The Best Movie Ever | Die Hard Ripoffs
Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen, and yet Die Hard ripoffs never die. Ever since John McTiernan’s classic thriller premiered in 1988, the action genre has been locked in a never-ending cycle, pumping out carbon copies but in different locations. Die Hard was about an outclassed cop fighting off a small army of gun-toting thieves in a skyscraper. Die Hard knockoffs managed to do more or less the same thing but in increasingly kooky locations: a battleship (Under Siege), a hockey rink (Sudden Death), Alcatraz (The Rock), Air Force One (Air Force One) and, in 2013, two films set in the White House (Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down).
With yet another Die Hard ripoff getting a sequel of its own this weekend, we figured the time had finally come to give the subgenre its due with a Best Movie Ever of its very own. That’s why this week we asked our critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to answer the question: What’s the best Die Hard ripoff ever?
Find out what they picked, and let us know your favorites, and come back next Wednesday for yet another highly debatable installment of The Best Movie Ever!
Brian Formo’s Pick: Hard Boiled (1992)
When someone does a great rendition of a pop song at karaoke, the national anthem in a stadium, or walks off the stage after a great stand-up comedy routine it’s likely that you hear that they “killed it.” John Woo took the Die Hard template—highly-trained man attempts to save hostages while taking on a mastermind within the confined location, using everything at his deathly disposal—and killed it. There’s so much carnage in Hard Boiled that—if you enjoy it—you might question what it even means to be a human if we only value certain stages of life and job capacity.
The first half of Hard Boiled is a gritty cop drama with tense assassinations involving an inspector, an undercover agent and their opposition: a gun-running mob. The second half is Die Hard in a hospital. Which is sick, twisted, and beautiful. Woo plays with our sense of morality, as the mobsters descend on our heroes in the hospital. The injured, the ill and the old are constantly in the line of fire as bullets spray the infirmary. There’s a gleeful ballet in what Woo is able to pull off with this staged body placement. Bullets explode walls and innocent people, and you can convince yourself that watching this is all in good fun because it’s so over the top, until Woo sends the heroes into the maternity ward to rescue infants. The action is still fun, but the horror you feel hoping that no baby is harmed, while held in the arms of a bullet-showering cop, should make you reflect why the wheel-chaired, bed-ridden, and old are so easily discarded without consequence.
In a way, it makes sense that Woo would begin inserting white doves into his gunfights once going to Hollywood. He needs to have inner peace within his canvas of carnage.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Speed (1994)
I need to backtrack on some comments I have made in the past. I still maintain that White House Down is the slickest, most entertaining Die Hard ripoff on record, but the “best?” I had to think about that a little bit. After all, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory is freaking awesome.
In the end, I decided that credit must be given where credit is due. Pop quiz, hotshot: is there a more ingenious Die Hard ripoff than Speed? I think not. White House Down perfects a rigid formula. Speed takes the Die Hard formula – a hero trapped in a confined space – and puts it on wheels. And then it acknowledges just how absurd it would be to strap a bomb on a bus that will blow up if the vehicle slows down. And then it has the balls to make you care about the characters anyway.
The inventive screenplay (written by Graham Yost, and heavily rewritten by an uncredited Joss Whedon) finds strange new situations in which to place our heroes, and smartly switches the whole premise several times throughout the movie. Everyone remembers Die Hard on a bus, but the movie actually begins with an equally insane Die Hard in an elevator, and then concludes with Die Hard on a subway. Speed speeds along, never outstaying its welcome, always keeping you on your toes.
So yes, I maintain that White House Down perfected the genre, but Speed was the film that played with it. Jan de Bont’s film takes something familiar and stretches it into new and unexpected shapes. Maybe it’s the “best” and maybe it’s not, but Speed deserves the top honor either way.
Witney Seibold’s Pick: White House Down (2013)
Apart from Alien, Halloween, and Emmanuelle, few movies are ripped off wholesale more often than Die Hard. Something about John McTiernan’s action classic hooked deeply into the filmmaking firmament, and, to this day, we are still living down the formulas, characters, plotting, and tone of what is one of the best action movies of all time. This is a piece of advice from screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant: If you want to sell scripts in Hollywood, watch Die Hard, and watch it a lot. Die Hard may not have the deepest themes or most complex structure, but when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster thinking, the script to Die Hard (credited to Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza) is fucking impeccable.
The films that ape Die Hard (a subgenre unto itself) have been a mixed bag at best (I don’t care much for the overrated Air Force One and I loathe The Rock), but there have been a few gems to come out of the imitation game. Conventional wisdom dictates that Jan de Bont’s 1994 classic Speed (i.e. Die Hard on a bus) rests at the top of this heap, and I would never dare argue that Speed is not an excellent action picture. But my ultimate selection is going to be Roland Emmerich’s gloriously over-the-top White House Down, the Die Hard of Die Hard ripoffs.
White House Down (i.e. Die Hard at the White House) is possessed of a rigidly structured screenplay, and follows a would-be Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) who is visiting the White House with his tweener daughter on the fateful day when terrorists try to take it over. Tatum must protect the president (Jamie Foxx) and outwit a villain (I’ll never tell) before the Free World falls. I often appreciate subtlety in my filmmaking, but such nuance needs to be stomped into the ground for a film like White House Down. We need bold, over-the-top filmmaking and overwrought melodrama to punctuate it, and no director is better at both of those things than Emmerich, the man behind Irwin-Allen-on-steroids thrillers like 2012 and over-earnest junk like Stonewall. White House Down was drubbed upon release, having been the second terrorists-take-over-the-White-House movie of its year. The time has come to let it out and realize that it is something of a masterpiece.