The Die-Hard’s Guide to Die Hard

Die Hard rankings

If nothing else, John McLane is one of cinema’s greatest survivors. A man so unlucky it’s surprising there isn’t a permanent rain cloud over his head. Since 1988 he has continuously found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time but still come up trumps.

It could be 40 storeys up an LA skyscraper with a bunch of German terrorists, stuck in a Washington D.C. airport with a group of American terrorists, or trapped in New York, this time with another, but different, bunch of German terrorists. Every time McLane has proved the spanner in their works, at the cost of only a few cuts and scrapes and a slightly soiled vest.

On Valentines Day, the indestructible one is back to battle yet more terrorists (Russian this time, if you’re interested) in A Good Day To Die Hard. So on the frankly miniscule chance there is still a Die Hard film you’ve not seen, OTB has ranked each installment of the franchise to allow you to decide which ones to catch up on before that date.

Die Hard 4.0

4th: Die Hard 4.0

If you let out a groan when viewing the trailer for A Good Day To Die Hard, you probably did exactly the same when Die Hard 4.0 was released back in 2007. Almost 20 years after the original lit up the screen like a thermonuclear explosion, it was blindingly obvious that by this stage Bruce Willis et al really were only in it for the money.

Appropriate, then, that 4.0 was helmed by Mr. Kate Beckinsale, Len Wiseman – a man who certainly makes movies for no other reason than to wrest the price of ticket from Hollywood’s target youth audience. In terms of return of investment this paid dividends, as 4.0 scooped $383m worldwide to make it the franchise’s most successful film.

However, it is also easily the dullest too. Less a Die Hard film and more an unremarkable action flick that John McLane has stumbled into, its cyber-terrorist plot is plain silly. Worse still, the use of CGI in the main set pieces detracts from the raw stunt work that was series’ trademark. In this case, bigger definitely ain’t better.

Die Hard 2

3rd: Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Die Hard 2 really should have been rubbish. For a start, its nonsensical tagline simply sticks an ‘er’ to the film’s title. Then there’s the fact that the man behind the camera was Finnish hack Renny Harlin, whose only other Hollywood effort at the time had been A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master – the sort of film that The Simpson’s Troy McLure might have been remembered in.

Despite these barriers to obvious success, the sequel ended up being a lot more fun than it had any right to be. Sure, it’s pretty throwaway stuff and suffers by comparison to the original, but Willis is still at his wise-cracking best as he battles to prevent planes dropping out of the skies above the US capital.

The film’s only major weak point is its lack of a convincing villain. William Sadler tries his best as McLane’s nemesis, but with his slightly limited acting chops and clean cut looks he ends up being about as threatening as a Just For Men model.

Die Hard With A Vengeance

2nd: Die Hard With A Vengeance

Perhaps aware that Die Hard 2’s baddies were a little underwhelming, producers of the third instalment went back to the original formula of casting a respected British thesp – this time Jeremy Irons – in the role of chief terrorist. Reinforcing links with the first film, Irons plays the brother of Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s uber-villain, and he is a real hoot as the second German to wreak havoc in McLane’s life.

Having directed the original, action maestro John McTiernan returned to take the reins and stage some memorable blockbuster moments, while the then not quite so ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson also came on board to give the movie an enjoyable buddy element.

It was the first Die Hard film in which McLane got to perform heroics in his hometown of New York – a city that never looks anything less than glorious on celluloid and adds to the drama here. The third act may flag a little and the ending is somewhat anti-climatic, but Die Hard With A Vengeance is well worthy of second spot in our rankings.

Die Hard

1st: Die Hard

Believe it or not, Die Hard is actually a literary adaptation, taking Roderick Thorpe’s Nothing Lasts Forever as its source material. You’ll be just as surprised to know it was originally intended as a sequel to mindless Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up Commando.

Fortunately Arnie dropped out, allowing Willis to step into the role that propelled him to superstardom and give us what remains one of the best action films ever made. Praise must also be lavished on McTiernan, who came to the project directly after helming Predator – one of the best B-movies ever made – and made every single scene pitch perfect.

Then there’s Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans Gruber. At the time only known as a stage actor, it must have been pretty daunting for Rickman to take the part on, yet he ended up creating one of the most charismatic screen villains audiences had ever seen. Smart, sinister and ever so slightly camp, he provided the perfect foil for Willis’s rough charm.

The first, and unquestionably still the finest.