“It’s been over two months since you’ve obsessively over-analyzed a film series on your blog. What’s up with that?”
So the other day, I sat my butt down in a theater in downtown Seattle and watched a Die Hard marathon, all five films in a row. Yes, it was somewhat grueling, but also a lot of fun, and useful. Having never watched more than a couple in a row, I didn’t realize how similar they all really are. There are so many features that these films have in common. And the one that, for about a decade after the first one came out, that was synonymous with “Die Hard” isn’t one of them. They don’t all take place in one location. Sure, the first one is in a building, but then they expand to an airport, all of New York, several locations around the East Coast, and finally, Russia. But the plot and character elements that do recur serve as a template for analyzing, not necessarily which is the best film (the original, duh), but which is the best “Die Hard” film.
For any reader uninterested in my particular flavor of OCD and just interested in a review of the latest film, A Good Day to Die Hard, it’s remarkably boring, and the most lackluster entry in the series.
Now, on to the insanity:
Hans Gruber is, without a doubt, the best villain of the series. “I’m going to count to three. There will not be a four.”
- Hans Gruber – Alan Rickman (1)
- Simon Gruber – Jeremy Irons (3)
- Colonel Stuart – William Sadler (2)
- Thomas Gabriel – Timothy Olyphant (4)
- Komarov – Sebastian Koch (5)
The Villain’s Scheme
Every film involves the villain engaging in some sort of complex misdirection to ensure the successful completion of their plans. That alone makes all the films engaging. I love a good mystery. And even the least interesting film in the series has a surprising twist. But for sheer Swiss watch timing and complexity, the best one has to be Simon’s subway car crash/bomb threat/police radio deactivation/boat explosion plot in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Glorious!
- Federal Reserve Theft (3)
- Nakatomi Robbery (1)
- Uranium Depository Theft (5)
- Financial Records Theft (4)
- Drug Lord Escape (2)
Each villain has a stable of henchmen, but they all have one special second in command that they turn to in times of need. And usually (but not always), John McClane has to fight that goon, and it’s usually not pretty, though McClane always wins. Which is the best goon? It’s a tough call. Major Grant is awesome, as is Mai Linh. But the nod here has to go to Alexander Gudonov’s Karl from Die Hard. He’s a constantly threatening presence and his final dispatch is remarkable.
- Karl – Alexander Gudonov (1)
- Major Grant – John Amos (2)
- Mai Linh – Maggie Q (4)
- Irina – Yuliya Snigir (5)
- Mathias Targo – Nicholas Wyman (3)
The Villain’s Death
Despite the clever plans and the support of their beloved goons, every villain must die. Which death is the best? Surprisingly, most of them aren’t that exciting. (Two explosions and a bullet? Boring.) But Komarov at least gets something visually impressive. Still, it’s Hans’s slow-motion fall that is so good, they had to reprise it in the third film!
- Hans Gruber Falls Off Building (1)
- Komarov Pureed by Helicopter Rotor (5)
- Colonel Stuart Blown Up in 747 (2)
- Thomas Gabriel Shot Through John McClane (4)
- Simon Gruber Exploded in Helicopter (3)
Endangered Family Member
Presumably, we can’t imagine McClane going to the trouble of nearly killing himself unless a family member is in jeopardy. (Unless it’s the third film, when the sidekick’s family members are the ones in danger.) Which of these endangered folks increase our tension and make everything more emotional and interesting?
- Holly at the Hands of Terrorists (1)
- Lucy at the Hands of Terrorists (4)
- Zeus’s Nephews in Bomb-Threatened School (3)
- Holly Stuck in Circling Aircraft (2)
- Jack Stuck after Blown CIA Mission in Russia (5)
McClane can’t do all this stuff alone. He needs the help of a sidekick. Al Powell offers little more than moral support in the first one, but in other films, the sidekick gets more into the action. Zeus Carver in With a Vengeance is a lot of fun, but I have to give this one to Matt Farrell in Live Free. He’s consistently funny, and arguably far more helpful.
- Matt Farrell – Justin Long (4)
- Zeus Carver – Samuel L. Jackson (3)
- Al Powell – Reginald Veljohnson (1)
- Jack Gennaro-McClane – Jai Courtney (5)
- Leslie Barnes – Art Evans (2)
Oddball Scene-Stealing Helper
Yes, every film has one of these. And they always provide McClane with transportation, and usually with a critical piece of information. How crazy is that? Personally, if they’re both funny and helpful, they get the nod.
- Marvin – Tom Bower (2)
- Frederick ‘Warlock’ Kaludis – Kevin Smith (4)
- Argyle – De’voreaux White (1)
- Jerry Parks – Joe Zaloom (3)
- Cabbie – Pasha D. Lynchnikoff (5)
Figure of Authority
McClane always has to interface with some figure of authority who is either helpful, or antagonistic, or simply in the way. Since I can’t rank these guys based on how much they help or hinder him, I’m going with straightforward acting performance. Actually, this is one of the toughest to rank. It’s almost a four-way tie for first place.
- Trudeau (Airport Manager) – Fred Dalton Thompson (2)
- Walter Cobb (NYPD Inspector) – Larry Bryggman (3)
- Dwayne T. Robinson (LAPD Deputy Police Chief) – Paul Gleason (1)
- Miguel Bowman (FBI Deputy Director) – Cliff Curtis (4)
- Collins (CIA Handler) – Cole Hauser (5) … Yeah, he’s on screen for, like two minutes. But he still counts.
Every film destroys at least one aircraft. (Four helicopters, two 747s, and one F-35 by my count.) Which one is the best?
- Windsor Air Crash (2) – Huge and exciting, but also emotionally effecting. And the reaction shots on the actors are fantastic.
- “You just killed a helicopter with a car!” (4) – Original and had some impressive compositing and stunt work.
- Helicopter Crashes into Chernobyl (5) – The story point that makes this happen is wobbly, but the effect is still stunning.
- “We’re gonna need some new FBI guys, I guess.” (1) – Time and technology have passed this old-school effect by. Still fun, though.
- Simon’s Helicopter Hits a Power Line (3) – Still hate this stupid ending.
The most unrealistic moment in the first film is John McClane’s fall down an air shaft when he catches himself by his fingertips. The falls only get crazier and crazier as the films progress. These I’m going to rank based on sheer visual excitement.
- Fall Through a Skylight into a Pool (5) – All done in slo-mo, with an exploding helicopter in the background. That’s just cool.
- Fall off of an F-35 in Distress (4) – Probably the most unbelievable fall in the series. Still, very enjoyable.
- Kicked off the Wing of a taxiing 747 (2) – Looked painful, and actually advanced the plot.
- Slips then Catches Himself in Air Shaft (1) – I knew it was dumb when I first saw it, but I also knew I didn’t care.
- Falls from a Gerry Rigged Cable onto Ship (3) – The idea was okay, but the effect was sketchy.
Despite the fact that I was looking for it, I didn’t actually hear the quote in A Good Day. According to Richard Roeper’s (unfavorable) review, it’s there. So I’ll assume he’s right and continue.
- Whispered while Taunting Bad Guy (1)
- Before Torching 747 Full of Bad Guys (2)
- While Shooting Bad Guy through his own Shoulder (4)
- Before Shooting Cable and Downing Helicopter Carrying Bad Guys (3)
- ??? (5)
Using these rankings, and assigning values (because that is the level of obsessiveness you’re dealing with here), I have determined that the films are ranked as follows:
- Die Hard
- Die Hard 2: Die Harder
- Live Free or Die Hard
- Die Hard with a Vengeance
- A Good Day to Die Hard
I can live with that. I might have flipped 2 and 3 in the list, but the scores (and my fondness for those films) are very close indeed.
There you have it. Of course, they’re already planning a sixth movie. Stay tuned.