The Die Hard Franchise Ranked

The Die Hard franchise ranked

The Die Hard Franchise Ranked

The Die Hard franchise serves as one of the most pertinent metaphors for the course of the American blockbuster. The first, a low-key, low-stakes action-adventure movie about a man determined to save his marriage and stop a terrorist (more or less in that order). By the time the most recent film, A Good Day to Die Hard, was released in 2013, New York City cop John McLane must stop World War III from happening. The two films bookend a strong franchise that couldn’t help but grow more and more ridiculous as the American cinematic landscape around them did the same.

The middle three installments, spaced out over the course of the 25 years between the first and fifth Die Hard movies, each raise the stakes a little higher while simultaneously turning John McLane into more of a superhero and less of the average Joe audiences were introduced to in 1988. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the scripts for each of the first four films originally existed as independent projects free from the restraints and pressures of a franchise — different character names, different titles, no Die Hard connection whatsoever — only to be turned into Die Hard properties after being bought by the studios, but there’s something to be said about the worst film in the series is the only one of the five to be written, from the start, with the intention of being the fifth Die Hard movie.

No matter what your opinion of the last film is, one thing’s for certain: There’s a clear, definitive ranking of the Die Hard franchise — and a clear, definitive reason behind each movie’s placement.

Die Hard

The Die Hard franchise ranked

By far the best film of the five, Die Hard works so well because of its (relatively) grounded plot. Bruce Willis is giving it his all to a character that is uniquely three-dimensional. It’s not something you usually see from an action movie—a real human being at the front and center. McClane weeps over the trials he’s being put through. The viewer really believes McClane when he says he’s having the worst night of his life, and the viewer really believes in McClane as he makes his way up the high-rise to defeat Hans Gruber. That’s what’s so telling about this franchise as a whole: In 1988, it can be certain that Bruce Willis never could’ve imagined he’d still be playing this character decades later. Because of this, Willis is giving the best performance of his career.

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Die Hard 2

The Die Hard franchise ranked

A tad bit extreme but nonetheless still believable, Die Hard 2 sees John McClane waiting to pick up his wife from the airport so that they can spend Christmas together with her family. But, as the viewer expected but as McClane never saw coming, terrorists have a different plan. In an attempt to kidnap a drug dealer in mid-transport from one set of authorities to another, a group of rogue military extremists takes over the airport’s control tower and vow to crash plane after plane until they get their man. The stakes are higher here, but McClane still stays believable. It’s a worthy sequel and the second-best film in the franchise to date.

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Die Hard with a Vengeance

The Die Hard franchise ranked

The third Die Hard film (and the last before a 12-year gap in installments) follows McClane and a Harlem shop owner named Zeus as they jump through hoops across New York for the brother of Hans Gruber — all of which proves to be a distraction while he and his goons rob the Federal Reserve Building. This is the film where McClane starts to go from human to superhuman. McClane and Zeus manage to travel throughout New York with difficulty, but for some reason, it doesn’t feel difficult enough. McClane and Zeus solve Gruber’s riddles, but always with just barely enough time to spare. It all feels too convenient, but the movie remains enjoyable thanks to another great performance from Willis, an excellent job by Samuel L. Jackson at the peak of his 90s fame, and an incredibly menacing bad guy played by Jeremy Irons.

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Live Free or Die Hard

The Die Hard franchise ranked

This fourth Die Hard film is really toeing the line. Unfathomable stunts, ridiculous stakes, and a goofy title, all that’s keeping Live Free or Die Hard from completely falling apart at the seams is Willis’s ever-charming performance as the fully-superhuman, almost fully-emotionless John McClane. It’s hard to tell what hurts worse: Seeing McClane become a shell of the man he once was, accomplishing absurd feats and overcoming impossible odds like it’s as tedious as taking out the trash, or the extended Kevin Smith cameo that drags on for just a bit too long. While McClane might be emotionless, at least his sidekick (played by Justin Long — a very funny late-2000s casting decision, especially if the executives thought The Guy From The Apple Commercials would somehow result in larger profit margins) does a convincing job reacting to all the disastrous circumstances surrounding the two in the same way McClane did back in 1988.

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A Good Day to Die Hard

The Die Hard franchise ranked

The fifth Die Hard movie got enough hate upon its release in 2013, so there’s no point in tearing into it anymore. It’s not good for all kinds of reasons, but at least there’s hope for the future. When considering the stages of grief, denial, grief, bargaining, and depression have all passed. Fans of the franchise are onto acceptance, already anticipating the sixth entry in the franchise (aptly titled McClane) which will follow Willis’s character in the past and the present as a villain from McClane’s early years as a cop returns to face him decades later. This film is not worth the energy, it’s not worth the time, it’s not worth the discussion.

Here’s to you, McClane. Fingers crossed you won’t let us down.

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Weekend: May. 23, 2019, May. 26, 2019

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