4 Simple Rules for Not Screwing Up a 'Die Hard' Sequel
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 " 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.
Write a Movie That Isn't Die Hard
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
"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!).
Stay in One Location
The first Die Hard takes place entirely in a building, and it rules. Die Hard 2, for all its flaws, also managed to keep to mostly one location, an airport. By the time Vengeance rolled around, they decided to cover an entire city, and by Live Free, several states.
And, uh ... here.
That was a mistake. One of the coolest aspects of Die Hard was the consistency of the location. McClane, the terrorists, and the hostages were all trapped together for a few hours. The stakes were clear. There was no way out. There was a time factor. You had McClane on one floor and the terrorists on another, and you knew they'd eventually have to meet up, and that it would be awesome. It's important in a Die Hard that the game is John McClane vs. the Bad Guys. Die Hard wouldn't have had any tension if you thought even for a second that the police or the army could come rushing in and take out the terrorists.
While every subsequent Die Hard has maintained the "McClane vs. Bad Guys" rule, they've had to come up with increasingly more convoluted reasons to keep McClane on his own. In Die Hard 2, McClane flew solo because the airport cops were cartoonishly obtuse and uncooperative; in Vengeance, he was mostly alone because Simon Gruber sent the NYPD on a wild goose chase and "Something something something, if you guys use your radios, a bomb will explode because of movie science." In Live Free or Die Hard, we had to believe that the level of hacking Thomas Gabriel did was so advanced that every cellphone and radio was out of commission, and also the hacking was so good that none of the other cops thought it would be worth their time to follow McClane around, even though he's literally the best weapon America has when it comes to dealing with terrorists.
A Good Day to Die Hard is set in Russia, and it looks like they'll be traveling all over some city, if not the entire country. I'd say that's a bad sign, but what do I know, I didn't write the book on Die Hard movies.
Though I will. If anyone -- anyone -- asks me to, I will.
Put Black People in It
I don't want to tiptoe around this. In the best Die Hard, John McClane had two funny black sidekicks:
The second best Die Hard was a buddy movie with a black partner who received just as much screen time as McClane:
In Die Hard 2, we only get like two minutes with Reginald VelJohnson, and in the fourth film, McClane doesn't have any black accomplices.
I have no theories. I have no idea what this says about race, and I'm too dumb to figure out what it means, in a big, grand sort of way. I just know that there is an inarguable relationship between how many black friends John McClane has and how good a Die Hard movie is. Do the right thing, Die Hard 5. There's still time to recast John McClane's son with Donald Glover.