The holiday season is upon us and brings to mind the shoot-’em-up action series and stocking-stuffer favorite “Die Hard.” With the sixth installment, a prequel tentatively titled “Die Hard: Year One” slated to be the possible final run for John McClane, let’s rank Bruce Willis’s heroics throughout the franchise from hard to hardest (hardest being the best).
#5 “A Good Day to Die Hard” (2013)
As much as we wanted this to be a throwback to the old school “Die Hard” days, we ended up getting an even more condensed, borderline side story in the franchise instead where McClane goes overseas to help his estranged son (Jai Courtney), whose existence was never noted in any of the previous films. Purely an Americanized sequence taking place in Moscow, we get two untrustworthy McClanes blowing up shit instead of one. Part of us thought this was a transitional movie to get his son to take up his mantle, but with the news of a sixth and likely final film in the works, well this was just a short fireworks show that detracts from the greatness of the original films and shows two inexplicably invincible gentlemen jumping out of exploding buildings.
#4 “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” (1990)
The first three films are unarguably the best before Hollywood puts its high-def spin on the gritty cop drama, but the sequel film in the series is easily less impressive than its origin and its third installment. Taking place a year later after the initial film, again on Christmas Eve, McClane struts into more trouble in Washington D.C. while (again) waiting for his wife, this time in the airport. Mercenaries led by a former U.S. Special Forces colonel (played by William Sadler), who suspend planes in the air, one of which his wife is on, around the airport in order to free a captured dictator. Unfortunately for him, McClane was once again on the job.
#3 “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007)
We would almost rank it last based on Justin Long’s involvement, but the action sequences, villain choice (“Justified” star Timothy Olyphant) and overall plot against McClane is too good to bump it down. More than a decade after its predecessor, we find McClane divorced and now estranged from his daughter who becomes a key element in this modern day tech-savvy terrorist attack. It’s like everyone’s worst nightmare: no Internet. We find McClane suddenly a bit older, a bit more out of his element and clinging to the likes of techie nerd, Justin Long, to get through to the end.
#2 “Die Hard” (1988)
Where it all led off for John McClane, the typically off-duty detective goes to a holiday party on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife in Los Angeles. The building is overtaken by Hans Gruber, played by the brilliant Alan Rickman, but in his quest to steal bearer bonds worth upwards of $640 million, he and his team end up spending the entire night hunting down McClane while he slowly takes them out one by one. Sgt. Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson a.k.a. Carl Winslow for you “Family Matters” aficionados) is there as a wingman on the outside.
#1 “Die Hard With a Vengeance” (1995)
Although the original film set the strong tone for the action series, this would have been one of the greatest trilogies to have its third film be its strongest, at least until they had to keep going and ruin everything. One of the great films to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2015, “Die Hard With a Vengeance” takes McClane to New York City where he is separated from his wife (again), on suspension with his police work and conveniently in the company of a drinking problem. Jeremy Irons kills it as his antagonist (he plays the role of Simon, Hans Gruber’s brother from the first film) in an explosive game of Simon Says with McClane, who isn’t really much for games.
“Yippee ki-yay, mother f–ker,” and a happy new year, too.