Chances are, you probably like Die Hard. It’s one of the best action movies we have, it’s got several iconic lines, and it took place back when Bruce Willis, who plays John McClane, was still acting, as opposed to the sleepwalking he does nowadays. And it inspired a whole bunch of copycats, none of which were able to achieve its level of success.
Here’s my ranking of the Die Hard movies.
A Good Day to Die Hard
Who would have guessed that the man who directed Max Payne and the remake of The Omen wouldn’t make a very good Die Hard movie? Shocking, right? It has fewer ideas than the earlier movies – it runs for a half hour shorter, and still feels like it has a ton of filler – its plot doesn’t matter, there’s no creativity to the action, and it looks and feels cheap.
Bruce Willis jokes his way through half of it – he’s no longer playing a mortal character, which observant viewers will note used to be the point of these things.
A Good Day to Die Hard also needs to be punished for inflicting upon us one Jai Courtney. He’s … he’s really terrible, you guys.
Die Hard 2
Here is where you begin to turn on this list. I can already feel it. A lot of people like Die Hard 2. I am not among them.
Its plot is largely the same as the first one, except instead of a tall building we’re trapped in an airport. Bad guys want to do something, but we’re not going to care about it. Alan Rickman is a ton of fun in the first film; the villain here feels bland by comparison. There’s no charm or wit. The action isn’t as good; they’re “bigger” but not better. There are more explosions, but a lack of creativity.
Die Hard 2 is, at its best, a mediocre action movie.
Live Free or Die Hard (Unrated Cut)
I have to specify here that the unrated cut of Live Free or Die Hard is the version you should watch. It was released into theaters with a PG-13, something none of the previous movies had – they were all rated R. The theatrical cut replaces most of the profanity and cuts away from some of the violence; the home video cut, the unrated one, puts those back in. The PG-13 isn’t terrible, but you can tell.
Live Free or Die Hard might have the best action of the franchise. It’s also the point at which the series jumps the shark and stops treating its protagonist like a person and starts making him into a superhero. We no longer feel like we’re watching a normal person do these things.
It, unlike the fifth installment, actually has creativity to its action and is a bunch of fun, which helps make up for that. The jokes land, the characters are still interesting, and the plot is more engaging – the introduction of McClane’s daughter was a good decision. Its villain is a joke and some of the action is too crazy to work, but it’s a lot of fun as a largely brainless action movie.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
This is the second point at which you’ll turn on this list. Die Hard with a Vengeance isn’t the best-received Die Hard movie, but it’s my second favorite. And because this is my list, here we go.
Die Hard with a Vengeance feels like a proper sequel to the first film. It largely ignores Die Hard 2. It follows John McClane fighting against the brother of the Alan Rickman character, meaning we’ve got a more personal connection with the villain – and that he’s played by Jeremy Irons helps, too. Samuel L. Jackson tags along for much of the film in order to give Bruce Willis someone to play off – much like the cops in the first movie.
We also get more depth to McClane, who is “one step” away from being an alcoholic – he’s been affected by the events that have transpired before. The film takes place in an entire city this time, meaning we’ve got cars – a helpful addition for both transportation and chase scenes. It balances its serious and jokey tone well, walking a fine line – especially when the lives of children are endangered. It’s a lot of fun, and while it definitely could have been 20 minute shorter – a late-game twist extends the plot – it’s enough fun that it doesn’t matter.
You should be skeptical of any list tat does not have the first Die Hard has its best entry. I’m sure some people like one of its sequels more, but Die Hard is an iconic action movie – perhaps one of the top 10 ever – and it’s become such a pop culture phenomenon that it almost deserves the slot simply for being the original. It’s been copied and parodied to an endless degree.
The film sees a cop get trapped in a building that gets taken over by a group of bad guys – “terrorists.” He has to (1) survive, (2) not provoke the villains into killing any of the hostages, (3) start killing the baddies, and (4) try to get the police to help. The villains are led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, who is such a fun antagonist. It’s one of Rickman’s most enjoyable performances.
The action is good and sometimes inventive. The dialogue is funny. The one-liners are fantastic. Bruce Willis is a lot of fun. The plot is more engaging than one might expect. And it builds; it doesn’t showcase its biggest action until later on. It’s paced really well, and it’s pretty close to perfect, in my opinion.