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Most movie journalists likely get asked the question so many times, they have crafted a go-to answer. “Oh, you write about movies?” strangers will ask upon meeting you. “What’s your favorite movie of all time?” It’s an ice breaker. An audio party favor, and a conversation starter. It’s also a barometer of your taste, because if you are revealing what you believe to be your favorite movie of all time, it will tell the person who’s listening that they might love the same kinds of movies as you. And naturally, if you disagree, it also tells them that they shouldn’t listen to you at all.
For years – 31 years, to be specific – my answer to that very question was John McTiernan’s Die Hard. The original, and still the best. Die Hard remains the finest example of my favorite type of movie, a cop thriller centered around a sarcastic and flawed hero who overcomes impossible odds to triumph. It’s a brilliant script, with an outstanding lead performance, and when I saw it in theaters in 1988, it literally changed my life. Die Hard opened me up to the idea that movies were a reality, and I knew then and there that I’d like to do SOMETHING with movies with the rest of my existence.
Over the years, as I saw more movies, other titles helped me eventually form a Top 10 of “All Timers” for me. Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Toy Story trilogy. Movies that meant something to me, personally, and belonged in the conversation when discussing a flick that would go on my own Mount Rushmore. But none of them topped Die Hard, from a purely selfish “My Favorite Movie of All Time” standpoint. McTiernan’s masterpiece was the top of the mountain.
Until last week. When it was dethroned by Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame.
In addition to being a movie junkie as a kid, I also grew up reading comics. Specifically, I grew up reading Marvel. Spider-Man was my favorite character, but I collected books on the X-Men, the New Mutants, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and the bulk of the Avengers titles. In the Marvel universe, characters teamed up often, so the adventures of the characters I loved bled into the realms of Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe started, I was skeptical. How could you not be? Comic book adaptations weren’t exactly home runs. For every Iron Man in 2008, fans had to endure the Joel Schumacher Batman films, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, it’s spinoff Elektra, Nic Cage’s Ghost Rider… you get the gist.
Starting with Iron Man, the character, also seemed like an odd choice. In hindsight, it worked, but Tony Stark wasn’t the household name back in 2008, and Robert Downey Jr. was still an unpredictable talent who had burned very bright but was rebuilding his professional reputation with turns in movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Tropic Thunder and David Fincher’s Zodiac.
No one, back then, could have imagined what the MCU would become. Building a shared universe like this takes patience, time and dedication. It requires several happy accidents on the production schedules of some massive blockbusters. It relies heavily on smart casting, and those casting moves have to pay off with contracts that keep talent in the fold for the right amount of time. It takes bold storytelling choices, but ones that resonate with an audience so that they choose to return time and again for the next movies.
And of course, sticking a landing on an 11 year, 22 film experiment like this seems downright impossible.
Yet, as I watched Avengers: Endgame unfold, my mouth simply hung open in awe at the major moves Joe and Anthony took, and the stunning accomplishments they achieved. Time travel? Check. Killing off half of the known Marvel universe? Check. Bringing them all back? Check. Surprising fans with huge reveals? Check. Pitting every hero in the MCU against Thanos and his minions? Check mate.
Avengers: Endgame shouldn’t exist. Anyone who understands how movies are made have to accept this. Endgame is a magic trick, a Herculean feat that should have failed under the weight of its own ambition. It’s a movie that contains countless nods to the Marvel movies that blazed a trail before it, while also completing a story the brothers started in Avengers: Infinity War. It completes a journey, while teasing a path for the future. It’s a love letter to a universe that I adore. It’s the best movie Marvel has created to date, and I think it’s going to be pretty damn tough to top.
Which is why I replaced Die Hard at the top of my all-time favorite list with Avengers: Endgame. (How fitting, too, that Paul Rudd shouts out McTiernan’s classic, cementing my decision for me in my own head the moment it happened.) Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I feel one movie is BETTER than the other.
I have been explaining this to people who instantly jump to the conclusion that I’m deciding Endgame is a better movie than Die Hard. Truthfully, I think it’s unfair to even try and compare the two, as McTiernan in 1988 wasn’t trying to accomplish anything close to what the Russo Brothers are doing in 2019.
Die Hard will always hold a very special place in my heart. It’s not like it’s being removed from existence. I’ll still watch it a few times each year, and likely will learn more about it with each repeat viewing.
But it had a fantastic, three-decade run at the top of my personal leaderboard. And nothing lasts forever. Sooner or later, I was bound to encounter a movie that hit me as hard as McTiernan’s film did back in 1988. And the sheer achievement of Avengers: Endgame, the massive spectacle and the epic amount of entertainment it produces in the heart of this Marvel geek, means that it’s my new Number One. What’s yours?