He’s everyone’s favorite fly in the ointment, monkey in the wrench, pain in the… well, you get the idea.
Bruce Willis’ tireless cop John McClane returns to the terrorist beat for his fifth adventure, A Good Day to Die Hard
, which opens in theaters on Valentine’s Day… meaning the holiday’s official color has shifted from pink to black and blue.
Die Hard fans likely are looking for a specific ingredient out of John Moore’s sequel, something that makes it feel like a Die Hard movie: McClane’s quips, a stunning act of bravery, an explosive action sequence, and – of course – the hero’s R-rated catchphrase.
Me? I’m hoping McClane’s Moscow adventure includes one sustained, brutal fistfight. Those, to me, have become the signature sequences of the long-running series – and to prove my point, I’ve ranked the 10 best fights in the Die Hard franchise. Agree? Disagree? We’ll fight it out, McClane-style, in the comments section below.
John McTiernan’s second Die Hard doesn’t have a lengthy fight scene – a true detriment to the sequel. The two notable fight scenes are bursts of fury, but they are over before they begin. McClane’s battle with Simon Gruber’s massive henchman takes place on a tanker, but suspect editing means it’s over before it really begins. I’m sure a longer version of their fistfight exists on a cutting-room floor somewhere, and one day, I’d love to see it.
“Not yet,” might be my favorite McClane one liner. The key to Willis’ hero is that he’s always one step ahead of his foe, preventing them from reaching their goal. So when Esperanza (Franco Nero) successfully lands a damaged aircraft and believes that he has achieved freedom, it’s only fitting that McClane is there to greet him… with a punch to the nose.
Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman tried to implement wushu, XMA and other acrobatic fighting styles, emphasizing McClane’s basic fighting style in comparison to what can be a graceful, lethal choreography. When faced with this, McClane often has to use physical props that are in his surroundings, from cars and fences to fire extinguishers. Once in the Woodlawn facility, McClane encounters the acrobatic Rand (Cyril Raffaelli) in the bowels of a cooling tower. And the villain appears to get the upperhand on the overwhelmed McClane, spinning and kicking our hero from all angles… until McClane is able to put the deep freeze on Rand’s approach. Literally.
7. McClane vs. Major Grant, Die Harder
In order to prevent their escape, McClane must conclude Die Harder with not one but two fistfights on the wing of a jet airliner. It’s a perfectly ludicrous location for a knock-down, drag-out series of brawls, and I put Major Grant below Col. Stuart because burly John Amos should have had the upperhand on a smaller, exhausted McClane… yet he still ends up in the plane’s jet propeller, because McClane’s “got enough friends.”
6. McClane vs. an Elevator of European Thugs, With a Vengeance
McTiernan stages a humorous obstacle for his beleaguered cop as McClane enters an elevator car with a small army of terrorists, each taller than the next. Using his superb detective skills to unearth the fact that these guys aren’t true NYPD cops (they don’t play the lottery), McClane swiftly and brutally escapes the claustrophobic confines of the elevator. His fellow passengers aren’t so lucky.
5. McClane vs. Miller, Die Harder
One reason I admire McClane as an action hero is because he’s a whip-smart detective in addition to being an Energizer Bunny who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. It’s McClane’s awareness of his surroundings in Die Harder that has him witnessing an unusual exchange, then following Miller (Vondi Curtis-Hall) into Dulles Airport’s luggage carousel. This one lands at number five because McClane uses props – a bicycle, golf clubs, hair spray and suitcases – to halt Miller’s mission. Now grab your badge before it heads off the Cleveland!
A significant fight because it’s McClane’s first bit of action in the Die Hard series, arriving when blond terrorist Tony (Andreas Wisniewski) – Karl’s brother – investigates a disturbance on a deserted floor of the Nakatomi Plaza. It’s at this moment that McClane realizes he’s going to have to step onto the playing field and get his hands very dirty if he’s going to succeed. Twenty-five years later, McClane’s still dispatching the world’s terrorists one by one – and it all started with the machine gun McClane took away from Tony. Ho, ho, ho.
3. McClane vs. Mai Linh, Live Free
This fight was a pleasant surprise dropped into the middle of Wiseman’s Live Free or Die Hard. Maggie Q’s ferocity catches both McClane AND the audience off guard with her ability to take multiple punches and administer her own beat down. McClane muttering under his breath as he gets up – in true McClane fashion – and goes back at Mai Linh is what elevates the fight on my list. Glass breaks. Hair is torn out. This is a vicious fistfight, and the staging of the conclusion in the elevator shaft (yet another elevator shaft for the Die Hard hero) was one of the most inspired moments in the various sequels.
2. McClane vs. Col. Stuart, Die Harder
“OK, McClane. Time for the main event,” screams Col. Stuart as he drops to the wing of a moving plane to finally end McClane’s life in Die Hard 2. There are no quippy one-liners, no comic relief. Just two men who’ve been butting heads for the bulk of a Christmas Eve beating the daylights out of each other. McClane bites off a chunk of Stuart’s hand. The Special Forces soldier delivers multiple kicks and knees to an exhausted McClane’s midsection. McClane’s getting his ass kicked by this superior fighter, yet he refuses to stay down. In fact, this might be the one fight in the entire series that qualifies as a loss for McClane, because Stuart’s able to forcibly remove our hero from the plane’s wing. Of course, a stream of jet fuel and a Zippo lighter guarantee that McClane ultimately ends up where he belongs… in the victory circle.
1. McClane vs. Karl, Die Hard
The quintessential Die Hard fight. There are so many reasons this fight tops the list, from its duration (it goes on forever, in a good way) to McClane’s trash talk, where he threatens to cook and eat Alexander Godunov, or tells him he should have heard his brother squeal when he died. Sadistic. But it tops all other fights in the entire franchise because of the motivations screenwriter Jeb Stuart laced into the battle. For Karl, it’s vengeance – which he has been seeking for the duration of the movie. And for McClane, he’s suddenly racing a clock, having just realized that the roof of the building is wired to explode. He must dispatch with this crazed killer as quickly as possible if he hopes to save the hostages – his wife, included – from Gruber’s grand plan. The third act of the original Die Hard is as masterfully paced and tightly structured as an action movie can get, and the motivations behind McClane’s encounter with Karl give the sequence a tension and suspense that the sequels have not been able to match. This is the best Die Hard fight, hands down.