There’s nothing worse than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Say, you just arrived from New York to visit your estranged wife. You head over to her high rise office building and get settled in just as a group of international villains show up, taking hostages and demanding computer codes. You sneak away, secret your identity, and prepare to fight back. With the help of a walkie-talkie and a cute, NSFW catchphrase, you manage to thwart the baddies and save Christmas, all at the same time. That’s the basic premise of Die Hard, John McTiernan’s hit action film that made Bruce Willis a big screen star. As with all successes of this sort, Hollywood turned on the motion picture printing press and cranked out several more sequels as well as a bunch of knock-offs. Here are our picks for the 10 best of the bunch:
#10 – Olympus Has Fallen – Die Hard in the White House
It’s a bit baffling when you think it took more than two decades before someone got the bright idea of setting this simplistic storyline inside one of the most secured buildings in the world — only to have two versions of the tale show up in the same year. This is the more superior popcorn experience with Gerard Butler battling angry North Koreans. Shameless in its jingoistic patriotism, Antoine Fuqua out-disasters the master, Roland Emmerich, and winds up with a choice, cheesy treat.
An all-boys boarding school comes under attack when a South American terrorist (Andrew Divoff) comes to kidnap the son of a judge presiding over this brother’s case. Naturally, the leftover lads, all rejects from other institutions thanks to their soon to be discovered behavioral problems, put the heavily armed smackdown on this cruel criminal. Featuring Sean Astin as the leader and Wil Wheaton as an underling, it’s an ersatz Brat Pack placed inside the typical thriller designs, and it’s all good.
Sylvester Stallone also tried his hand at the one-against-many mantra, taking his tale up to the mountains where all logical confrontations of this kind take place. When a plane crashes carrying a bunch of uncirculated $1000 bills, Military Intelligence member Eric Qualen (John Lithgow) wants it, and hires Sly (an expert mountaineer, naturally) to recover it. When the parties are separated and Rocky ends up with the cash, we get a vertigo-inducing cat and mouse thanks to Die Hard II director Renny Harlin.
Of all the action hero wannabes, Steven Seagal is the most specious. He’s like the Rudy Ray Moore of said butt-kicking bombast. You see, when Mr. Dolemite had to perform in fight scenes, the editor required a double and lots of coverage to make the fisticuffs seem plausible. Sound familiar? Anyway, Seagal is a little more mobile here, taking on a moist Tommy Lee Jones and his band of nogoodniks while onboard a battleship. Without director Andrew Davis, this would be dreck.
Okay – so it’s a direct-to-video effort. So sue us. We love this undeniably dorky offshoot of the famous thriller trope, if only because it features Mickey Rourke during his Hollywood down days going all Method of Danny Trejo and his group of prison escapes. Our hero is so inert, so lifeless and dull, that you just can’t help but adore the genius of such an approach. And don’t even get us started on the insane criminal who is given a mountain of coke to snort.
A former cop (a pre-prison Wesley Snipes) haunted by the death of his wife now works training flight attendants in the fine art of self-defense. He just so happens to be on the aircraft shuttling international terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) to trial. Naturally, the baddie’s buddies try to spring him, taking over the plane and charting a course to freedom. Our hero, the titular member of the passenger’s list, decides to stop them in their tracks. Lots of standard action anarchy ensues.
You’ve already used up planes, trains, and automobiles. You’ve set your story in skyscrapers, airports, and boarding schools. Where do you go next? Well, if you’re the makers of this enjoyable lark, you head on over to the nearest sports arena and offer up your take on the narrative archetype during the middle of a hockey game… and not just any competition. This is game seven for Lord Stanley’s Cup! Jean Claude Van Damme throws his hat into the John McClane ring, and acquits himself quite well.
Another President (this time, assayed by Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford) is on his private plane when angry Russians plot to force his hand politically…and who is in charge of this dastardly plan? None other than the magnificent Gary Oldman, that’s who. With a great deal of spectacle supplied by director Wolfgang Peterson and some excellent special effects, this film proved that there was more to our Commander in Chief than just questionable policy decisions. This President could actually kick some ass!
Keanu Reeves is a cop placed onboard a bus that cannot slow down below 55 mph lest the entire vehicle explode. Sandra Bullock is the babe behind the wheel, taking over for a downed driver. Dennis Hopper is the angry ex-cop with a vendetta against the city because of his… retirement plan??? Anyway, this Jan de Bont smash reinvigorated the whole one man vs. unspeakable odds ideal, made even more meaningful when said hero was the guy from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Granted, it violates the rules a bit by giving our heroic FBI agent (played by a pre-paycheck grabbing Nicolas Cage) a partner to plot with (Sean Connery as an ex-inmate of the infamous Alcatraz). Still, Michael Bay proves he had the chops to deliver some spectacular action with this, only his second film (the previous being Bad Boys). As the villain, Ed Harris makes a convincing heavy and those little green globes of destructive evil are a nice ticking timebomb touch.