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Happy Anniversary John McClane! 10 Movies Spawned By 'Die Hard'

Features
by Drew Taylor
July 18, 2013 12:36 PM
7 Comments
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"The Tower" (2012)
Plot: On Christmas Eve, a helicopter crashes into a deluxe high rise in South Korea, trapping a disparate group of characters inside. Or: "Die Hard" in South Korea.
Level of 'Die Hard'-y-ness: Even though the American DVD box proclaims it as being "Die Hard" meets "The Towering Inferno" (good one, guys), and all of the artwork, at least domestically, mimics the original "Die Hard" promotional material (which scaled back an emphasis on Bruce Willis after audiences started booing trailers that heavily featured the star, who up until that point was known for his comedic work), it's much more of a '70s disaster movie homage than a straight "Die Hard" rip. The first thirty minutes or so set up the various cast of characters: the recently widowed building manager with the ridiculously cute daughter, the goofy guy in the kitchen who wants to propose to his girlfriend, the lower class guy who won the lottery and is shunned by other tenants, the custodial worker who's there to pay for her snotty son's education, and the rookie firefighter). It's a total disaster movie thing to do, but the movie is clearly tipping its hat to "Die Hard" in its Christmas Eve setting and the fact that the titular tower (actually two towers linked by a "sky bridge") looks suspiciously similar to Nakatomi Plaza. Proof that the influence and reach of "Die Hard" can crossover internationally.
How It Compares: "The Tower" is a ridiculously cool movie, full of absolutely jaw-dropping action sequences, but its fractured narrative often dilutes the emotionality of the piece, and the emphasis is oftentimes less on suspense and more on giant stunts. Plus, in typical South Korean fashion, it's all over the place tonally and some of the imagery uncomfortably mirrors 9/11, particularly when bodies are falling out of the twin towers and when they implode one of the towers at the end, sending plumes of grey smoke into the urban landscape. Quite frankly, "Die Hard" was never this grim.

"White House Down" (2013)
Plot: A group of terrorists invade the White House and hold hostages, so it's up to one wannabe Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) to save the President (Jamie Foxx) and the hostages (including his adorable daughter) and stop their fiendish plot (which is so unnecessarily complicated we can't even recount it here). Or: "Die Hard" in the White House.
Level of 'Die Hard'-y-ness: This might be the "Die Hard"-iest movie on the entire list, something that has been pointed out more than once. Virtually everything about "White House Down" has been borrowed from "Die Hard," from Tatum's reluctant hero caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, to the computer hacker who operatically does his work while classical music booms over the soundtrack, to the terrorists unknowingly holding the hero's family member hostage. By the time "White House Down" is over, Channing Tatum even kind of looks like Bruce Willis in the first "Die Hard," with a blood-and-grease-streaked white tank top and grey khakis. Hell, Tatum's character is named John Cale, which is only a couple of letters off from John McClane. The list of similarities goes on and on (the bad guys are the "Die Hard" villains in reverse, terrorists posing as thieves), and even goes beyond the original "Die Hard." Notably, the Tatum/Foxx dynamic calls to mind "Die Hard with a Vengeance," arguably the second-best entry in the franchise and the only other installment directed by McTiernan. At least director Roland Emmerich was very open in citing "Die Hard" as a major influence, as if nobody was going to notice.
How It Compares: Sadly, it really doesn't. "White House Down" might have a lot of the same ingredients as "Die Hard," but all too often it feels like a poor imitation. It's overtly earnest and handles its humor clumsily, and as far as staging action set pieces goes, Emmerich doesn't hold a candle to McTiernan. And this is yet another example of how new technology isn't necessarily better technology: compare the two eerily alike sequences of helicopters approaching the terrorist-controlled building. In "Die Hard," the effect was achieved through an uncanny combination of actual helicopters and miniature effects, and it was totally believable, whereas "White House Down" had fully computer-generated helicopters and you didn't buy it for a fucking second.  

"Under Siege" (1992)
Plot: A battleship recently tagged for decommission, gets violently taken over by a nutcase (Tommy Lee Jones) intent on stealing the ship's nuclear missiles and auctioning them off to the highest bidder. He just didn't count on the ship's cook (Steven Seagal) being an ex-SEAL bad-ass of the highest order. Or: "Die Hard" on a battleship.
Level of 'Die Hard'-y-ness: Pretty high but not off the charts. "Under Siege" borrows some of the fundamentals from "Die Hard" like how the "terrorists" here are more interested in stealing stuff than any political agenda, plus the lone man contained away from much of the action, but most of the movie is different enough to feel relatively fresh. "Under Siege" has a goofier, more overt sense of humor than "Die Hard," which oddly doesn't completely clash with its bursts of shocking violence. One way in which "Under Siege" is very similar to "Die Hard," and it's something that many of the post-"Die Hard" rip-offs never followed, is that it has a very brief flash of nudity. In the original "Die Hard," the bad guys are interrupting a Christmas office party and break up a couple who are secreted away in an office having sex (we get to see the woman's breasts for maybe five seconds). In "Under Siege," the bad guys get onto the ship posing as caterers and party planners accompanying a Playboy Playmate, who is scheduled to pop out of a cake. But such are the rigors of money-making that studios now avoid nudity to secure PG-13 ratings, rather than giving teen boys momentary R-rated thrills. (But then again, that audience has the internet now.)
How It Compares: Especially in re-watching it, "Under Siege" doesn’t stack up all that well to "Die Hard." Director Andrew Davis, who would go on to helm the Oscar-nominated "The Fugitive" before all but disappearing, doesn't have the command of his action sequences in the same way that McTiernan does, and too much of the movie's running time is spent on the white-guys-in-a-situation-room nonsense that bogs down so many of these types of films. Where it is almost equaled, however, is in its villain. Tommy Lee Jones' Strannix (!) character is nothing like Hans Gruber; he's a down-and-dirty southern dude who rocks a studded jacket, bandana, and is prone to lines like "These guys are professionals, they can handle 20 marines… and 100 cooks." But there's something about the electricity of Jones' performance, the absolute attention he commands anytime he's on screen that is just like Alan Rickman in "Die Hard." Whenever Jones is there, you can't take his eyes off of him. It's a performance that doubles as an act of mesmerism. He's the best bad guy of this type since Hans Gruber, but his death scene isn't nearly as cool.

Of course, there were literally dozens more faux “Die Hards,” many of them direct-to-video or cable exclusive affairs (and more than a few of them we can’t report to have actually seen). Of the theatrical movies, “Daylight” (“Die Hard” in a tunnel), “Passenger 57” (“Die Hard” on a plane), "Hard Rain" ("Die Hard" during a flood), “Executive Decision” (“Die Hard” on another plane) and “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” (“Die Hard” on a train), which featured indie film world weirdo Eric Bogosian in the Hans Gruber role, are some of the more watchable. Michael Bay's "The Rock" ("Die Hard" on Alcatraz) is something of a classic for this kind of thing, but it's been given enough love elsewhere. Meryl Streep even got in on the action with "The River Wild" ("Die Hard" on a river) back in the day, and there was that other White House movie this year, "Olympus Has Fallen."

It’s unthinkable, in our post-Sandy Hook society, but there were at least two “Die Hard” in a school riffs—“Demolition High” and “Toy Soldiers,” and, along the lines of “Cliffhanger,” a pair of “Die Hard” on a mountain movies, one starring football star Howie Long (“Firestorm”) and another starring Sean Astin and Bruce Campbell (“Icebreaker”—seriously, watch the trailer right now). “No Contest” was “Die Hard” at a beauty contest (something that would be borrowed for the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy “Miss Congeniality”) and has the dubious distinction of featuring not only Shannon Tweed in the cast but an original “Die Hard” cast member—Robert Davi (who played one of the doomed FBI agents)! Then there’s the regrettable “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” which was “Die Hard” on a cruise ship (the experience was worse than getting seasick all over the lido deck).

What’s your favorite “Die Hard” rip-off? Which ones did we forget or were so far buried down the direct-to-cable rabbit hole that we couldn’t even bring them up? Let us know below.

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7 Comments

  • yippi KJ | July 20, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    what about Home Alone?

  • GoldenEye21091987 | July 18, 2013 7:27 PMReply

    I disagree, Daylight is not "Die Hard in a tunnel". Daylight is more an adventure movie than an action movie, there isn't bad guys on it, no big heist, or big fights, just a bunch of people trying to survive a tunnel's dissaster caused by a car accident.

  • ChuckAmuck | July 18, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    You're a few days off. 'Die Hard' opened in limited release on July 15, 1988, and expanded nationwide a week later, on July 22, 1988.

  • goldfarb | July 18, 2013 3:12 PMReply

    "...a cult British comic book."

    "...especially since the original "Judge Dredd" comic book (initially housed in the pages of "2000 A.D.") was developed, in part, as a satire of American action movies like "Die Hard.""

    Judge Dredd is not a 'cult' comic book - it's hugely popular in Britain.
    and it was first seen in 1977...before even the novel that inspired Die Hard was written. If anything Judge Dredd is a sci-fi version of Clint Eastwood's 'man with no name' and Dirty Harry.

  • WM Joseph | July 18, 2013 2:52 PMReply

    Star Trek: First Contact
    "Die Hard" on a spaceship. Captain Picard must deal with the growing Borg infiltration and assimilation of the Enterprise. Patrick Stewart faces the greatest acting challenge - reprising his role as a character he played for 7 years in the TV series and a prior movie - now having to play the said character, Captain Picard, in a very different manner as an action guy.

    The new starship Enterprise-E seems very dark and claustrophobic compared to the seemingly vast, bright and colourful Enterprise-D from the TV series and the previous movie. However, the Enterprise-E provides a perfect backdrop for the action to take place since its feel fits the tone of the movie perfectly.

    Generally considered the "Next Generation's" best film hands down.

    John McTiernan turned down the chance to direct.

  • Northern Star | July 18, 2013 8:27 PM

    Not just McTiernan but the 'Trek producers also approached Ridley Scott about 'First Contact' which he unsurprisingly declined. This shows you just what little imagination the producers and studio had in making the TNG movies, and why they all turned out so blandly mediocre as a result... they should have only started thinking about the movies AFTER the series finished in 1994, with the first TNG movie released in late 1996 not six months after the series ended! It also would have went a long way had they got experienced and proven talent like Nicholas Meyer behind the camera for one if not more film(s), alas...

  • Christopher Bell | July 18, 2013 2:47 PMReply

    Speed = Juggernaut On A Bus

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