I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.
List Appearances: 3/10
Average Rank: 45
Highest Rank: 20, on Empire‘s The 100 Greatest Movies
Total Final Score: 1165.5
There are five movies I consider to be perfect action movies. Those include Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight, Die Hard (though technically an action/triller), and The Professional. What does it take to mark a perfect film? Good characters, a story that hits all the most important tonal marks (love, high stakes, high emotion), and relatively believable (and preferably explosive) action sequences. Die Hard as a franchise may not play by these same rules, but the first film absolutely does.
It’s be a few years since I last watched Die Hard, and I was surprised at how many details were done in the movie. I love that the first conversation of the movie introduces John to walking barefoot, and how that one seemingly inane detail plays out through the entire movie. We meet John McClane (Bruce Willis) as his plane lands in LA. He stands in the airport holding a teddy bear half as big as he is. His limo driver is a chatty man who helps build a picture of why John is here and what choices have led him to this particular juncture. John and his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), are estranged. Her career took off and left him in NYC while she moved to LA to pursue what appears to be a high-ranking position in her company.
Die Hard is one of a few movies in the late 80s and early 90s that focused on working women and the ever-changing dynamic of the family model. Holly is the only working person left in an office full of men and some women who are partying on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile their children are at home with a in-home housekeeper/nanny. It would have been seen as extreme in the year it was made, but now, it seems like it was just progressive, since that’s really the norm.
Not long after Holly and John meet in her office, the group of “terrorists” arrive, and the story shifts to a one-man army. The group are led by the amazing Alan Rickman (RIP), in his feature film debut. It’s hard to believe that last part, because his performance is polished. Bruce Willis looks the action hero part, but he was not the first choice for John McClane. He was more known for his work on comedies, so it seemed like a bit of a stretch, which is equally surprising considering how well he donned the tank top and blue jeans.
As with all action movies, there is a suspension of disbelief on the physics of the action, but not nearly as much as there is in later films. The action is top-notch, with explosions, shattered glass, and ringing gunfire to remind you both the bad guys and John mean business. But what I truly appreciate is the fact that after every encounter, McClane looks a little more broken. He’s able to do incredible feats at the start, but he limps into rooms in the end, bloody and bruised from a few hours of extreme violence. He’s clever, though, and that is what really keeps him alive.
I love Die Hard, and no amount of bad sequels will ever change that.