When he played the wisecracking John McClane in the acclaimed Die Hard series, the great Bruce Willis transformed the action genre. The charismatic performer first gained notoriety as private eye David Addison on the dramedy series Moonlighting before becoming a household name as John McClane in the smash 1988 action classic Die Hard.
The film’s resounding success and popularity contributed to Willis becoming a legitimate cinema star and lovable American action hero, with the part serving as a turning point in his illustrious career.
The success of the first Die Hard movie spawned four successful sequels, all of which were widely anticipated and brought in a combined $1.4 billion worldwide. The foul-mouthed NYC detective John McClane, who was famously dubbed as “just another American…who thinks he’s John Wayne” by famed Die Hard villain Hans Gruber, was a worldwide phenomenon.
Over the course of 25 years, a very worn-out McClane faced up against a variety of evil opponents and deadly terrorists, repeatedly demonstrating that, despite his no-nonsense demeanor, he will go to any lengths to save the people he loves and the innocent citizens.
We’re likely to never see another Die Hard movie after the tragic news that Willis is retiring from performing. Thankfully, there are five of them (all on Hulu), three of which are truly outstanding, and two of which are respectable action movies. The Die Hard films are arranged in both a chronological and a release-date sequence.
Die Hard Movies Are Listed by Release Date and Chronologically
- Die Hard – 15 July 1988
- Die Hard 2 – 4 July 1990
- Die Hard with a Vengeance – 19 May 1995
- Live Free or Die Hard – 27 June 2007
- A Good Day to Die Hard – 14 February 2013
In the popular action film Die Hard, starring the explosive Bruce Willis as the legendary reluctant hero, John McClane, a foul-mouthed, flippant NYPD detective, made his film debut on July 15, 1988. The ground-breaking 1980s classic centers on the cynical, anti-authority McClane who unknowingly finds himself in the epicenter of a terrorist plan on Christmas Eve at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles, led by German fanatic Hans Gruber and his menacing goons.
As the ruthless leader Gruber, who holds the tower hostage in order to steal $640 million in negotiable bonds, the late and great Alan Rickman gave a magnificent performance. The ruthless antagonist is regarded as one of the greatest antagonists in action film history, and Rickman gave one of his best performances in the part. The evil figure was such a success that his estranged brother Simon sought retribution in the third film.
Stars like Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were among the notable actors who were offered the infamous role of John McClane. However, Willis’ casting helped reimagine the action genre by portraying a somewhat “regular,” everyman as opposed to the traditionally portrayed indestructible, enormous, muscle-bound heroes.
Bruce Willis’ comic skills revolutionized action movies by refining the use of snappy one-liners and snarky comments. Die Hard helped Willis become a sardonic global phenomenon known for his skeptical protagonist John McClane, elevating the actor’s status from television performer to prominent cinematic presence.
Die Hard was a huge success when the movie came out, grossing over $140 million on a $30 million budget, getting five Academy Award nominations, solidifying Willis’ position as a respected leading actor, and giving Rickman celebrity status in Hollywood.
The big-screen spectacle, which many consider being the best action film of the 1980s (if not all of the time), also served as the catalyst for a lucrative franchise that produced four highly successful sequels, starting with Die Hard 2 in 1990.
The always rambunctious John McClane finds himself once again having to save the world from evil terrorists who have taken control of the air traffic control system at an airport in the eagerly awaited sequel.
Die Hard 2 (Die Harder)
The 1990 action movie Die Hard 2 (also known as Die Harder), a sequel to the highly acclaimed Die Hard, is set on Christmas Eve and centers on Mr. Congeniality himself John McClane as he arrives at the Dulles International Airport to pick up his wife Holly.
The newly promoted LAPD lieutenant learns shockingly that rogue military operatives have taken control of the air traffic control system as she waits for her inbound flight. To save not just his wife but the lives of many others from a catastrophic plane disaster, McClane must once more battle wicked terrorists, a disgruntled military commander, and airport authorities.
In the second entry of the suspenseful series, McClane reluctantly chooses to request the assistance of his friend Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) once more in order to put an end to the terrible assault.
The film’s major antagonist is disgraced former Colonel William Stuart, who plans to protect drug lord Ramon Esperanza from approaching justice by holding the airport and its residents hostage with the help of his ex-military allies.
Stuart broke into the electrical equipment controlling the flights and turned off power to the airport, so McClane needs to move quickly if he wants to save the approaching jets (and his wife) from a burning inferno.
The Iran-Contra crisis, a political scandal that happened in the 1980s under the Reagan Administration, served as the inspiration for the screenplay of the action-packed film, which was adapted from the novel 58 Minutes.
In the successful sequel, Franco Nero, William Sadler, and John Amos were introduced as the main antagonists. Bonnie Bedelia (Holly), Reginald VelJohnson (Powell), and William Atherton (reporter Richard Thornburg) also returned to their previous roles. Willis was not a major fan of the movie despite it being a bigger hit with viewers and earning $240 million worldwide.
He later admitted, “The second was my least favorite and the least enjoyable. The story suffered from serious un-claustrophobic-ness and was far too self-referentially precious. The 1995 sequel, Die Hard with a Vengeance, is largely regarded as the best entry in the franchise, and the action legend would later find satisfaction with it.
Die Hard With A Vengeance
The 1995 action thriller Die Hard with a Vengeance was directed by John McTiernan, who had previously helmed the first installment. In this electrifying follow-up, a down-on-his-luck John McClane teams up with a Harlem shopkeeper named Zeus Carver in an effort to stop a German terrorist named Simon (Hans Gruber’s brother) from blowing up well-known landmarks in New York City and exacting revenge.
Zeus and Simon, played by the legendary Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons, respectively, joined the Die Hard franchise. The unidentified antagonist forced McClane to play a strange and twisted version of Simon Says while posing risky tasks and puzzles. Jackson makes an appearance as the wary store owner Zeus, who saves McClane from Simon’s initial violent challenge and works with the Lieutenant to derail the villain’s deceptive plan.
In the third movie in the series, McClane has seen better days. He is divorced from his wife Holly, struggling with alcoholism, and has been suspended from the police department. Simon explicitly asks McClane to report for duty so that he can stop causing havoc on the city and its residents.
Zeus reluctantly helps McClane along the road as he battles a cunning criminal once more, but this time McClane has a buddy to rely on. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, Jeremy Irons’ Simon Gruber poses a dangerous threat. He uses his resentment over his brother’s passing as a pretext to loot the Federal Reserve Building.
With almost $366 million in revenue and becoming the highest-grossing movie of the year, Die Hard with a Vengeance was a critical and economic success. Willis, Irons, and Jackson’s action feats and performances were praised.
The movie has developed a strong cult following since its debut and is regarded by critics and spectators alike as the best installment of the compelling series. The film was praised by esteemed critic Roger Ebert, who described it as a “wind-up action toy, brilliantly designed, and presented with terrific enthusiasm.
It delivers what it promises to give with a vengeance. Surprisingly, the enormous popularity of the first Die Hard movie didn’t immediately inspire a sequel; instead, moviegoers had to wait 12 years to see Live Free or Die Hard in 2007.
Live Free or Die Hard
John McClane, everyone’s favorite wise-cracking hero, made a triumphant comeback to the big screen in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, where the NYPD detective was forced to team up with a skilled young hacker to battle an elite cyber-terrorist who was hacking into the government and the FBI’s computers.
The lively movie welcomes exciting new talent to the acclaimed franchise, with Justin Long playing hacker-turned-white-hat Matt Farrell and an electrifying Timothy Olyphant joining as terrorist mastermind Thomas Gabriel.
It is loosely based on John Carlin’s article “A Farewell to Arms” written for Wired magazine. Along with the tenacious McClane, other well-known actors including Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Kevin Smith co-star in the film.
Even with the cyber-terrorism premise being approved, Live Free or Die Hard through development hell despite the movie studio’s eagerness to cash in on the lucrative franchise once more. The fourth movie was indefinitely put on hold following the September 11th attacks until discussions started up again in 2005.
In the most recent action-packed episode, McClane discovers that the bad guy Thomas Gabriel and his band of terrorists are conducting a “fire sale” by hacking into the national infrastructure. When his estranged daughter Lucy and computer genius Matt are kidnapped by the dangerous terrorists, his battle to stop the despicable criminals takes a personal turn.
Fans and critics alike liked Live Free or Die Hard, with many praising it as an excellent return to form for the franchise (the movie still has an 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Bruce Willis was initially disappointed by the film’s PG-13 rating because he thought audiences would miss the colorful use of profanity and edginess.
However, the film’s exciting action sequences and biting humor ultimately made up for the lack of f-bombs. It is the highest-grossing entry in the Die Hard series, earning over $388 million worldwide.
The seasoned performer, who told NewsBlaze that the film is a homage to the original and that she was delighted with the end product, said: “I would put this one-two with the first film.
And it’s amazing that after 20 years, there are four movies with two truly outstanding episodes in the middle. Six years later, in 2013, Willis would make his fifth and last Die Hard appearance in A Good Day to Die Hard.
A Good Day to Die Hard
After his estranged son John “Jack” McClane Jr. is detained in Moscow for murder in the 2013 film A Good Day to Die Hard, Bruce Willis departs from the streets of New York City for his final act as the tough John McClane. Jai Courtney joins the cast as Jack, the aforementioned child of John McClane who is actually a covert CIA operative and is not happy about his father John’s visit.
In order to defeat criminal organizations and defend a Russian government whistleblower Jack has been tasked with protecting, the two put aside their differences. The major antagonist of the movie, Yuri Komarov, who Sebastian Koch plays, is the treacherous bad guy that Jack was originally meant to defend at any cost.
In a 2013 interview, Willis stated, “I have a special spot in my heart for Die Hard. It’s just the sheer novelty of being able to play the same character for 25 years and still be invited back is exciting.” This came to be the actor’s final on-screen depiction of McClane.
Remaking a movie and attempting to outdo oneself, as I do in Die Hard, is considerably more difficult. Every time, I work to enhance my job. Willis had been looking forward to the opportunity to work on a sixth and final movie and formally end his run as the iconic character, but his ambition was frustrated by his choice to leave Hollywood and retire after being diagnosed with aphasia.
A Good Day to Die Hard still demonstrated Willis’ and the reluctant hero’s box office appeal, with the final installment earning over $300 million despite primarily unfavorable reviews. It may not have been the note the legendary performer would have liked to go out on with John McClane, but it still demonstrated their appeal.
The Die Hard movies are without a doubt some of the best action movies ever made, and McClane consistently makes lists of the greatest cinematic characters and heroes ever.
The BBC rightly characterized Willis’ initial casting as the cynical famous detective as “a superb casting option as a sardonic action hero.” Over the course of his 25-year career as McClane, Willis would only confirm that sentiment time and time again, demonstrating that you don’t need a flashy cape or bulging Schwarzenegger muscles to be a well-liked and admired big-screen hero to the general public.