What's The Second-Best Die Hard Movie? Obviously It's Die Hard 2: Die Harder
With A Good Day To Die Hard coming to theaters this week, we've got John McClane on the brain, and obviously any conversation about Die Hard inevitably leads to list-making. But it seems completely pointless to argue over the best Die Hard movie, since, duh, that's die-hard. But the second-best? That's definitely up for debate. Read below as Sean kicks off our series, arguing for the second-best supremacy of Die Hard 2: Die Harder.
To me, the original Die Hard and its immediate successor are, for all intents and purposes, Die Hard 1A and Die Hard 1B. None of the sequels can match John McTiernan’s initial masterpiece. It is standalone perfection. But the only sequel that came close to delivering on the Die Hard experience was Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and it isn’t even close.
I’ve had this conversation with many Die Hard fans over the years, and I think it boils down to your definition of what makes a Die Hard movie. It’s not enough to simply have Bruce Willis as smart aleck, blue-collar detective John McClane. I think he also has to be limited to a contained space (and not gallivanting around New York City, Moscow or the entire Eastern seaboard). I think he has to be “up to his ass in terrorists,” and must be an unplanned nuisance in the villain’s scheme (not a cog in a sibling’s grand plan). I personally prefer when McClane fights to protect a family member – something Live Free and A Good Day figured out. And I believe the best Die Hard sequel has to deliver a bruising, beating and blood-soaking fist fight … because if nothing else, McClane is a brawler who happens to have a razor-sharp mind.
Die Harder checked all of those boxes, while also satisfying the sequel imperative of “more, but bigger.” Set at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles airport on Christmas Eve, the movie sets underdog McClane against U.S. Army Special Forces agents helping a South American drug lord (the brilliant Franco Nero) escape extradition.
The sequel maintains the basic structure of the original, but blows it up to grander proportions without forgetting the basic rules of a Die Hard movie. McClane can’t leave the airport because his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), is on one of the planes stuck in a holding pattern while the terrorists screw with Dulles from the ground. McClane’s above-average detective skills pull him into the criminal plot when he notices an irregular gift exchange in an airport restaurant. And yet, the cop – out of his element in a foreign city once again – must prove that he’s smarter than the proper authorities (personified by Dennis Franz and Fred Thompson), often taking action just to counter the “good guy’s” inaction.
Harlin’s action is far superior than anything we’d seen in the subsequent Die Hard movies. The shootout at the annex is a brutal firefight, ending with that thrilling gunshot as a terrorist races down a moving sidewalk towards a pinned McClane. Harlin has the balls to crash an airplane full of innocents to prove that Col. Stewart (William Sadler) isn’t bluffing. Try to get that scene in a movie today. It ain’t happening. Sadler and John Amos are formidable foes, expertly trained military assassins who should have been able to take out McClane at any turn … if not for our hero’s stubborn refusal to quit. The back-to-back battles on the wing of an airplane at the end of Die Harder are almost as bone-crunching as McClane’s fight with Alexander Gudanov in the first movie. Almost.
But Die Harder holds its place as the top Die Hard sequel because it leans solely on McClane – and no one else – to save the day … which was the top reason I adore the first film. No one else was in a position at Nakatomi Plaza to stop Hans Gruber. And no one at Dulles International was brave enough to step up and stop the terrorists when the chips were on the table. I believe the Die Hard series started losing its focus when it expanded its setting to an entire city in With a Vengeance, and started adding partners that McClane simply does not need. For me, the Die Hard magic started fading after Die Hard 2, the best of the Die Hard sequels.
Agree? Disagree? Read more of our Die Hard Debates right HERE!
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.