For action cinema, the ‘Die Hard’ formula has been a gift that just keeps on giving.
They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If that’s really the case, then John McTiernan’s Die Hard must feel pretty darn good about itself. Not only is the movie a bona fide action masterpiece, but its simplistic formula has been replicated time and time again by shameless copycat films. All you need is a hero in the wrong place at the wrong time to stand up to some terrorists and the rest writes itself. This formula can be applied to a myriad of different settings as well, which is why so many Die Hard knock-offs don’t always take place in skyscrapers. Part of the appeal of these movies is seeing where they take the action.
The 90’s was a special time for Die Hard knock-offs, with no less than six million produced every single year of the decade. Still, while the boom period of Die Hard riffs may have settled down since, the film’s influence is still prominent in plenty of modern releases as well. If we were to list every shameless rip-off, we’d be here all day and gain nothing from it besides a giant list of movies with the same plots and general make-up. Therefore, we instead decided to select the most interesting ones; a combination of flicks that are actually good coupled with some lesser efforts starring pro wrestlers, Playmates, and children.
Finally, you’re also going to notice that Speed is missing from this list. That’s because Speed is not a Die Hard clone like some people claim it is. If you disagree then that’s fine and you’re entitled to your opinion. I, however, disagree vehemently with this consensus.
Toy Soldiers (1991)
Description: Die Hard in a school.
Andrew Divoff is the perhaps the evilest looking actor to ever grace the screen. So casting him as a terrorist who holds a school full of teenagers hostage was a great decision. Throw in younger versions of Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton, and you have a stellar line-up indeed. Toy Soldiers is an underrated and forgotten little thriller depicting a ‘kids versus bad guys’ situation that applied the Die Hard blueprint to a teen movie in the same vein as The Goonies. All in all, a fun time.
Under Siege (1992)
Alternative title: Die Hard on a boat.
Between the accusations of sexual assault, his well-documented support of Vladimir Putin, and a career that hasn’t produced one decent movie in over 20 years, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Steven Seagal once had appeal. Under Siege, while a shameless knock-off like every other film on this list, is a thoroughly entertaining actioner which sees the actor and martial artist in top form as a cook who shows some mercenaries that if they can’t take the heat then they shouldn’t step into the kitchen. Under Siege is one of the more critically acclaimed and successful Die Hard riffs out there, and a testament to how much fun Seagal was to watch when he still gave a shit.
Passenger 57 (1992)
Description: Die Hard on a plane.
As far as copycat movies go, they don’t come much better than this gem starring Wesley Snipes. I struggle to call it a Die Hard clone (even though it is) because, quite frankly, it’s just a damn good action movie in its own right. Snipes plays as an aerophobic cop who must top some terrorists after they take an airplane full of people hostage, which leads to an awesome showdown in a fare. What’s not to love?
Description: Die Hard on a mountain.
Sylvester Stallone lacks the everyman believability of Bruce Willis, but he’s a big personality and action royalty in his own right. For his own Die Hard doppelgänger, the Stallion took on the role of a disgraced mountain guide who gets into a scrap with some criminals atop the cliffs. Cliffhanger is a lot of fun and boasts plenty of solid action beats and charismatic performances to overcome its derivative elements.
Sudden Death (1995)
Description: Die Hard in a hockey rink.
In what is perhaps the last great movie of the 90’s golden age of Jean Claude Van Damme, the Belgian stud plays a disgraced fireman who must beat up some terrorists and penguins in a Pittsburgh hockey stadium. Yep, you read that correctly — the Muscles from Brussels beats up a terrorist dressed as a penguin and it’s high art. All in all, this movie is the ultimate tribute to the city of Pittsburgh.
No Contest (1995)
Description: Die Hard at a beauty pageant.
Shannon Tweed is most famous for starring in Skinemax movies featuring saxophone music playing over scenes of softcore coitus, but she could also kick some ass as well. In No Contest, she plays kickboxer who must stop a group of terrorists from stealing jewels from a beauty contest. Robert Davi, who played Agent Johnson in Die Hard, also shows up in this one to collect a paycheque.
High Risk (1995)
Description: The Hong Kong Die Hard.
Given that Hong Kong has produced some of the greatest cinematic action spectacles out there, it’s arguably the only region that has any right to parody one of the greatest American action movies ever made. Jet-Li plays the everyman hero seeking redemption and the only obstacle between evil Russians stealing some jewelry. That said, his character was somewhat controversial at the time as it was created in order to poke fun at Jackie Chan, with whom the film’s director had issues with following a troubled previous collaboration together.
Description: Die Hard with boobs.
Once upon a time, in the mid-90’s, someone had the genius idea of making a Die Hard movie that was also a vehicle for Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith to get naked and take showers. This is that movie. Basically, Skyscraper is to Die Hard what Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire is to Casablanca.
Assault On Dome 4 (1996)
Description: Die Hard in space.
I’ve discussed the brilliance of this one before and my editor actually published it. But I am not one to turn down an opportunity to promote a movie where Bruce Campbell plays a cultured and sophisticated intergalactic terrorist who forcefully commandeers a space commune. Generally, in Die Hard clones, the baddies just want to make some money and kill people if they don’t get their way. In this one, however, the terrorists want their own planet and they’ll blow up the universe if their demands aren’t met. Fortunately for the universe, though, there’s a space soldier hiding in the space station whose saving the world skills makes up for his lack of personality.
The Rock (1996)
Description: Die Hard in Alcatraz.
While Michael Bay’s only truly great movie has established its own cinematic legacy and deserves to be hailed as highly as McTiernan’s classic, it still doesn’t change the fact that it borrowed elements from Die Hard. Outgunned heroes forced to battle terrorists on a base they’ve taken over? Come on now, that’s pure Die Hard right there. However, The Rock transcends these similarities by making the scope feel much bigger and the action exhilarating.
Executive Decision (1996)
Description: Die Hard on a plane.
Islamic terrorists hijack an airliner with the intention of poisoning Americans. A super soldier played by cinematic art form Kurt Russell steps up to put a wrench in their plans and save the day after the previous hero (played by Steven Seagal) fails to get the job done. What ensues is one of the most entertaining experiences of the 90’s.
Air Force One (1997)
Description: Die Hard on a plane.
Just like Passenger 57 and Executive Decision, this is another case of the “Die Hard on a plane” formula being applied. This one comes with some extra jingoism, though, as Harrison Ford stars as the President of the United States and beats up Russians. If they made this movie today, the President would side with the Russians.
Con Air (1997)
Description: Die Hard on a plane.
For some reason, action movies set on airplanes were all the rage in the mid-90’s. Still, who are we to complain when they’re of such a high caliber? Con Air, as my colleague Coffel rightfully pointed out, is a special movie. The cast is exceptional and they’re all clearly having a blast. John Malkovich is in top form as a scenery-chewing criminal. Nic Cage, on the other hand, plays it completely straight as a convict with a heart of gold. Steve Buscemi is downright creepy and misunderstood. They don’t make them like this one anymore.
3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain (1998)
Description: Die Hard in a theme park.
3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain is a good example of how to make a Die Hard movie for audiences that shouldn’t be watching Die Hard yet. In this one, the young titular ninjas must use their martial arts skills to protect an amusement park and its guests from some real awful people. Hulk Hogan co-stars as well, and that always counts for something.
Description: Die Hard at a ski resort.
Bruce Campbell is most famous for his iconic roles in horror comedies, but if this list tells us anything it’s that his contributions to Die Hard rip-offs are unsurpassed. This one brought the action back to Earth — to a ski resort no less — and saw Campbell, this time as a bald terrorist, going toe-to-toe with action hero Sean Astin. Icebreaker is a terrible movie but it’s not without its entertaining merits.
Command Performance (2009)
Description: Die Hard at a concert.
Dolph Lundgren also made his own contribution to ripping Die Hard off in this silly 2009 movie which he wrote, directed, and starred in. He plays a drummer who must stop some unwelcome guests at a rock concert. Not only do we get to see Dolph throw down, but he also gets to play drums. Bruce Willis didn’t do that.
White House Down (2013)
Description: Die Hard in the White House.
Some paramilitary invaders storm Washington DC’s most famous building looking for the President. A cop played by Channing Tatum must protect the Commander-in-chief, as well as his own daughter, from the scumbags. All in all, it makes for a serviceable action-thriller.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Description: The better Die Hard in the White House.
Released around the same time as White House Down and featuring a plot that’s very reminiscent of it, Olympus Has Fallen manages to surpass its counterpart by cranking up the violence and politically incorrect dialogue. In many ways, this is a throwback to 80’s jingoism, but the movie is so much fun that the film’s gross politics aren’t even an issue. Plus it’s all very tongue-in-cheek anyway.
Description: Die Hard in a mall.
Antonio Banderas has found his calling as a DTV action maverick in recent times. And while I firmly believe he should be spearheading mainstream action franchises because he’s that good, he’s still producing some quality work. Security is essentially a well-executed mix of Die Hard and Assault On Precinct 13, with Banderas playing a mall security guard who doesn’t expect much trouble in his new line of work until it arrives, heavily armed, in pursuit of a young girl. Chaos unfolds, and the film is a satisfying B-grade treat that’s much better than you might expect.
Description: Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno.
While every movie on this list is clearly inspired by McTiernan’s classic, this Dwayne Johnson vehicle has no problem admitting it. Released around the same time Die Hard turned 30, you can’t help but feel that Skyscraper tried to take advantage of the occasion by offering nostalgic fans the perfect tribute to celebrate it with. Additionally, Skyscraper also borrows heavily from The Towering Inferno and plays like the ultimate mixtape to movies set in buildings.