When it comes to films that help set the standard for action, you don’t get more influential than Die Hard. The original film, now an action classic, was met with derisive snickers when it first came on the scene, but in actuality it was a foolproof recipe: take an enclosed space, cut it off from the authorities, and have a sad sack action hero (with optional sidekick) take down the bad guys: usually terrorists with ulterior motives. So sound was the structure of Die Hard that action films have borrowed it over and over, to sometimes less-than-stellar results (“Die Hard on a ___,” goes the pitch). While ripping off Die Hard has produced some solid movies (I’ll stand by Stallone’s Cliffhanger, for example), let us celebrate this week’s release of the presidential actioner White House Down (which is inspired by either Die Hard or this year’s Olympus Has Fallen—you make the call) with ten movies that tried to ape the success of Die Hard, but definitely lost something along the way.
10. Die Hard in an Airport (Die Hard 2, 1990)
Many Die Hard fans really enjoy the first sequel, and in truth, it’s not that bad. But it is extremely lazy, a symptom of the typical 80’s philosophy of producing a sequel: copy everything from the original, change one or two elements, and make everything louder and dumber. Here, John McClane battles international terrorists not in a Los Angeles skyrise but in a Washington, D.C. airport, navigating the triple-crosses, gunfights and dim-witted bureaucracy with such ease you’d swear he’s done it before, and better. Say what you will about the following Die Hard sequels (which reached their nadir this year with the awful A Good Day To Die Hard), but at least after this uninspired entry they charted a bold course to doing their own thing.
9. Die Hard on a Cruise Ship (Speed 2: Cruise Control, 1997)
The first Speed film is a dynamite action yarn (clearly indebted to Die Hard), with fun characters, terrific suspense, and a central hook so simple yet gripping that it kept even Homer Simpson’s attention (granted, he called it The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down, but nevertheless). Speed 2, made by the same director, Jan De Bont, plugs in Jason Patric for original star Keanu Reeves, and bizarrely decides that since everyone loved the fast pace of the original, what the sequel needs is to take place on water on board a huge cruise ship hijacked by a psycho (Willem Dafoe). Slow, flat and cursed with a deeply annoying lead performance by Sandra Bullock, Speed 2 represents everything wrong about studio thinking when producing an action movie.
8. Die Hard in a Mall (Point Blank, 1998)
No, no. Not the good Point Blank. Not the John Boorman classic starring Lee Marvin. This one is a direct-to-video time-waster about escaped criminals who take over a shopping mall, and only Mickey Rourke can stop them (all respect to Mickey, but this was during his “down” years). Also featuring Danny Trejo and mindless violence, Point Blank is the kind of movie you stumble across at 3AM flipping past a channel you didn’t even know existed. The idea was recycled with Kevin James in 2009’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and the most damning thing I can say about Point Blank is this: Mall Cop is better.
7. Die Hard in a Prep School (Masterminds, 1997)
Masterminds is a jaw-dropping curiosity, one of those awful movies made all the more fascinating because it stars famous people: one who was already famous at the time (Patrick Stewart), and one who soon would become famous (Vincent “Mad Men” Kartheiser). Stewart is the villain, a security chief for a prep school who takes it over and plans to ransom the students, who are the sons and daughters of the richest people in America. Kartheiser is the ne’er-do-well truant who tries to stop him, leading to numerous Die Hard scene-checks and climaxing in a ridiculous dune buggy chase. I don’t presume to fully understand the thoughts of Patrick Stewart, but I had to believe that given the choice to erase all copies of this film for existence, he wouldn’t hesitate to make it so.
6. Die Hard in a Prison (Half-Past Dead, 2002)
Steven Seagal is Sacha Petrosevitch, a federal agent so deep undercover that he actually goes to prison to bond with his mark. And not just any prison, but Alcatraz, because the filmmakers clearly saw The Rock (a much better Die Hard copier). And then the island is invaded by terrorists called “The 49ers” (really?), and Seagal must battle them all along with his sidekick played by Ja Rule. Remember Ja Rule? Good times. Anyway, the film is notable for being one of the last gasps (no pun intended) of Seagal’s career as a headliner, as his weight gain left him an uncomfortable fit for his action-heavy antics.
5. Die Hard at the Hoover Dam (Terminal Rush, 1996)
By the time of the mid-90’s, movie terrorists were running out of places to hijack, so they started hitting the national monuments. In Terminal Rush, Roddy Piper takes over the dam and tries to extort $25 million from the government, or else he’ll blow it up and kill many. Don “The Dragon” Wilson is an ex-Army Ranger (of course) who has to fight the terrorists (and rescue his captured father) all by himself after the FBI show up and tell him to go home, for reasons that are insufficiently explained. Terminal Rush (which is one of those titles that you forget while in the middle of watching the film) is easily the dumbest film to take place at the Hoover Dam, or at least, it was until Transformers came out.
4. Die Hard in a Flooded Town (Hard Rain, 1998)
A natural disaster is always a good way to isolate a location, which is what you need to stage your creatively bankrupt hostage drama. In the middle of a torrential downpour, Randy Quaid and Morgan Freeman try to rob an armored car transporting millions of dollars through the Midwest, and only Christian Slater and Minnie Driver can stop them, in scene after scene of rain, floods, near-downings, etc., creating the eerie experience of watching a film starring actors that were probably 100x more depressed and irritable while making it than the viewer is while watching it. Written by acclaimed writer Graham Yost (Justified), Hard Rain is unfortunately all wet.
3. Die Hard in a Hockey Rink (Sudden Death, 1995)
Every action star got their Die Hard wannabe, including Jean-Claude Van Damme. Here he plays a character named Davin McCord (what a wonderful movie character name), who is attending the Stanley Cup playoffs with his kids when terrorists seize the building and plan to ransom the Vice President, also in attendance, leading to probably the only time in history that anyone has cared this much about the Vice President of the United States. Those who prize scenes where Jean Claude Van Damme has a fistfight with the Pittsburgh Penguins mascot will treasure Sudden Death, a movie that you just know was plotted out very quickly as soon as someone came up with that title.
2. Die Hard on an Oil Rig (Blast, 2004)
Now here’s a sad story. A terrorist (Vinnie Jones) posing as an environmentalist plans to detonate an EMP across America, and only Eddie Griffin as a tugboat captain, Breckin Meyer as a “funny” computer nerd and Vivica A. Fox as an FBI agent can stop him. Yes, a tugboat captain. Okay, so all that stuff is not so sad (except for the Breckin Meyer part), but Blast was written by Steven E. DeSouza, who was one of the screenwriters of the original Die Hard. Yes, and apparently he remembered his earlier success only none too well. How the mighty did fall.
1. Die Hard in a High Rise (Skyscraper, 1996)
The story goes that at some point in the “Die Hard on an X” pitch life cycle, screenwriters and producers actually forgot the essential setup of Die Hard. And so, numerous screenwriters started pitching Die Hard in an office building, ignoring the inconvenient fact that Die Hard in an office building is called Die Hard. And so, Skyscraper, an Anna-Nicole Smith actioner (yes, you read that right) casts the voluptuous er…actress (rest her soul) as a helicopter pilot trying to protect her husband and fight her way out of a terrorist nightmare in an LA…uh, skyscraper. Literally a copy of a copy, Skyscraper is proof positive that when it comes to Hollywood ripping off older films for its ideas, old habits really do…end with great difficulty.
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