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Weekend Roundtable: Best & Worst ‘Die Hard’ Knock-offs

The only thing Hollywood loves more than churning out ‘Die Hard’ sequels is churning out ‘Die Hard’ knock-offs. The “Die Hard in ___” genre, in which a lone underdog hero is trapped in a confined location with a bunch of terrorists and must save the day, is a reliable movie staple. This weekend’s ‘White House Down’ marks the second “Die Hard in the White House” thriller of 2013. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best and worst ‘Die Hard’ knock-offs in today’s Roundtable.

Luke Hickman

Last year, we were given two “trapped in a building” movies that seemed like rip-offs of one another. I’ve heard the arguments about how this happened and frankly don’t care, because they’re both awesome and each has its own style. ‘The Raid‘ (later given the subtitle ‘Redemption’) follows a young rookie member of an Indonesian S.W.A.T. team storming a 15-story building controlled by a notorious crime lord and his vile henchmen. 15 stories up and 15 stories down, we get 30 floors of hell that combine gunplay, weaponry and hand-to-hand combat. This badass flick is one of the best action movies of all time.

Set in the future, this same scenario was applied to ‘Dredd‘. Completely wiping away Stallone’s cheesy ‘Judge Dredd’ from the ’90s, this version gives us a hyper-stylized take. Dredd (played by Karl Urban) and his rookie partner are trapped in a ghetto skyscraper with countless armed thugs who want to bring the judges down before they can stop the distribution of a new mind-slowing drug. The movie’s action scenes are amazing on their own, with some being highlighted by a killer use of the slowest motion ever used in a feature film.

I don’t care if the chicken or the egg came first. Both of these ‘Die Hard’ knock-offs are absolutely entertaining.

Shannon Nutt

Best: The best ‘Die Hard’ knock off is 1994′s ‘Speed‘, which is essentially “Die Hard on a Bus.” Everyone knows the deal already: The bus has been rigged with explosives, and if it drops under 50 miles per hour, ka-boom! Of course, people forget that a big chunk of ‘Speed’ doesn’t even take place on the bus (the climax is actually on a subway train), but it’s the tense scenes on the bus that made the film hit, and made it the best on-screen use of the ‘Die Hard’ formula.

Worst: The worst ‘Die Hard’ knock off is 2009′s ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop‘, in which Kevin James plays a bumbling security guard stuck in a mall with a group of bank robbers and their hostages. The unfunny slapstick hijinks that ensue make viewers wish Hans Gruber would return from the grave and blow up the shopping center. Few movies are as unentertaining as this turkey (though sadly ‘A Good Day To Die Hard’ is one such movie).

Mike Attebery

‘Die Hard’-style stories are tricky, if only because ‘Die Hard’ did everything first and best. I wrote a book I’ve dubbed “Die Hard meets The Office,” and avoiding territory already trod by John McClane was very difficult. As far as ‘Die Hard’ in/on a [fill in the blank] movies go, here are my best and worst:

Best: ‘Speed’ (‘Die Hard’ on a bus). I still think this is a great action movie. Where ‘Die Hard’ made Bruce Willis a star, this made Sandra Bullock a member of the A-list (which unfortunately gave us ‘The Net’ and ‘Speed 2′).

Worst:Executive Decision‘ (‘Die Hard’ on a plane). This movie actually has a few things going for it: Kurt Russell, Kurt Russell’s tuxedo, and Steven Seagal getting the most perfunctory death scene ever. But other than that, there’s nothing fresh or original about this movie. Nothing.

Brian Hoss

Tripping through the WABAC Machine means passing over 25 years of action stars and wannabe action stars, including Daniel Craig and Macaulay Culkin taking on their versions of the ‘Die Hard’ formula. In 1991, a film was released that was very much a product of the 1980s and would be highly unlikely for (understandable) political reasons to be made today. That film was the boarding school hostage crisis/ Sean Astin too-cool-for-occupied-school ‘Toy Soldiers‘. No matter how outrageous the plot, the fantastic scenario is more original and more believable than just about any other ‘Die Hard’ knock-off that you’re likely to find.

Sadly, not unlike Danny DeVito’s character in ‘Twins’, the interesting aspects of ‘Toy Soldiers’ were grossly imitated by 1997′s ‘Masterminds‘, which features neither mastering nor minds on any level, but does garb Patrick Stewart in what has to be one of the worst all-time mustaches. If only that were worst aspect of this film’s criminally bad existence…

Josh Zyber

Best: The “Die Hard on a battleship” thriller ‘Under Siege‘ is the only movie starring Steven Seagal I can tolerate in the slightest. Future ‘Fugitive’ director Andrew Davis mounts a pretty tight and efficient action flick, timed very well just before Seagal turned into a bloated parody of himself. While not a great movie, it’s a perfectly fine timewaster if you stumble across it on cable. Fun Fact: In addition to the obvious ‘Die Hard’ influence, much of the movie’s script was blatantly ripped off from the 1989 James Bond novel ‘Win, Lose or Die’ written by John Gardner.

Worst: I’m a little surprised that no one tried to pick ‘Air Force One’ for the “Best” category. The movie is inexplicably popular. I guess people like watching Harrison Ford as a cranky U.S. President grumbling ”Get off my plane!” to evil Russkie terrorists. Personally, when I saw it opening weekend, I found the film to be astoundingly stupid and lame. For one thing, the movie would have us believe that flying on Air Force One is essentially like stepping into Doctor Who’s TARDIS – you cross over into an alternate dimension where the interior is about 50 times larger than the exterior. The action scenes repeatedly involve heavy machine gun fire and even hand grenade explosions on board a jet in flight, yet conveniently not a single one ever punctures the plane’s hull. The whole thing culminates with one of the worst CGI visual effects sequences in movie history. Ugh. I can’t believe this turkey was such a box office hit.

Give us some of your picks for best and worst ‘Die Hard’ knock-offs in the Comments below.

18 comments

  1. Ted S.

    Best: The Rock, Die Hard on Alcatraz.

    Worst: The recent White House under attack, Olympus Has Fallen. It took itself way too seriously and the special effects looked like they created back in the late 1990s. Not only that, they even included a scene that’s basically a carbon copy of a scene from Die Hard. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

    • I haven’t seen OLYMPUS yet (I’ll be reviewing it for HDD though), but I thought WHITE HOUSE DOWN needed to be a little more serious. Given your comments Ted, I think you might really like it (WHITE HOUSE DOWN), as it doesn’t take itself seriously (there’s even a joke in it about the White House being blown up in ID4) and the effects are pretty well done.

      • Ted S.

        Shannon, I actually saw White House Down last week and really enjoyed it. Like you said, it didn’t take itself too seriously and the effects were much better than Olympus Has Fallen. I still can’t believe the filmmakers thought it’s okay to shown those effect shots in today’s cinemas. The effect shots looked like something out of Air Force One and that film came out in 1997!

        • Thats exactly what I liked about Olympus, brutal Die Hard type action flick right out of the past, super violent, cliched bad guys, and tons of language, really brought me back to when I saw Die Hard for the first time. I thought it was awesome that it took itself seriously, I will also enjoy the cheese-fest that is White House Down as well :)

  2. Thomas S.

    After the last Die Hard, I’m just waiting for a reboot of the series.
    I would really love to see the first one remade, staying closer to the original story in the book (Nothing Lasts Forever).
    It would be gritty film where the teorrists are cold and brutal and the hero wins by being even more brutal.
    I wouldn’t even mind seeing it in a period setting of the late seventies.
    It would probably confuse the current generation with the absence of smart phones.

    Best: Skyscraper (1996) starring Anna Nicole Smith.
    It’s so bad that it doesn’t even have a cult following, which in my book makes it so bad that it’s good again.
    You could then argue that I am the sole member of the cult… But what kind of cult would refuse to rewatch the subject of their affection?

  3. Myka

    I liked Executive Decision & Air force one . And one that wasn’t mentioned Sudden Death 1995 (though i’m not a Van Damme fan) I had a good time watching that. Still have the Letterbox LD.

  4. bhlombardy

    David Spade said it best on SNL Weekend Update…

    “I liked Under Siege when I saw it the first time … when it was called DIE HARD”

  5. I’m going to submit a pair of Christian Slater films as my nominees. For worst BROKEN ARROW. Everything from John Travolta’s hammy scenery chewing to the obligatory exploding helicopter was excessive and derivative in the extreme.
    Some redemption can be found though in HARD RAIN where the environment becomes a compelling character helping propel Slater’s “fly in the ointment” past any sketchier plot points.

  6. Mike

    Passenger 57 is a decent one. Much more of a direct ripoff of Both Die Hard & Die Hard 2 . Dialog is extremely cheesy in some spots, but it’s a fun with a running time under 90 mins. Snipes first turn as a action star.

  7. David Weishahn

    I want to nominate Icebreaker starring Sean Astin and Bruce Campbell; but I don’t think it should be in the worst category as it’s not taking itself seriously. As for the movie itself, Bruce describes it is Die Hard on the slopes. It’s one of only a few times where Bruce gets to play the bad guy.

  8. Wurms

    Best: I like Dredd and The Raid, but a classic from the 90′s is “Die Hard on a Mountain” aka Cliffhanger. One of Stallone’s better films.

    Worse: “Die Hard on a Train” aka Under Siege 2 and also “Die Hard in Space” aka Lockout. Both should have paid the viewer to watch them, not the other way around.

  9. Dustin

    This is a topic that is frankly too broad. For me Die Hard is the blue print for 90% of all action movies, I see it’s influence constantly.

    You guys will love this, I used to have a teacher who actually called everything Das Boot on a “insert noun here”. I even confronted him with Die Hard, which he called Das Boot in a skyscraper. I think that’s a bit extreme.

    However I guess if we try to look at movies that stick close to the original Die Hard formula so close at to be a remake…

    Best: Tied between Speed and Under Siege for reasons others have stated.

    Worst: Yeah Olympus Has Fallen. The most blatant Die Hard rip off I’ve seen since Sudden Death, which at least featured one of Van Damme’s better performances. Here Gerard Butler tries to squander all the good will towards him that his movies up to this point have given me. Obviously working hard to channel Bruce Willis circa 1986. Coupled with characters(in charge of the freaking country) who do really dumb stuff that could have thwarted the terrorists in the 1st 10 minutes of the crisis, and other characters who do dumber stuff to meet the terrorist demands!

    Good to see Toy Soldiers getting some love! Always liked that movie.

  10. Les

    I guess I need to watch Speed again. As I recall, and it has been years ago, when they jump the bus across something like a 50 ft. gap on what seemed to be (2) perfectly level surfaces, they lost me. I don’t care how fast you are going the bus is going to drop like a rock. Or did I imagine that scene? LIke I said, it’s been years ago.

    I have always hated that movie because of that (1) impossible scene that couldn’t be forgiven.

  11. Timcharger

    About Air Force One, I can barely remember a thing about it, but this one scene sticks with me permanently.

    Spoiler below…

    At one point, President Harrison Ford needs to disarm a bomb. And when he opens it, he finds 5 colored wires: Blue, green, red, yellow, and white. (I wrote the colors in alphabetical order.) Somehow he knows that he has to cut 2 of the wires. He picks 2 colors to cut and saves the day. The girl that I was watching the movie with, literally grabs me and forces me to explain why the green and yellow wires were cut. She did so to test my intelligence. Weird, but great girl. Anyway, you can’t cut (or mess with) the red, white, and blue.