This Thursday, A Good Day to Die Hard arrives in theatres, continuing the thoroughly strange journey of one of the most unlikely action franchises in movie history. The Die Hard films are understandably iconic and, for the most part, beloved, but if you took a time machine back to 1988 and told initial audiences that this new, quirky action film starring Bruce Willis would eventually become a five-film strong franchise extending across four separate decades, they would probably laugh in your face.
And for good reason. Very little about the original Die Hard screams ‘massive blockbuster franchise.’ It is a classic, in fact, precisely because it is small-scale, limiting its scope to focus on character and thrills. The set-up is simple, with everyman John McClane trapped in a building full of terrorists, determined to save his wife by any means necessary. There is no larger mythology, every major conflict is resolved by the time the credits roll, and nothing about the film begs for a sequel, let alone four of them.
But here we are, four films later, on the eve of adding another title to the franchise. This is a thoroughly strange series, but I love these movies nevertheless, and while my hopes are hardly high for A Good Day to Die Hard – every single piece of marketing so far just screams ‘no’ to me – I would love to welcome another solid action movie into the mix.
Recognizing the odd nature of Die Hard as a film series, I have chosen it to be the first franchise in our new monthly series here at We Got This Covered: Sequel-Off. The premise of a ‘Sequel-Off’ article is simple: Take two or movies from the same series, pit them against each other in a succession of critical evaluations, and see which one comes out on top. There are no real rules beyond that, this is all my personal subjective opinion, and the structure will probably change drastically from month to month.
For instance: While I intend to compare some sequels to the original films that spawned them in the months to come, for Die Hard, we will only be comparing films 2, 3, and 4. This is a franchise where the original movie is so clearly the best – and there is, as far as I can tell, no dissenting opinion on that matter – that pitting it against the other movies would be utterly dull and predictable. Instead, we will specifically compare the sequels, and see which one of the three – Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance, or Live Free and Die Hard – is the second-best film in the series.
We start with Round I on the next page…