A showdown between Rambo, John McClane and the T-800 to determine who is the biggest bad ass of all-time.
One-Sentence Summation of Franchise
If a one-man killing machine suddenly goes crazy, it would be best not to mess with him, even if you've got a ton of armed dudes with you, because he will pimp-slap the shit out of you, then stab everyone and blow up the city you're in.
Our Hero, Folks
Meet John Rambo: Special Forces veteran, Vietnam POW and sufferer of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He can survive in a forest for months with only an old tarp and a hunting knife, and he can kill you in 17 interesting and horrifying ways just by shaking your hand.
In the words of Rambo First Blood Part II's tagline: "They sent him on a mission and set him up to fail. But they made one mistake. They forgot they were dealing with Rambo." In other words, Rambo is a lot like Dr. Dre: you should never, ever forget about him. Similarly, nor should you talk about guns like he ain't got none. (Rambo does have guns.)
Level of Hardness
In First Blood, John Rambo is pushed too far by local fatassed police and is chased into a nearby forest. After running from them for the whole afternoon, Rambo suddenly stops and is all, "Wait a second, I just remembered I'm this enormous badass with decades of military training being chased by seven fatty cops." That's when he takes out an armed helicopter by throwing a rock at it while scaling down a sheer cliff-face with his bare hands, which--come on, that's pretty fucking hard.
But this ends up being the equivalent of a unicorn blowing a rainbow compared to pretty much everything in the sequel, Rambo First Blood Part II, where Rambo is dropped into a Vietnamese jungle to rescue POWs. While there, Rambo manages to kill every single Russian soldier in the occupied country, retroactively winning the Vietnam War for America. Keep in mind this wasn't even his mission: he accomplishes this with the same sort of "Well shoot, as long as I'm here" attitude you or I might adopt while running errands and deciding to pick up some steaks at the butcher's.
Apparently because he'd gotten so good at it, in Rambo III our hero's flown to occupied Afghanistan, this time to single-handedly kill the shit out of another Soviet army (he does). While shooting hordes of tank-operating filthy commies, Rambo somehow manages to get shot once. Not a problem: Rambo smartly packs his gunshot wound with gun powder, lights that bitch on fire, then cauterizes the wound with a hot knife. To put the hardness of this into perspective for you: this is a man whose solution to getting shot is to cram explosives into his body and blow up the wound to clean it. Just for the record, that's not just hard--that's actually totally motherfucking insane.
Rambo is sent into Vietnam to rescue American prisoners of war, but is double-crossed by an evil army guy named Murdock (sort of a tip-off there), who abandons the mission and leaves our hero to die behind enemy lines, the bastard.
Rambo gets captured by evil Communists, who act a lot like Nazis for some reason. The evil Commies force Rambo to use an old HAM radio so they can trick the Americans into coming back to rescue him and walk into a fiendish trap.
It would be an impossible situation for anybody but Rambo, who luckily forms a brilliant plan at the last second: he uses the radio to tell Murdock he's going to boot-fuck his slimy ass when he gets back to America, then caves in a dude's skull with the radio, then stabs his way out of the enemy camp with an enormous hunting knife, then grabs a gun the size of a European car and kills every Russian in a fifty mile radius.
Seriously-we never would have thought of that.
Here we see the culmination of those events, as Rambo arrives home and expresses his frustration with bureaucracy by unloading a couple thousand rounds of ammo into a computer bank, and threatening Murdock with the giant hunting knife. We probably would have just written an strongly worded email in Microsoft Word and never sent it, but this works too.
In Rambo III, Rambo joins up with a mujahideen resistance movement to fight back the Red Menace. One of the primary mujahideen organizers at the time this movie came out? Osama bin Laden. Whoops. Well, at least they've got a plot for the next one. Rambo IV: Correcting Past Mistakes.
It turns out Rambo's sort of a bad-ass.
One-Sentence Summation of Franchise
If you're a European terrorist and you find yourself thinking, "How much trouble could one pesky renegade cop crawling around in some air vents cause my nefarious plan?", you should really take a minute to rethink your strategy, because he's about to jump out of an elevator shaft barefoot and fuck you up pretty bad.
Our Hero, Folks
Meet John McClane: a semi-alcoholic, chain-smoking New York City police detective with the creepy ability to always be in an air vent and wearing a soiled undershirt for some reason whenever terrorists take hostages.
In the words of the original Die Hard's tagline: "Twelve terrorists. One cop. The odds are against John McClane... That's just the way he likes it." This is all you need to know about John McClane: he hates a fair fight, and evidently prefers it when his enemies outnumber him and he's hopelessly outmatched. Why? It's possible he's an idiot. Still, he's pretty handy at shooting terrorists, so whatever helps him get through the day, right?
Level of Hardness
John McClane's Hardness Level gets a huge boost for the fact that, unlike the other action heroes on this list, he's not a by-design killing machine so much as a really, really unlucky dude with a receding hairline and good aim. A killer robot from the future could take out a dozen terrorists on the way to his real mission to beat Godzilla to death with a nuclear submarine-but when you're just some guy with a badge and a gun, taking out twelve heavily armed bad guys is hell of impressive.
In the first Die Hard, John McClane's visiting his ex-wife when Alan Rickman's all-star terrorist squad attacks the building where she works and forces him to get down to killin' business. Not only does he dispatch all of the terrorists one by one, in a series of increasingly cool fight scenes, but he also manages to do it without shoes. This doesn't seem like a big deal until you account for all the broken glass and debris left behind from the many shootouts, and realize McClane's picking glass chunks the size of postcards out of his feet in between fights. Walking on broken glass while killing guys: pretty hard.
In Die Hard 2, McClane does pretty much the same thing as in the first movie, only this time he's wearing a black undershirt and the terrorists are... well, still European. He does manage to launch himself out of an airplane cockpit in this one, though, while fighting a terrorist with a bomb about to go off. McClane straps himself into the cockpit seat and pulls the emergency escape pod lever (standard in any commercial aircraft) at the last second, shooting himself hundreds of feet into the air while all the shit explodes, then pulling the ripcord for the parachute--again, at the last second. It's pretty ingenious, looks totally cool and contains maximum amounts of hardness, so it should be forgiven that it doesn't make an ounce of goddamn sense.
The third installment of the franchise, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, takes place outside in the streets of New York. Since this runs counter to the entire premise of Die Hard, we're not going to discuss it here. It'd be like making a Speed sequel and forcing Keanu Reeves to commandeer a bus that can go whatever speed it likes. That's not hard; that's just lazy.
Though the intricacies of a Bruce Willis Die Hard performance are of course as delicate as they are complex, you can pretty much be guaranteed to see the following in any decent installment:
John McClane killing some dude with the clock ticking:
John McClane coming within a cockhair of getting incinerated by a huge explosion:
And, of course, John McClane crawling around in duct work talking to himself like a crazy person:
Basically the entire Die Hard franchise hinges on terrorists attacking a building with central air.
In pretty much any Die Hard movie you can name, it's eventually revealed that the terrorists aren't really terrorists at all, just thieves with a love of overly-elaborate money-stealing schemes. Since that means the hostages' lives aren't really in danger, and all the bad guys want at the end of the day is to empty out a safe full of money and be on their way... well, technically, that means things probably would have been better if John McClane had never gotten involved.
Seriously, think about it: remove John McClane from the first movie and you've got a successful heist with a body count of like one guy. Add in John McClane Yippee-Kay-Aying around shooting everything and you've got a stack of corpses and property damage in the hundreds of millions.
I mean, his heart's in the right place, but... dude, you know this money's insured, right? We appreciate the concern and all, but really, the faceless corporation/enormous airport's gonna be okay. Please stop shooting European men in the face and blowing up property.
In terms of effort, McClane's the clear champ here: he's an everyday chump trying like hell to be a hero against unstoppable odds. In terms of sheer body count and "Awww, fuck yeah!" moments, though, our New York cop falls a bit behind.
One-Sentence Summation of Franchise
Before you plan on starting any revolutions against your robot overlords thirty years from now, you might want to reconsider, since they've invented both killer robots and time travel, and sent Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to rip you apart like a head of lettuce.
Our Hero, Folks
Meet the T-800, an unstoppable killer robot from the future who's been sent back in time to either kill you or protect you from another unstoppable killer robot killing you. It's considered polite to sort out which of these missions he's on when you first meet a T-800, or it can get a little awkward.
T-800s enjoy firing shotguns while driving motorbikes to Guns N' Roses songs, walking around naked, and engaging in adorable conversations with Edward Furlong about slangy early-'90s catchphrases.
Level of Hardness
You don't get much harder than the Terminator. These things were specifically built to get into fights all day, so you can go ahead and unload a few clips into one, detonate a bomb under it and drive it it off a cliff tied to a truck and still expect to see the goddamn thing coming at you a half hour later, thirsty for blood (yours).
In the first Terminator movie, the T-800 was the bad guy, sent back in time to kill Sarah Conner before she gave birth to a baby that'd grow up to lead the revolution against our future robot overlords. Even given this, though, it was hard not to root for him, given the overall pussiness of supposed "hero" Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who comes off like a pre-Jedi Luke Skywalker, moaning about Tashi's station and power converters. T-800 sets the tone for hardness in this movie, wiping out an entire police station full of cops in under five minutes.
T2: Judgment Day-the far, far superior sequel-finally lets us root for T-800 officially, instead of as a guilty pleasure. This time he's been sent back to save Sarah Conner-from the T-1000, who's also been sent back in time, but with the opposite goal. Pretty much the entire running time of this film is the encyclopedia definition of hardness, with T-800 either punching, shooting, exploding or headbutting the bad guy in the face in an effort to save Sarah and her annoying, punchable son. He even comes back from the dead after getting a steel pole through his chest; apparently through sheer force of will to kick more ass. This is one hard robot.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines didn't have James Cameron involved, so we didn't watch it, because... well, why would you watch that?
The T-1000 wants to kill Edward Furlong, and against all common sense, the T-800 has to stop him. An incredibly amazing chase scene ensues, with the T-1000 gun-fighting our heroes through a mall and into a city reservoir for an awesome car chase, reminding us why James Cameron makes the best action movies ever. T-800 refuses to give up the fight, even against impossible odds and speeding trucks driven by bloodthirsty cyborgs, cocking his shotgun one-handed and destroying as much property as possible. That's a little something our nation's politicians could take to heart: never, ever give up against cyborgs.
At one point in T2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger confronts a biker, buck naked, and demands he give him his pants. We don't care how menacing your tone of voice is when you say this. The day you walk into a bar nude and ask another man to take off all his clothes, you'd better be kicking a phenomenal amount of ass in the next few minutes, or it's going to get a touch awkward for the audience.
The dude's unstoppable, it's true. But he's a robot, so it's not like he trained his whole life or anything. He just uploaded everything into his hard drive, which sort of sucks a little. A true hard-ass needs to have earned his bad-assery. T-800's taking it for granted, and that costs him points.
He's man, not machine, so he beats out Terminator for can-do human pluck. As a human, though, he's sort of obscenely talented at killing Russian people, with a body count about 50,000 times the size of John McClane's, who's only human and not crazy.
In terms of sheer, unmitigated hardness, we have to give this to Rambo. In the words of Rambo's mentor, Colonel Trautman: "You don't seem to want to accept the fact you're dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare, with a man who's the best, with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who's been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel. To kill! Period! Win by attrition. Well... Rambo was the best."
CRACKED agrees. Rambo, by knockout: the motherfucking BEST.