Die Hard was such a successful movie that it launched not only Bruce Willis' film career, but a score of imitators. Describing a movie as "Die Hard in X" has become a joke that's been going on so long it's tired itself, but many of the action films that followed Die Hard could justifiably be described that way.
Many of these copycat movies were as terrible as you'd expect, and while it's hard to argue that any of them were better than the original Die Hard, a few of them were actually pretty good in their own right. Here are some of the best Die Hard movies that weren't actually Die Hard.
Premise: Die Hard at the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Jean-Claude Van Damme was one of the top action stars of the early '90s, in the era just after the original Die Hard was released. He made several great action movies in his day, but the one that most closely followed the Die Hard formula was 1995's Sudden Death. Van Damme plays a former Pittsburgh, PA firefighter, now Fire Marshall of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. During Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Van Damme's character discovers a former CIA agent is holding the Vice President hostage inside the arena. It's as over the top as it sounds, but Sudden Death goes all-in when it includes a scene where Van Damme fights a guy inside a penguin mascot costume.
Premise: Die Hard on a bus
Speed gets bonus points for being creative with some of the elements of the "Die Hard movie." While the film mostly takes place inside a small enclosed space, that doesn't mean our main characters have to be immobilized. Keanu Reeves is our hero, a member of the bomb squad who finds himself on a bus that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. Much like Die Hard caused us to look at Bruce Willis in a different way, Speed did the same thing for Keanu Reeves. He showed us he could hold his own in an action franchise, which led to many more opportunities to do so.
Premise: Die Hard on a battleship
Steven Seagal was an action movie staple of the early '90s, and while most of his films, well, they weren't that great, Under Siege is an exception. Seagal plays the cook (who isn't exactly a cook) on board the U.S.S. Missouri when the ship is taken over by a former CIA operative who is looking to get revenge at the agency that tried to have him killed. He'll take that revenge by selling the ships' missiles to a hostile nation. Part of this movie's greatness comes from the one-two villain punch of Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey, who are both solidly over-the-top in the best way possible, but it's an entertaining action movie from start to finish.
Premise: Die Hard with a kid
You probably didn't expect to see this one on the list, but if you think about it, Home Alone contains a lot of the qualities of the Die Hard style action film. A random everyman (everykid?) finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and must fend off an invasion of bad guys from within a finite space. The fact that he does this with juvenile booby traps instead of machine guns or martial arts is really just semantics. Home Alone totally fits the Die Hard mold, and it's a good movie to boot
White House Down
Premise: Die Hard in a building, only the building is the White House
While there are a pair of movies that might technically qualify under the premise above, and both are solid action movies, we're giving the nod to White House Down over Olympus Has Fallen for a couple reasons. First, Channing Tatum's cop character in Down is a bit more of an "everyman" than Gerard Butler's former Army Ranger. Secondly, Butler's character is technically part of a rescue operation, rather than being trapped in the building through happenstance. Also, Olympus Has Fallen doesn't include Jamie Foxx's President of the United States, who is a fantastic part of the movie, as the guy is even more in over his head than Channing Tatum.
Air Force One
Premise: Die Hard on a plane
The second of our Die Hard, but with the President movies, Air Force One actually sees the President of the United States as our sole hero as terrorists take over the plane and only Harrison Ford can stop them. Air Force One is bolstered by a pair of great performances, including Ford as the hero and the always great Gary Oldman as the villain. The choice of location is great, as the fact that it's a plane keeps everybody locked down to this limited space. Also, because it's Air Force One, that gives the movie license to be creative with what exactly one can find in that space. And, of course, with one of the greatest action stars of all time playing cinema's most ass-kicking President, it's hard to go wrong.
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