Die Hard (1988)
Director: John McTiernan
This one was pretty hotly debated at the Acquired Witt offices. And by offices, I mean my living room. And by hotly debated, I mean argued about a lot. We even had to set parameters in order to accurately answer the question. The Matrix and Star Wars are disqualified because they are science fiction, which is a different category. Same with X-Men 2 and The Dark Knight, because comic movies are their own category now. Lord of the Rings are fantasy, so they’re out. The Wild Bunch and Butch & Sundance are westerns. I even DQ’ed all martial arts movies since I didn’t feel that any could quite hold their own as a film overall, action set pieces aside (although you should watch Ip Man with Donnie Yen or The Protector with Tony Jaa if you like those kinds of movies).
So after this surprisingly drawn out argument, I came down to two choices: Die Hard (1988) and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Both films had such a huge impact on me as a child that I was having a hard time deciding. Both have their iconic moments, their legendary main character, great lines that I can quote ad infinitium, and a charismatic enemy (ok, so the Nazis aren’t charismatic, but you know what I meant). But unfortunately, both spawned franchises that were later tainted by lackluster sequels. But regardless of how bad you thought Live Free or Die Hard was (and note: it was), it was not even close to the horribleness that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.
Crystal Skulls left such a horrible taste in my mouth (like licking the pole in a strip club) that I couldn’t in my right mind name any of the movie in that series as my favorite. I even enjoyed the hell out of Temple of Doom and downright loved Sean Connery as Indy’s father in Last Crusade. (Wait, who doesn’t love Connery period?) But an entire childhood of enjoyment couldn’t balance out the steaming sh-t sandwich of Crystal Skulls. Watching Shia ‘It’s French for The Beef” LeBeouf swinging from vines at speeds fast enough to catch up with a speeding truck was the equivalent of having my eyes raped (and not in a good IMAX way):
So Indiana is rendered invalid by the crimes against humanity committed by the Crystal Skulls. That movie is no longer to be mentioned. But even Die Hard came close to being forever tainted with the watered down, PG-13 suck fest that was Live Free or Die Hard. I even let the ridiculous plot (and the fact that he threw a car at a helicopter…or the entire horsesh-t Harrier jet scene) slide because I had read this article prior (which is an unbelievable read and a very poignant statement on the security of existing online). But the only thing that kept the horrible Live Free from completely overshadowing the earlier trilogy was the director’s cut, which added some more blood platter and viscera, as well as some more “muthaf–kers” which was severely lacking in the PG-13 cut. Not hearing McClane curse like a sailor is like a Rocky movie without boxing.
But the original has everything that I look for in an action movie. Bruce Willis was so perfect as the miserable, cynical John McClane that it helped launch him into the mega-celebrity that he is now. Well, Die Hard and Moonlighting, but I’m attributing the latter to Cybil Shepherd’s legs and that alone. Can you imagine Die Hard with Arnold or Sly Stallone or…wait for it…Richard “Ass Gerbil” Gere?? Yes, they all passed on the script when it was offered to them. Thank god, because those would have been completely different movies. And Die Hard marked on of my first forays into R-rated action, leading to some awkward moments when a 10 year old drops a ‘yippie ki-yay muthaf–ka” in mixed company during family holidays.
It was also the first time that I was just as captivated by the bad guy as the good one. Alan Rickman was so perfect in the villain role as Hans Gruber that it’s hard to believe that it was his feature film debut. His charisma and presence set the standard for all great foils from that day forward He steals every scene that he’s in, including every smarmy conversation with McClane or the principal from The Breakfast Club. When you mix a sarcastic anti-hero with a smarmy world class villain, then throw in some insulting western vernacular and d–k swinging machismo, you get one of my favorite action movie of all time.
Honorable mention: The Rundown, The Rock, Big Trouble in Little China, Gladiator, Braveheart, Heat, Ronin, The Bourne Identity, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang