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.
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.
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).
‘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.
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…
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.