MOTW: 5 Reasons the "Die Hard" Franchise Rocks!

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NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) becomes the only hope for a small group of hostages, one of whom is his estranged wife, trapped in a high-rise L.A. office building that's been seized by a group of terrorists on Christmas Eve. At the helm of the heist is evil mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Based on a novel by Roderick Thorp and directed by John McTiernan, Die Hard is the first of five films in the ultra successful action series.
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
February 11th, 2013

MOTW: 5 Reasons the "Die Hard" Franchise Rocks!

With a fifth "Die Hard" movie being released in early 2013 and a sixth on the horizon, many critics are wondering why the simple formula of a slightly broken New York cop saving the day, the girl, or the world works so well. The first movie in this long-standing franchise was released in 1988. Subsequent films debuted in 1990, 1995, and 2007. Even with over ten years between the third and fourth installments, the franchise is an unmitigated success. Here are five of the most compelling reasons for that success.

A Real-Life Superhero

Bruce Willis' depiction of John McClane gives viewers a person they can relate to. He's no Superman with a dashing cape and impeccable morals. He's a guy with problems. His marriage is falling apart, he drinks too much, and he is suspended from his job. At the same time, Willis embodies a character that seems to know no bounds. Sheer fortitude pushes him across a floor covered with glass and into a battle that seemingly can't be won. Most viewers understand the fictional nature of the character, but they still draw inspiration from the underdog's triumph.

Facing Fears

One of the things the "Die Hard" franchise is known for is capitalizing on realistic fears about the world. In the 1988 film, a group of terrorists holds a building hostage. Two years later, a rogue military outfit attempts to take control of a major airport. These are fears that were paramount during those times and still survive today. Although pushed completely to the cliff's edge and quite exaggerated, the basic scenarios could, and did, happen.

In the 1995 film, McClane fights a seemingly crazed and random bomber who even attacks schools. The franchise evolves with the fears and possibilities of current events. In 2007's "Live Free or Die Hard," the villains attack an entire way of life by taking down communications and utilities.

It is not that the events are exceedingly believable. By exaggerating a real fear, the filmmakers allow audiences to experience the thrill and then to cheer as John McClane ultimately sets things right in the world. People leave the theater with an adrenaline high and a renewed hope that real heroes still exist.

Real Villains

You can't have a real hero without a great villain, and the "Die Hard" franchise has cast these roles with genius. From Alan Rickman's German terrorist in the 1988 film to Timothy Olyphant's evil genius in 2007, the villains have all been played by stellar actors who can deliver wickedness with a side of charm. Other "Die Hard" villains have been portrayed by William Sadler and Jeremy Irons.

Excellent Supporting Casts

Plots can't revolve completely around explosions and face-offs, however, and the "Die Hard" filmmakers seem to understand the need for humanity and humor. They do a great job of providing a supporting cast to interact with John McClane, keeping him human despite the superhuman actions he sometimes takes. Reginald VelJohnson, known for his role as Carl Winslow in television's "Family Matters," provides this role in the first two films. Samuel L. Jackson delivers an excellent performance as Willis' unprepared sidekick in the third film, and Justin Long is hilariously inept in the fourth film. Other notable supporting actors in the films include William Atherton, Dennis Franz, and the enigmatic Kevin Smith.

Explosions, Guns, and Other Action Know-How

Unlike many action films, the "Die Hard" movies manage to be full of rollicking explosions, over-the-top fight scenes, and ever-increasing danger while still maintaining something that resembles a plot and character development. Boys of all ages, and many girls, love these movies because they are fun to watch. All of this comes down to spirited filmmaking with the know-how to incorporate important action elements and effects. Directors John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, and Len Wiseman have each used their superb talents to deliver different stories, an evolving John McClane, and completely different villains and supporting casts. The result is an ever-growing audience of viewers who are willing to wait five to ten years for the next installment.

The "Die Hard" movies aren't going to win Oscars, except perhaps in the effects and sound categories. However, they have become iconic for audiences of all ages and represent the best in action-hero flicks. This franchise has become the standard to which all other movies in the genre are compared. For example, the 1996 movie "The Rock," which starred Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage, was often referred to as "Die Hard" on an island.