(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Die Hard (1988)
One Sentence Plot Summary: While America is concerned about Asians taking over the world, it’s really white people who are the terrorists (true in 1988, true in 2020).
Why It’s on the List:
On the surface, this is a great game of cat and mouse between Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, There are some great smaller moments with Reginald VelJohnson and Paul Gleason. Gleason plays an asshole so well. Throw William Atherton in and you’ve got two bonafied hall of fame assholes. Die Hard also has the distinction of starting a brand new genre that has spawned a million rip-offs, some good and some bad. What this truly is is a showcase for Willis and Rickman. Although an action movie, the acting and quips are top shelf.
I’m not going to get into the debate of whether this is a Christmas movie.* It’s one of the best action movies of all-time with an intriguing plot , great direction, and excellent cinematography. John McTiernan has certainly led an interesting life, but his 1980s stands up with other great filmmakers of this era. Influence and the technical aspects are the main reasons for this movie to be regarded as highly as it did.
This is a yearly tradition for me around Christmas time and will continue to be moving forward. This is a movie that just works and hums along. The fact that it’s over two hours long always surprises me because it feels so much shorter. The story is simple on the surface but carries so much depth. Perhaps the best part of this movie is the way they portray the FBI as incompetent idiots. We can call out action movies for a lot, but if you read history, you’ll realize Die Hard nailed this depiction.
*Well, Bonnie certainly doesn’t get a lot of agency.
MVP and Best Performance: Bruce Willis was a huge television star in 1988, and this elevated him into the stratosphere of being a huge movie action star. This was for better and worse. Willis is a charismatic dude, but he has come to rely on that charisma a little bit too much over the years. The energy and spark he brought to movie roles is gone. He has spent much of the last few years slumming it on straight to home video schlock. Even the franchise that made him famous has become such a parody of itself that Willis playing John McClane in a commercial barely even registered. This movie is a reminder that action stars never needed to be steroidal muscle freaks. Willis was the perfect man for the job of playing John McClane.*
*There is a strong argument to be made for Alan Rickman. This has to be one of the all-time great film debuts, and he’s such a great villain specifically because he puts off this ora of being a high minded criminal but really is just a greedy capitalist.
“Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only.” – Supervisor
“No fucking shit, lady! Does it sound like I’m ordering a pizza?” – John McClane
Is there a sequel? There have been four, and I’ve had to remind myself about the latter two. The second is a carbon copy of the first but has a legitimately interesting twist and an off his rocker performance by Dennis Franz. The third is…highly overrated. It’s bad. The latter two are completely forgettable and render John McClaine a cartoon character.