My Top Ten Die Hard Scenario Movies

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Lockout

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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.

  1. Cliffhanger

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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.

  1. Sudden Death

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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.

  1. Home Alone

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Air Force One

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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.

  1. 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!

Why Is Happiness Considered “Unrealistic”?

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When I talk about why I love romance – and happy endings – people often say “but they are so unrealistic!”

When this happens, the general response from romance advocates I hear in return is “It’s just a fantasy, like a crime novel!” But…why? Why are romance novels considered fantasies? I don’t really think they are. A heightened version of life, yeah, sure. And obviously the more fantastical romances are fantasies in that sense. But is the Happily Ever After really such an unattainable thing?

Let’s do an experiment, shall we?

Close your eyes, and picture all the people you know well. Friends, family, coworkers, the over-sharing guy that runs the corner store. You got them all? Right. Now, how many of those people would consider themselves happy, or even just content. A decent number, right?

I have friends and family going through tough times, but I also know a lot of people that are really happy with where their lives are. Some are married, or with partners. Some are single. Happiness is across all range of jobs, lives, circumstances. That doesn’t mean there is no conflict in their lives, that’s ridiculous. But these people are satisfied with where they have found themselves. Even the ones that aren’t happy now definitely will be one day – life is a series of ups and downs, but there are always ups.

So, let’s apply this logic to fiction, shall we?

The general progression of a Romance novel is two people go through some conflict, and end up falling in love. It’s a very simplified version, of course, but that’s the basic premise.

Falling in love is something that people do every day. I know many people in love right now. Married people. People in committed relationships. Sometimes other, more complicated scenarios. But it is still all love.

So why, when this is applied to fiction, is it suddenly “fantasy”?

Quite apart from the fact that romance novels are rarely just about that. Most are about conquering the bad stuff in life and triumphing. People I know do that all the time, too! They move away from the bad things in their life to get to a better place. It’s human nature.

So, again, why is this considered unrealistic?

I think we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our genre to say that getting to a good place in life and falling in love is unrealistic. It’s like saying that people will be miserable and never fall in love, ever, because that’s not a thing that happens in real life. But for romance writers and readers, HEAs don’t imply that our main characters will now and forever lead a conflict-free existence. They just say that these people are in love and are going to make a good go at a life together. And, if it’s done right, the author will have convinced us that they’ve got a good shot of making it work.

Frankly, based on my own experience, misery isn’t any more realistic than happiness, despite what people say. When people are faced with disappointments, they usually move on, grow, and find something new. Something good. And it is up to the author to decide where in this process they want to tell the character’s story – on the up- or the down-swing of a character’s life.

Romance novelists choose the up-swing. Other authors sometimes choose the down-swing. And that’s fine. There is room for all kinds of stories in this world.

But we shouldn’t be mocked or derided or considered “unrealistic” because we choose to end our books with the characters happy and in love. It’s such an everyday occurrence. (As are orgasms, FYI, so they aren’t unrealistic, either).

So, next time someone tells you that Romance novels are unrealistic, ask them whether they are happy.

Because surely, surely, only a miserable bastard would be rude enough to expend effort mocking people’s reading tastes. And that’s a sad life.

Tropes Are Not A Substitute For Substance

(This post was inspired by the comments on a recent Smart Bitches, Trashy Books review)

I’m sorry this is late. I had a crisis of confidence last week. But now I’m back!

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I recently talked about the good side of tropes, and how they can be a positive tool to set expectations with the reader, and help people find stories that they like.

There is another side of this. Tropes are not always used for good.

Some writers use tropes in place of character and plot. These are not the same thing at all, but it can be easy to get confused sometimes.

A character archetype is a good place to start when building a character, because it helps to clarify the function of the character in your narrative. But it is not the whole character. You have to build facets and layers onto the archetype, to make them unique and fully-rounded. And it is an approach of building together the correct elements, like with cooking, not just mixing random things together and hoping it’ll come out amazing.

For example, you want to make a pasta. (In this example, let’s just say that pasta = wounded hero). Now, there are a lot of difference sauces that you can put on a pasta (and, therefore, many different types of wounded hero), with elements that you can shift and adjust as required. But using the right elements in the right amount is what gets you a well-made Carbonara, as opposed to a pickle and seaweed sauce. At that point, it won’t matter how well the pasta is cooked, no one will enjoy it. And if you only have one element to your character (aka the Original Trope) it doesn’t make for a very interesting character. No one eats pasta without the sauce; it’s too bland.

Plus, all the flavours/character elements have to match. You have to think about how all these pieces will taste/work together. And how the flavours will develop together when you cook them. One wrong element can spoil a dish, as much as any random collection of character tropes can’t make a character.

While a stripped back, simple character is not a bad thing, they still need room to develop and grow. The elements of the sauce can be added in stages. Or, your pasta can turn into a pasta bake, or a pasta salad! The character trope you use is only a base—a beginning. Not a whole meal.

Now, sometimes you don’t get it right the first time. Sometimes (during edits) you have to make the recipe again, adding or removing things as is appropriate. This is normal! But if you get it at least close to right the first time, it’ll be a lot less work for you later down the line.

Everything I’ve said here can also apply to plot, too. Everything must work together as a cohesive whole.

 

I hope this helps.

And now I’m craving pasta.

The Appeal of the Wounded Hero

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Beauty and the Beast. Scarred Hero. Wounded Hero. Whatever you call it, I’m a fan. As I mentioned in my previous post about tropes, it’s definitely one of my favourites. In fact, my Soldiering On series is built around this hero archetype. The series features four heroes (and one heroine!), all wounded in different ways.

On lists of favourite romance tropes, this one shows up every single time. So I’m not the only one that loves it! The question is, what’s the appeal?

Part of it, I believe, is that it shows a hero that has conquered some adversity. Whether they were wounded in childhood, in an accident, or in war, they still experienced something difficult and survived. Resilience is a very admirable quality in a romantic hero. It hints at a depth of character and experience that most of us couldn’t imagine.

But it’s not just that. It is also what the trope represents, and the kind of dynamics that it usually plays to.

I like wounded heroes, because I like heroes that are a little less sure of themselves. (Beta heroes are my jam!) Usually in these stories it is the hero that falls for the heroine first. So, when I read a blurb about a wounded hero, I will often assume that the story will be packaged with two of my other favourite tropes—Hero in Pursuit, and the hero’s “unrequited” pining (that is really requited!).

In addition to this, it will often give the reader a hint that the hero is not all that confident in himself. Maybe he doesn’t think he’s good enough for the heroine. And that is such a refreshing dynamic in this world of arrogant Alpha Billionaires that it is something I actively seek out.

Sometimes part of the appeal is that the story is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale/Disney movie that many of us love. In this case, there is also a sense of nostalgia that can go along with the reading. Particularly when the story has been made sexier or dark, more grown up. It can be all the things that you love about the original with an adult flavour to it.

Another appealing element is that there needs to be a lot of character growth from the hero to be worthy of the heroine. He needs to grow in his self-confidence, learn to trust the heroine, and put himself out there in order to earn his happy ending. I find that a much more appealing character arc than a more arrogant man learning humility, but I know that’s my personal taste!

I might talk at a later date about why I think there are a lot less wounded heroines. And why the ‘wounded hero’ trope doesn’t show up nearly as much in movies as in books.

 

So, there you have it. This is a breakdown of why I love wounded heroes. Also, eventually, I will do a post about my favourite examples of the trope!

What’s your favourite Beauty and the Beast/Wounded Hero romance?

The Importance of a Guaranteed Happy Ending

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Following on from my post about tropes, I thought I would write about the single most important trope in romance: the Happily Ever After.

It is this that causes the most derision from people that don’t read the genre. “What’s the point if you know the ending?” they ask.

Well, firstly, these people can take their prejudice and stuff it. But secondly, the point is that we know the ending.

Getting emotionally invested in a book is like getting invested in a relationship – there has to be trust. When a reader knows that they will 100% be getting a happy ending, they know they can connect to the book and the characters emotionally without fear that it will betray them.

This means that writers can go deeper, angstier, and deal with far more difficult themes, and readers will follow them, knowing that on the other side of that misery the characters will triumph. Plus, it’s better storytelling. If a book with a miserable beginning and middle also has a miserable ending, then the story would be too one note and depressing. And if the book is all happy, only to have the characters end up miserable, then what is the point of that?

I could never read a Nicholas Sparks novel and have the same amount of emotional investment in it that I would if I read a romance novel. Some part of me would always be holding back, wondering which, if any, character that I was rooting for was going to die at the end. I couldn’t sink into the book, lose myself in it, because I would know that it might break my heart. My brain would protect my heart by keeping me at a distance.

And if you can’t get invested in the characters and their journey, then what’s the point of reading that story?

Romance novels have the right way of it. Promise readers a happy ending, and they will follow you anywhere.

I’m the kind of reader that likes the characters I invest in to succeed and triumph. I like them to deal with difficulties, and then come out the other side better people and in a better place. There is enough misery in real life. I don’t need it in my fiction, too.

This is why I hate writers that market their books as genre romance, but don’t follow to the HEA ‘formula’. They want the boost of the Romancelandia community and the romance dollars (because, as we all know, it’s the most popular genre in North America), but they don’t want to adhere to our most sacred tenet. It’s no wonder that readers feel betrayed and angry by this. They trusted this book – and the writer – to deliver what they were taught to expect. And the writer broke that trust, as sure as any bad news boyfriend.

So, writers, don’t do that. Deliver the ending that your readers expect (the one you’ve been building towards and your genre demands) or deal with the amount of angry and upset people you’ve caused.

And, readers, know that I am the biggest supporter of the HEA. You can trust that I won’t ever let you down in that regard.

Romance Novels Are Formulaic – And That’s A Good Thing!

"Thank god - look, a cliche!"

People often ask me: Isn’t Romance all just formulaic drivel?

Now, the simple answer to this question is ‘no’.

But the broader answer to the questions is ‘yes, and that’s a good thing’.

Let me unpack that.

There are no original stories. When every book is boiled down to the elements, we only have a certain number of ways to construct satisfying narratives. Even the details can be the same. But it is the way these stories are told that are important. The unique and individual constructions.

This is never more true than in the romance genre. But romance writers embrace this fact, and use it to their advantage.

Not only is romance a genre where every book has the same purpose – for two people to get together in the end (or more than two. I don’t judge) – but it is also heavily reliant on tropes. From ‘fake-dating’ to ‘beauty and the beast’ to ‘enemies to lovers’, romance writers take these tropes and spin them in new and interesting ways. That is their ingenuity. Not a tired pretention to an originality that can’t exist, but an embrace of the familiar, and confidence in their own voice and storytelling to make their version of the story a compelling one.

From a reader’s perspective, this embrace of tropes is a godsend.

Every romance reader has their catnip. I, personally, love beta heroes, beauty and the beast/wounded heroes, epistolary romances, nerd heroes and heroines, historical marriage of convenience, best friend’s wife, and many others. If I see any of those things on a blurb, there is like a 95% chance I’ll buy the book immediately. I like these because I have an inkling what to expect when I pick up a book, so I can more easily read to my mood.

A certain trope will give you a hint as to the dynamics of the characters, as well as how the plot might progress. A beauty and the beast story hints at a hero who doesn’t think himself worthy of the heroine, and a strong woman that will show him he’s wrong. A marriage of convenience story will often throw two people at odds into a difficult situation, and the forced proximity will cause tension and conflict.

Tropes can also help me avoid stories I know I won’t enjoy. I don’t like Alpha heroes, or stepbrother romances. I’m not big on billionaires, or vampires, or rakes, or age differences. Secret babies don’t tend to do it for me, either. Or love triangles. But all these tropes are hugely popular, so the reader’s that do like them are finding them and loving them.

Overall, it ends up being a happier reading experience for all.

Obviously, a reader’s expectations do not always result in a positive outcome. I sometimes avoid books I might really enjoy because they make use of a trope I’m not fond of. And if the writer skews too far away from reader’s expectations of a trope or subgenre, it can cause upset or disappointment. Which is why I think writers have become so clever at putting their own spin on things without disappointing readers.

So, yes, Romance novels can be formulaic. But that is, in part, responsible for their popularity, and the devotion that readers of the genre feel towards it.

Embrace the romance ‘formula’. It’s a good thing!