disagree? Let’s hear from you!!