Ranking the Die Hard films

The “Die Hard” movies, from worst to best.

5. “A Good Day to Die Hard” (No. 5 in the series)

I get what they were trying to do with this film. The interplay of John McClane and his then-estranged daughter Lucy in “Live Free or Die Hard” worked pretty well. So why not do a similar film where he reconnects with his other estranged child, Jack? That’s gold!

But it isn’t. This is a dumb and mostly dull movie. The plot has a bunch of double-crosses, but those aren’t interesting because it’s not clear who is double-crossing whom or why you should care. It has something to do with uranium hidden inside the Chernobyl nuclear power plant? And Jack McClane is in the CIA?

This movie fits in well with Bruce Willis’ late-career action movies; stuff with titles like “Reprisal” and “Air Strike” and “Survive the Night” that are pumped out in an action factory and watched by … wait, who watches these things?

4. “Die Hard 2” (No. 2 in the series)

When there were only two “Die Hard” films I thought this was a damn fine movie. But having seen better takes on “Die Hard” since then, I’ve come to view “Die Hard 2” as just “Die Hard” in an airport.

But the movie still has its charms, most notably the ending:

McClane blew up a jet with a Zippo!

3. “Live Free or Die Hard” (No. 4 in the series)

It took 12 years for “Live Free or Die Hard” to become a reality. For many of those years I didn’t think a fourth film would ever happen. Nor did it seem necessary since “Die Hard with a Vengeance” was a nice capper.

But “Live Free or Die Hard” was a pleasant surprise. McClane vs technology wasn’t as dumb an angle as it initially seemed. Justin Long was reasonable. And, as noted before, the relationship between McClane and his daughter Lucy was a nice touch.

McClane even showed a softer side by shooting himself to save his daughter and murder the villain (the bullet when through his shoulder, but still – love the effort):

The only problem I have with “Life Free or Die Hard” is that it’s PG-13. “Die Hard” movies must be R because the best McClane is a profane McClane.

2. “Die Hard with a Vengeance” (No. 3 in the series)

“Die Hard with a Vengeance” works for the following reasons:

  • The villain’s last name is Gruber. You simply cannot go wrong when you mix a Gruber with a “Die Hard.”

  • It was directed by John McTiernan, who also directed the original “Die Hard.” As such, this is the only “Die Hard” sequel that feels right.

  • McClane is a mess throughout the film. He’s not the bulletproof super human we see in later sequels. Here, he’s the hung over, worn out disaster we love.

  • Samuel L. Jackson is a perfect partner and foil for McClane.

Also, there’s this brain teaser, which I think about far more often than I probably should:

(I have to look up the “Die Hard” water jug solution every damn time I watch this movie.)

1. “Die Hard” (No. 1 in the series)

I have seen “Die Hard” at least 100 times. Perhaps more. And I have enjoyed every single viewing.

I will not equivocate on “Die Hard.” It is the best action movie ever filmed.

There’s never been a better villain than Hans Gruber. Some villains have equaled Hans (Killmonger in “Black Panther” is remarkable), but you can’t eclipse Alan Rickman’s performance in “Die Hard.”

There’s never been a more innovative action film. Every action film after “Die Hard” has tried–and often failed–to emulate the creativity and storytelling of “Die Hard.”

There’s never been a better made action film. The craft and skill in this movie is a delight.

All of this is enough to put “Die Hard” in a category, a class, and a pantheon by itself.

But did they stop there? Did they settle for “great”?

No. They did not.

For they knew that the light in the universe would dim and the fabric of time would fray if they did not unleash the coked-up glory of Ellis: