Top 100 Movies of the 1990's: #92 Die Hard With A Vengeance
Box Office: $100.0 million
Oscar Nominations: None
Oscar Wins: None
Available To Stream: Hulu, Starz
One of the best sequels of the decade, Die Hard With A Vengeance does what a good sequel should. It entertains but also leaves you remembering why you loved the original. This is a decade that had many more horrible sequels than great ones (Batman & Robin, Godfather III, Rocky V, Speed 2). This isn't the best sequel of the decade but it's close.
This is similar to a Batman comic book in that every issue doesn't remind you that Bruce Wayne saw his parents die. It just throws you into another adventure. The original script for this was not a Die Hard movie at all but an action thriller called Simon Says and they took the core of that story (and the Jeremy Irons character) and added John McClane to it. I think that unconventional way of writing a movie really helps here. Die Hard With A Vengeance doesn't spend nearly as much time as Die Hard 1 or 2 on who John McClane is as a person. It assumes we know and like who this guy is and gets right into the action.
This is also is the epilogue to a particular kind of action film. This stars a post-Pulp Fiction Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson but everything about it feels like it was made years earlier. A big reason for that is you have a confident and successful action director in John McTiernan who had already helmed Predator, Hunt For Red October and the original Die Hard. He knew the recipe that would work and was given a large budget (nearly $100 million) to bring that vision to the screen. No movie made more money worldwide in 1995 than this one.
After this, McTiernan would direct box office bombs like The 13th Warrior and Rollerball and would eventually wind up in jail for two counts of lying to the FBI about wiretapping a former producer on Rollerball. He served almost a year in prison and wound up having to declare bankruptcy a few years after getting out. He still hasn't directed a film since 2003 and was once called "one of the most despised people in Hollywood" by The Hollywood Reporter.
Despite all of that, I am surprised he never got a chance to direct again. You could make a case that Predator and Die Hard weren't just two of the best action movies of all time but also among the most influential. Even in Die Hard With A Vengance, the action sequences in Manhattan are fantastic. He elevated the action genre like few others have. He's 71 years old now and if no one gave him a chance before, they certainly won't now.
Another reason this feels like the end of an era is Bruce Willis' performance. In this movie, he's still the fun, sarcastic asshole trying to do the right thing that we fell in love with in Moonlighting and the original Die Hard. That version of Bruce Willis went away quickly after this and he became much more stoic. Some of those early quieter performances were very good in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and right before this movie, Pulp Fiction. With the recent news that he has retired from acting due to suffering from aphasia, which affects expression and comprehension, it makes a lot of sense why he had spent the end of his career in roles where he wasn't asked to speak or emote much. But why gravitate to those types of roles 25 years earlier? Maybe he had gotten tired of being the wiseass and wanted to do different types of roles? Had he known about the aphasia many years earlier?
All of that is so far in the future when watching this movie. I don't like Die Hard 2 very much and I didn't think Renny Harlin (who directed it after McTiernan chose to make Hunt For Red October instead) was nearly as good as McTiernan in keeping that level of excitement that we see in the original and this movie. The race to get to Wall Street from uptown is one of the best car sequences ever shot in New York City. He even manages to make Willis and Samuel L. Jackson at a pay phone thrilling.
Being able to have legitimately great actors like Jackson, Jeremy Irons and Graham Greene elevates this movie as well. All of them play well off Willis, especially Jackson. They are so good together and that relationship is the best thing about this movie. Despite all of the unbelievable things happening to these characters, you completely buy that friendship. That's not an easy thing to pull off.
As for Irons, he's not as good as Alan Rickman was in the original but that's asking for an impossibility. Rickman might be the best villain in any action movie ever made. But you get what you'd expect from a Jeremy Irons performance. He's cold, brilliantly calculating and oddly charming. He won the Academy Award in the beginning of the decade for his role in Reversal Of Fortune but that it was the only nomination (so far) of his entire career.
This is not a perfect movie by any stretch. The first half is brilliant but the second half falls apart. The ending is particularly weak. It was originally supposed to be McClane catching up with Irons character months later.
I love this ending so much more than the lousy and rushed helicopter sequence in Quebec. Apparently the studio thought this was too cruel of an ending as it had McClane killing out of revenge and not self-defense. I think this is an absolutely necessary showdown between these two characters and I really wish they kept this in. Both actors give great performances.
Maybe I have this movie ranked too high on this list because I love the original so much. On the other hand, there aren't many sequels in my Top 100 so it seemed right to have one on here that was a fun, explosive movie with some very good performances and one of the best action directors of all-time. I wish they still made movies like this.
92. Die Hard With A Vengeance
95. Dirty Work
98. Any Given Sunday