Cracked Theory: Every Terrible 'Die Hard' Sequel Is A Movie In A Movie

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Cracked Theory: Every Terrible 'Die Hard' Sequel Is A Movie In A Movie

20th Century Studios

We all love Die Hard, the only Christmas movie that culminates with the jovial dad from Family Matters gunning down a hulking Russian ballet dancer. Less universally beloved, however, are the sequels; Die Hard 2, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard, and A Good Day to Die Hard. Oh, and also that commercial where John McClane battles terrorists purely in order to obtain a new car battery.

Looking back at the decades-long series, some of the movies are wildly incongruous with the others. Sure, Die Hard With a Vengeance suddenly takes place in the summertime instead of the holiday season, but far more jarring is the tonal shift we see in the final two movies. It's hard to look back at these five stories and accept that they even exist in the same universe as one another. And, come to think of it, maybe they don't.

We've talked before about the theory that Joel Schumacher's Batman films exist as movies within the world of Tim Burton's Gotham City – which explains why Bruce Wayne suddenly looks different and carries a Bat-Visa in his utility belt. What if something similar is happening in the Die Hard-verse? What if the first three entries constitute John McClane's real life, and the other two exist as movies about John McClane.

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This idea isn't so farfetched when you think about it; Hollywood routinely makes movies based on dramatic real-life events, and in the world of the first three Die Hards, we repeatedly see that the Nakatomi Plaza hostage situation was a world-famous event, making McClane a celebrity in the process. It's as if some movie studio took the Nakatomi incident, and after years of executive meddling, it became the story of an entire city being held hostage instead of just a boring old building – which is what we see in Live Free or Die Hard. 

We get that this sounds crazy, but hear us out; it's genuinely weird that the early movies feature painfully down-to-earth action scenes that leave McClane bloodied and exhausted while the others absolutely do not. Part of the appeal of Die Hard is that it feels so incredibly grounded. The stakes are raised to some degree in the sequels; in the second movie, McClane stabs a dude in the eye with an icicle in order to prevent the release of a deposed South American dictator, and in Die Hard With a Vengeance he recklessly drives through Central Park without slaughtering any pedestrians.

But as wacky as some of these moments are, they still ultimately feel like they could take place in our world. Live Free or Die Hard, on the other hand, features a scene in which John McLane successfully launches a goddamn flaming car into a hovering helicopter, freely pissing in the face of the laws of physics. Why would he even think that would work?

He has an easier time hanging on the wing of a jet in his 50s than he did bungee jumping with a firehose 20 years earlier.

In A Good Day to Die Hard, he jumps out of a goddamn window while being shot at, falls through multiple stories of scaffolding, and walks away with barely a scratch. In retrospect, this is the movie where we should have found out that Bruce Willis was secretly a ghost the whole time. 

Then there’s the fact that the last two movies feel bound by Hollywood conventions in ways that the other three simply don’t. McClane’s kills are suddenly bloodless, and his potty-mouth has been inexplicably sanitized. In the theatrical, PG-13 cut of Live Free or Die Hard, even his trademark catchphrase is conspicuously censored.

Not to mention that some scenes in the fifth movie, featured prominently in the trailer, seem less inspired by the 1988 original than they do a faded copy of Maxim Magazine from 2002. 

And what about the casting? Die Hard worked because Willis was a regular-looking dude who, back then, was more interested in tight jeans and harmonica solos than steroids and bench presses. But for the role of John McClane's son, the filmmakers went the standard Hollywood action route, casting the more beefcakey Jai Courtney. And, more unfortunately, the last two movies feel like a Die Hard-esque story has been completely whitewashed. Like, Theo, played by Clarence Gilyard Jr. –

– has a spiritual successor in Live Free or Die Hard’s hacker character “Warlock,” played, for some bizarre reason, by Kevin Smith – who did not have great things to say about the experience. 

Which makes sense given Hollywood's history of quashing diversity, and as for McClane's sidekicks, one can imagine real-world studio executives looking at a story involving a Black handyman from Harlem and swapping him out for the dude from the Apple vs. PC commercials. 

But clearly, John McClane is still John McClane – we're not here to debate that. For this theory to hold water (exactly four gallons of it), we need to accept that these movies cast McClane as himself. Yup, the last two movies are John McClane playing John McClane. This isn't without precedent; World War II hero Audie Murphy played himself in the film version of his life. And more recently, and relevantly, Clint Eastwood cast the real-life American heroes who thwarted an attempted train bombing in The 15:17 to Paris, either out of a devotion to realism or because he was just too lazy to hold casting sessions.

And it's not like former cops can't become movie stars, as evidenced by the career of Dennis Farina, who was in the Chicago P.D. for 18 years before appearing in movies like Get Shorty and even playing a fictional TV detective in Law & Order.

So you can imagine McClane, last seen at his lowest point in Die Hard With a Vengeance, accepting an offer to buy his life story – along with a lucrative contract to star in the movies inspired by his eventful life story, perhaps because they're directed by the Die Hard universe equivalent of Clint Eastwood. And there's no reason to think that McClane didn't appear in non-McClane-based movies. Like, for all we know, that was really John McClane showing off his range in Moonrise Kingdom

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Top Image: 20th Century Studios

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