In just a few weeks, a new Die Hard movie is going to come out. If I can call myself "The Michael Jordan of Watching Die Hard Movies," and I think we all agree that I can, I'd like to give some advice to the fifth installment of the most important movie franchise of my career (I likely never would have written for this site if it hadn't been for Live Free or Die Hard, the inspiration for my very first Cracked article). The franchise is important to me; I know what makes a good or bad Die Hard, and I can either write this article about it or scream about it on street corners (or both).
Because the intention of this guide is to build a good Die Hard movie, and because "good" is subjective, I'm going to get us all on the same page, or more specifically, get you on my page, so you understand where each Die Hard film ranks.
Die Hard: A perfect movie.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder: A crappy Die Hard.
Die Hard With a Vengeance: A pretty great Die Hard.
Live Free or Die Hard: A fine movie, but not at all a Die Hard.
I'll be saying things like "All of the better Die Hard movies had [XYZ]" a bunch, so now you know that when I say "better Die Hards," I mean Die Hard and Die Hard With a Vengeance. A lot of people rank Die Harder over Vengeance, but I think we can all agree that those people are wrong.
[Also, before getting into the article, I will say that the single most important rule about Die Harding is that John McClane needs to be an average cop out of his element, and not a super cop. This idea is so clear and so widely accepted that I didn't think it needed its own entry, but I'm so pedantic and thorough that I couldn't write this article without at least mentioning it. Moving on.]
This might seem counterintuitive, but trust me.
A Good Day to Die Hard is the first script that was written just to be a Die Hard movie. Ever. The first Die Hard was originally written as a sequel to Commando (or a sequel to The Detective, depending on which source you consult), but when Arnold dropped out, they changed it at the last minute into a Die Hard. Die Hard 2: Die Harder was originally a book called 58 Minutes about a cop named Frank Malone who probably never even Die Harded a little bit. Die Hard With a Vengeance was originally supposed to be Lethal Weapon 4, but that also changed at the last minute, probably because turning Danny Glover's "too old for this shit" good cop into a "too racist for this shit" lunatic upset the buddy cop dynamic established in the first three. Finally, Live Free or Die Hard was originally called WW3.com, and it was based on a Wired article. About hacking. No one has ever started a movie with the intention of writing a Die Hard. Good Die Hard scripts are like McClane himself; they're the right script in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's also important to point out that the better Die Hards started out as sequels to other franchises, and the shittier Die Hards didn't. If you told me Die Hard 5 was based on a magazine article, I'd be worried, but if you told me the script was originally supposed to be the sequel to White Men Can't Jump, I would be so on board.
"Have a great villain" might sound like an obvious tip, but two out of four Die Hards did it wrong. Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber is one of the best movie villains of all time. He was one of the first intelligent and complicated bad guys, a villain who was as intense and layered as the hero.
Two Die Hards later, we met Jeremy Irons' Simon Gruber, another outstanding, cunning, badass villain. Die Harder, unfortunately, traded in all of the intelligence that made Hans so menacing for the overall craziness of its villain. Want to know the quickest way to tell your audience that the bad guy is crazy? Have him do a bunch of naked air-fighting in his very first scene:
Both Grubers gave you the feeling that they were always several steps ahead of everyone else; they were patient, meticulous, and controlled. They had elaborate plans, and the cops never knew exactly what they were up to until it was too late. Colonel Stuart had a really boring and simple plan ("Release this prisoner or I'll kill lots of people!") and did naked kata, like a crazy guy. Live Free or Die Hard had a villain with a similarly complicated and interesting plan, but it's hard to buy Timothy Olyphant as an intelligent bad guy, because his acting bag only has two tricks ("angry" and "angry with a mustache").
I don't know much about the villain in the new Die Hard, but I do know that he's not American, which is a good sign. Both Colonel Stuart and Thomas Gabriel were American terrorists (or hack-terrorists, or whatever), and those were the weakest installments of the franchise (so far!).