Die Hard is considered one of the greatest action movies ever made and has inspired a subgenre of Die Hard knock-offs.
Die Hard's influence on action movies is significant, with many films following the premise of a lone hero battling terrorists in a confined location.
White House Down (2013) is a worthy "Die Hard in the White House" film, with Channing Tatum saving his daughter and the President from terrorists.
Die Hard continues to be eternally revered as one of the greatest action movies ever made, so much so that it has inspired an entire action movie subgenre of Die Hard knock-offs. Directed by John McTiernan, Die Hard follows NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he visits his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedilia) in L.A.’s Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. However, when a gang of determined thieves led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the Nakatomi Plaza in order to steal the millions held in the building’s vault, it’s up to McClane to save the day.
While the debate over Die Hard’s qualification as a Christmas movie will surely continue for decades to come, Die Hard’s status as an action classic has never been in dispute. Not only that, but Die Hard’s influence on action movies is even greater, with the basic premise of a lone hero having to battle terrorists overtaking a confined location spawning an entire well-spring of Die Hard-esque action movies, including but far from limited to Under Siege, Sudden Death, Executive Decision, Olympus Has Fallen, and countless others. With so many outstanding “Die Hard in a” action flicks to choose from, here are 10 of the best Die Hard knock-offs.
10. White House Down (2013)
Olympus Has Fallen may snag all the “Die Hard in the White House” attention due to having expanded into the popular Has Fallen trilogy, but Roland Emmerich’s White House Down is every bit as worthy of the McClane mantle. In White House Down, Channing Tatum plays down on his luck, John Cale, who finds himself tasked with saving both his daughter Emily (Joey King) and President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) after terrorists storm the White House. Emmerich keeps the action and humour consistently on fire in White House Down, with a chase in the Presidential limousine on the White House lawn being one of the numerous action highlights of the movie. Tatum and King’s father-and-daughter chemistry also adds a heartwarming centre to White House Down, while Fox’s performance as Sawyer is quite possibly the best Barack Obama analogue ever put to film.
Few Die Hard-style action movies take advantage of the literal height of their scenario as much as 2018’s Skyscraper, in which Dwayne Johnson’s Will Swayer battles terrorists in the world’s tallest building, a massive Hong Kong skyscraper known as “The Pearl”, to save his family. Skyscraper is a pretty clear-cut “Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno” action movie, but Johnson’s rare step in a relative everyman hero (and one on disability, no less, with Will’s prosthetic leg) makes Skyscraper as suspenseful as it is action-packed. Skyscraper’s poster also doesn’t lie with the number of times Will finds himself hanging for dear life onto Pearl’s vast outer frame, and as one of Dwayne Johnson’s most human action films, Skyscraper also knows how to utilize the Die Hard formula to its fullest.
Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage unite for Michael Bay’s bombastic “Die Hard in a prison” action classic, The Rock, with a rogue platoon of Marines taking the famed island prison Alcatraz hostage. The Rock is as much of a ‘90s action classic as it gets, with no shortage of the over-the-top Bayhem audiences would later come to see in Bay’s subsequent career as a popcorn auteur. The leading man, the trifecta of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris, also elevates The Rock to one of the most enduring and memorable Die Hard knock-offs ever made. Moreover, with Connery having been 65 at the time of filming, The Rock is the closest the world will ever get to seeing him joining Sylvester Stallone’s entourage of weathered action heroes in The Expendables franchise.
7. Con Air (1997)
Nicolas Cage can count having not one but two of the best Die Hard knock-offs ever produced among his cinematic achievements, with 1997’s Con Air bringing a tidal wave of thrills to its “Die Hard on a plane” setting. Directed by Simon West, Con Air centers on a plane transferring high-risk inmates to a maximum-security penitentiary, with Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich) and Nathaniel “Diamond Dog” Jones (Ving Rhames) taking control. Cage’s Cameron Poe is the unusually stalwart paroled inmate who becomes the government’s best chance at re-taking the plane, and Cage shows an abundance of his early leading man charm in Con Air’s action-packed flight. Con Air takes itself just seriously enough to keep the stakes high and the thrills constant and is further proof that for Die Hard knock-offs, the safest territory might well be in the sky.
6. Passenger 57 (1992)
Six years before bringing the Daywalker to the big screen in Blade, Wesley Snipes headlined his first major action movie hit in 1992’s Passenger 57. When a commercial airliner is hijacked by the team of psychotic terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne), it’s up to Snipes airline security expert John Cutter to stop them. As a “Die Hard on an airplane” action movie, Passenger 57 understands the importance of suspense to the Die Hard template and keeps things taut and tense with Cutter’s efforts to get the upper hand on the atypically charming terrorist Rane. Passenger 57 also adapts Snipes’ martial arts skills to the close-quarters setting of an airliner in very fast-paced and hard-hitting fight scenes. Passenger 57 is a tad on the short side at just 84 minutes, but it’s a Die Hard-style blast nonetheless.
5. Cliffhanger (1993)
Renny Harlin’s “Die Hard on a mountain” action opus Cliffhanger pits Sylvester Stallone’s mountain rescue expert Gabe Walker against a gang of ruthless thieves led by rogue intelligence agent Eric Qualen (John Lithgow) as the villains try to recover three missing cases full of millions of dollars in the Rocky mountains. Cliffhanger lets the audience know how much it means business right from the start in its prologue of a tragic failed rescue attempt by Gabe that creates a bitter rift between he and Michael Rooker’s Hal Tucker. With chases, stunts, and fight scenes left and right, Cliffhanger keeps viewers on their toes with consistent reminders of the literal high stakes the good and bad guys all face in the mountainous terrain. Lithgow’s unconvincing British accent aside, his performance as Qualen is also a scene-chewing blast as worthy of Hans Gruber as Cliffhanger as a whole is of Die Hard.
4. Violent Night (2022)
Did anyone ever expect the list of Die Hard knock-offs to include “Die Hard with Santa Claus?” Even if we didn’t, 87 North Productions and director Timmy Wirkola lovingly came down the chimney with exact that in 2022’s Violent Night, with David Harbour’s grizzled, self-doubting Santa up against a team of thieves taking a rich family hostage on Christmas Eve. Harbour is outstanding as a Santa whose increasingly cynical outlook on the world is leading him to contemplate retirement, only for St. Nick to receive renewed faith while coming to the rescue of the Christmas-spirit filled Trudy (Leah Brady). John Leguizamo also brings both pathos and menace to the gang’s ruthless leader, fittingly adopting the moniker of Mr. Scrooge for his hatred of Christmas. Santa Claus might have long seemed to be the exact opposite of a butt-kicking action hero, but Violent Night gleefully begs to differ in a yule tide smackdown that is as naughty as it is nice.
Bollywood is one of the world’s most slept on action movie industries, and 2021’s superb “Die Hard in a hospital” that is Sanak proves that point and then some. When terrorists take over a Mumbai hospital to rescue their captive leader, MMA coach Vivaan Auja (Vidyut Jammwal) is the only man who can rescue their collection of hostages, which includes his wife Anshika (Rukmini Maitra). Released on Disney+ Hotstar and Hulu, Sanak doesn’t just use the Die Hard template for all of its mileage, but gives it a Hong Kong-style makeover with Jackie Chan Stunt Team alumnus Andy Long Nguyen handling the movie’s plentiful stunts and martial arts fights. Jammwal, a genuine master of India’s ancient martial art Kalaripayattu, brings both charisma and power to the action-packed whirlwind that is Sanak, with the movie’s Hong Kong-style fight scenes the best of any Die Hard-style action flick.
2. Speed (1994)
The premise of Jan de Bont’s Speed is exactly what summer movies were made for – a bomb is hidden under a Los Angeles bus, and will detonate if the bus drops below 50 MPH. Keanu Reeves was still relatively new to action films at the time, but his innate action hero skills and universal likeability makes Speed’s LAPD cop protagonist Jack Traven one of Reeves’ most memorable even as a one-and-done hero (Reeves wisely dodging the bullet that was 1997’s abysmal Speed 2: Cruise Control.) The late Dennis Hopper brings an effective mix of evil and self-pity as cop-turned-terrorist Howard Payne, while Reeves and Sandra Bullock have an endearing human chemistry in the harrowing scenario, even if Jack and Annie’s eventual romance is more than a little forced by the end. Speed understands the concept of action movie velocity as well as any Die Hard-esque action film ever has, and it also earns bonus points for making “Pop quiz, hotshot!” into the enduring one-liner that it is.
1. Air Force One (1997)
Die Hard may have been brought on board a plane repeatedly, but Wolfgang Petersen’s “Die Hard on the President’s plane” perfects the airborne John McClane formula in the rollicking Air Force One. When Air Force One is highjacked by a group of Russian terrorists led by the bloodthirsty Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), the only man who can stop them from executing their way to freeing an imprisoned Kazakh dictator is Vietnam war veteran and American President James Marshall (Harrison Ford). On every level of both the Die Hard formula and general action moviemaking, Air Force One simply fires on every last cylinder with blistering fight scenes and gun battles that make the Presidential plane feel simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic. Air Force One also knows how to handle aerial action like no other Die Hard knock-off. The set piece of Marshall helping hostages parachute to safety is a particular highlight, pivoting on a dime from patriotic heroism to unmitigated carnage as Marshall barely manages to hang onto Air Force One as a refueling jet bursts into flames behind it.
Above all, Air Force One works as well as it does because of the hero and villain chemistry of Ford’s Marshall and Oldman’s Ivan. Ford’s patented Indiana Jones intensity makes Air Force One’s utterly implausible scenario of a machine gun-wielding warrior President totally believable. On the flipside, Oldman’s Ivan is a frightening, psychopathic zealot in both his most calm and most infuriated moments, every life he takes a shock of uncontained sadism. Testimony to Air Force One’s Die Hard bona fides, Ford’s immortal growl of “Get off my plane!” remains one of the few one-liners in a Die Hard clone to be the equal of John McClane’s famed catchphrase “Yipee ki-yay, motherf—-er!”. Numerous Die Hard-style action movies may have nailed the John McClane blueprint plenty of times, but none before or since have done so as flawlessly as Air Force One.
A New York City police officer tries to save his estranged wife and several others taken hostage by terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Studio: Gordon Company, Silver Pictures
Running Time: 2h 12m
Release Date: July 12, 1988 (Avco Theater); July 15, 1988
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia
Brad Curran is a dedicated writer from the United States with a love of all things nerdy. Brad’s interests range from action and martial arts flicks to superhero movies from both the DC and Marvel universes, to horror movies and sci-fi epics, with all of his interests united by his innate love of adventure.
Since 2013, Brad has brought his deep love for and experience with martial arts to his work with Kung Fu Kingdom, where he has covered everything from movies and TV to training and interviews with stars likes Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa, Jackie Chan, Joe Taslim, and Shannon Lee, to name just a few. Brad also expanded his career in entertainment journalism in his work with as a features writer for Screen Rant, where Brad brought his skill as on a range of topics like superheroes, the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise, and the history making story of the Snyder Cut. Brad also utilized his skill as an interviewer to his work with Screen Rant, where his interview resume includes big stars like Frank Grillo, Gerard Butler, Dante Basco, Janet Varney, Annette O’Toole, Dolph Lundgren, and many others.
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