Given the recent announcement of my Die Hard-esque Christmas novella, Christmas Tango, I thought it would be a good time for me to talk about some of my favourite cinematic versions of the trope.
The ‘Die Hard in/on an…’ cinema trope is one of my absolute favourites. I define it like so: the lone wolf hero, hidden in the midst of the action (which is all set in a single structure), slowly picks off bad guys one by one. Add in the inevitable one liners, and you have action movie gold. Though, not all Die Hard Scenario movies are born equal, so I’ll take you through some of my favourites.
- Dolph Lundgren (Detention, Command Performance, The Peacekeeper, Agent Red)
Yes, I’ve cheated by lumping these all in together. I have a huge and well-documented love for Dolph Lundgren, which is what gets these movies on the list, but he really does make some mediocre films. He seems particularly fond of making Die Hard Scenario movies, more than any other action star, which all have ended up being various levels of hilariously bad.
The Peacekeeper is probably the best of these four movies. Described as Die Hard in a Missile Silo, there is some reasonable tension and action, and Dolph really rocks the military uniform.
Detention is Die Hard in a School, and is pretty enjoyable to watch for anyone who likes so-bad-they’re-good movies. Though I was never really convinced of Dolph as a school teacher! Agent Red (Die Hard on a Submarine) is even worse, to the point where the ‘dead’ bodies breathe and the plot makes zero sense.
Command Performance probably had the most potential of the four films. Dolph plays a drummer in a rock band that goes Die Hard in a Concert Stadium. Despite a few fun moments (killing a bad guy with his drumsticks, using feedback on an amp to distract the bad guys and escape), it doesn’t embrace the absurdity of the premise nearly enough.
- Strategic Command /Passenger 57/Executive Decision
While these are three quite different films, they are all ‘Die Hard on an Aeroplane’, and should be compared together.
I have a slight soft spot for Michael Dudikoff (better known as American Ninja), or more specifically the movies he is in, which are usually slightly out of the normal way. It is really the only reason that Strategic Command is on this list. Bonus points for the villain having the last name Gruber (Richard Norton), and for including Bryan Cranston as a pompous reporter.
Passenger 57 stars Wesley Snipes, who plays smartass particularly well in this film. Snipes is off the plane too much for my liking in this film, as it decreases the tension somewhat and makes it less of a lone wolf hero film. But it is still definitely worth seeing, even if to marvel at how different a young Elizabeth Hurley looked.
Executive Decision is a fairly standard action movie, with a few surprising moments thrown in. While it is more of a team effort than a lone wolf hero situation, it does manage to successfully deliver on its premise to create an enjoyable film.
This more recent effort starring Guy Pearce as a likeable arsehole is a really fun version of this trope. Guy Pearce is hired to save the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace), who is stranded on a prison spaceship orbiting the earth. The prisoners inevitably escape, and all hell breaks loose. It’s definitely an underrated gem for those that like some comedy with their action.
Sly Stallone stars in this ‘Die Hard on a Mountain’ movie that actually manages to be a good film, and transcend its derivate log line. While never quite living up to the heart-clenching tension in the opening scene, it is nevertheless a solid action movie.
- Sudden Death
This Die Hard in a Sports Stadium movie is Van Damme’s first and best entry into this sub-sub-sub-genre of movies. (The other, for those of you playing at home, is Derailed, and only worth seeing for Van Damme super-fans). Van Damme’s charisma has elevated many of his less-than-stellar movies to watchable status, but thankfully Sudden Death manages to be enjoyable even apart from that.
- Home Alone
Die Hard for Kids, basically. If any of you haven’t seen this, or don’t know what it is about, then I deplore your childhood.
- White House Down/Olympus Has Fallen
These are both versions of the ‘Die Hard in the White House’ trope. Both films are enjoyable editions of this trope, but White House Down had a lot more fun with the premise. I’m honestly very surprised that the Die Hard in the White House thing wasn’t thought of before.
Olympus Has Fallen had a sequel, (‘London Has Fallen’) which was also decent fun. (And another has been announced, Angel Has Fallen, which is a riff on the Air Force One scenario) I thought it was a shame that White House Down didn’t jumpstart a franchise, too.
- Under Siege 1 (& 2)
These are probably the last decent movies that Steven Seagal made (though an argument for Exit Wounds could definitely be made). Under Siege 1 is definitely the superior film, and makes good use of its Die Hard on a Warship premise. It was also probably the last time Seagal actually looked like an action hero, before his gigantic ego got in the way of his career.
Under Siege 2 is one of the MANY Die Hard on a Train movies, and barely manages to be the best of them. It’s fine, but isn’t nearly as memorable as its predecessor.
- Air Force One
Harrison Ford kicks arse as the President of the United States. The best of the Die Hard on an Aeroplane ones, particularly since they spend most of the movie in the air.
- Die Hard 1 (& 2)
The ‘original’ and the best. There is a reason that the trope is named after these films. In equal parts tense and funny, Die Hard is easily one of the best action movies ever made.
Honourable mentions: Half Past Dead 1 & 2 (1, starring Seagal again, and 2 starring Bill Goldberg), Breakaway (with Dean Cain!), and Diplomatic Siege (with RoboCop himself, Peter Weller).
If I’ve missed any, or if you want to recommend me a movie (I always love recs!) then let me know in the comments below!