Last week marked the 30th anniversary of 80s classic Die Hard, the greatest action film of all time. A seminal masterpiece that helped shape the formula for all action films to come, Die Hard remains a thrilling two hours of spectacular set pieces and character-driven dialogue that turned sitcom actor Bruce Willis into a household name.
Willis has never been better cast than as NYPD officer John McLane, an everyman who gets in over his head when terrorists take over the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles and hold his wife and other members of staff hostage.
It’s no surprise that after the film's success in 1988, every movie studio was looking for the next Die Hard, with a running joke stating every imitation could be described as “Die Hard on a boat,” “Die Hard on a plane” etc…
Even today the model of a wisecracking American hero up against incredible odds is still being used, with The Rock’s latest film Skyscraper a clear homage to the original Die Hard. To celebrate the film's impact on the action genre over the last three decades, here’re our picks for the best Die Hard knockoffs.
Martial arts expert Steven Seagal has been in the news for the wrong reasons of late. The direct-to-DVD actor has come under fire for being a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as numerous actresses accusing him of sexual harassment, but in the early 90s, he was part of the new wave of Hollywood action stars. He really hit the big time in 1992 with action romp Under Siege. Playing the incredibly named Casey Ryback, a former Navy Seal turned cook, Segal takes on a group of terrorists led by Tommy Lee Jones (doing his best Keith Richard impersonation) who’ve hijacked a navy vessel in attempt to sell the warheads onboard. Gary Busey cameos as a crazed baddie (who dresses in drag at one point) while Playmate Erika Eleniak gets her gear off. Segal has never been better and the final showdown between him and Jones is one for the ages.
Critically savaged when it hit cinemas and currently sitting on a score of 22 percent on movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, Passenger 57 has been retrospectively appreciated by action fans as one of the genres best. Wesley Snipes plays John Cutter, a former secret agent who finds himself on the same plane as nut job terrorist Charles Jane (a wonderfully creepy Bruce Payne). It’s a paint by numbers rehash of everything seen in Die Hard except for the setting. This is prime Snipes and features some terrific action set pieces and will forever be remembered for gifting us one of the greatest lines of dialogue in any action film; “Always bet on black.”
These days everyone raves about Keanu Reeves turn as an action hero in the John Wick films, but two decades earlier he got his first taste of the genre in Speed. While not a typical Die Hard rip off (this one is mainly set on a bus with a bomb) there’s no denying the influence of John McTiernan on director Jan de Bont’s fast-paced film. The script by Graham Yost apparently included heavy uncredited rewrites by Joss Whedon while the action set pieces keep you glued to the screen. Reeves is great as cool SWAT officer Jack Traven and is ably supported by a charming Sandra Bullock and always-reliable Jeff Daniels. Dennis Hopper is also excellent as the deranged bad guy who loves a pop quiz.
Similar to Speed, the action in Cliffhanger isn't contained to just one location, instead taking place across snowy mountain tops and eerie cave dwellings. The spirit of John McLane lives on in Sylvester Stallone’s mountain ranger Gabe Walker, who’s kidnapped by an evil John Lithgow and forced to locate three boxes filled with $100,000,000. Although Stallone doesn’t exude the charm of Willis, director Renny Harlin does a great job turning the buffed action star into a credible leading man. Cliffhanger remains one of the better Die Hard clones, with Stallone at his action star peak and supported by a fantastic cast including Michael Rooker, Paul Winfield and Craig Fairbrass.
No list like this would be complete without an appearance from the Muscles from Brussels, Jean Claude Van Damme. Described as “Die Hard in a hockey arena,” Van Damme’s fire marshal must tackle a group of terrorists holding the Vice President hostage during game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. If that’s not ludicrous enough, Van Damme even takes to the ice during the flick disguised as the Pittsburgh Penguins goalkeeper, and you guessed it, saves a goal. There’s also death by dishwasher and Powers Booth as the terrorist mastermind in this over-the-top action flick that announced the end of Van Damme’s box office success.