Our sons haven’t seen my favorite movie of all time. They likely won’t be able to see it for years.
Film critics get asked on a regular basis to name our favorite films. And like all movie lovers, choosing one is nearly impossible. Maybe it’d be easier if we could break it down by genre? We could step back and analyze personal favorites in the Western, sci-fi, action or horror fields. But asking us to single out the one movie that rules them all? It’s Sophie’s choice.
Years ago, I settled on my answer to the eternal question: the original Die Hard
. It has remained – and likely forever will remain – my personal favorite movie of all time. It’s the first R-rated movie I begged my parents to let me see in a movie theater. Sarcastic antihero John McClane continues to be the on-screen character I dream of becoming when I grow up. And from an action-movie perspective, there are hundreds of reasons why John McTiernan’s 1988 thriller is singled out as the defining moment of a genre. It has an ice-cold villain, an airtight script, realistic action set pieces conducted by a vulnerable, human protagonist. The movie ticks every box when it comes to satisfying installments of the action genre. For me, it is heaven.
My sons, oddly enough, know a lot about John McClane and the Die Hard
franchise. Particularly with a new Die Hard
movie coming to theaters (A Good Day to Die Hard
opens on February 14), they’ve seen me rewinding commercials and talking about the pending sequel with friends. They’re heard me answer the “favorite” question with the original Die Hard
, and it’s funny to hear them talk about the film as if they know exactly what it is, and why I like it.
I literally dream about the day I’ll be able to show it to them… and yet, I know that day is years away.
What’s your favorite movie? Have you been able to share it with your kids? It’s a very strange predicament to have a movie that you adore with every fiber of your being, and yet, you can’t share it with those who are closest to you… and those who actually are starting to develop their own appreciation for film.
We don’t need a traditional Red Flags section to single out the reasons that the Die Hard movies are inappropriate for kids. (Even the PG-13-rated Live Free or Die Hard, which some fans griped was “watered down,” comes off as aggressively sadistic. Watch McClane rip out a chunk of Maggie Q’s hair during a knock-down, drag-out fist fight – which ends with our hero dropping Q to a fiery death at the bottom of an elevator shaft.)
The franchise doesn’t shy away from violence and death. McClane is a police officer caught in the wrong place at the wrong time who must dispatch with multiple villains in order to save the day. “Oh, we are just up to our ass in terrorists,” the beleaguered McClane says in the riveting Die Hard 2: Die Harder. And most – if not all – meet bloody deaths. Rattling off a few of the creatively disgusting kills, we’ve seen icicles through eye sockets, bodies sliced in half by crane cables, a gymnast crook cryogenically frozen, terrorists dropped from ridiculous heights and, then, simple bullets. Lots and lots of bullets.
Our country’s gun-violence conversation wasn’t quite so prevalent when Willis first started fighting terrorists back in 1988. John McClane was idolized as a silver-screen icon, a smart-aleck cop with razor-sharp instincts and a never-say-die attitude that often kept him two steps ahead of his given competition. The thing I love most about McClane is that he’s a brilliant detective who always has the upper hand on his opponent. Jeb Stuart’s screenplay for the first Die Hard captured so many moments where we we’re meant to be impressed by McClane’s understanding of an abnormal situation. The fact that he was matching wits with an equally brilliant chess player in Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) only elevated the first movie to classic status.
McClane remained a clever cop through the first three Die Hard movies, and those three films maintained the humanity and the charisma of the character. When I’m able to share these movies with my kids, it’s that element of brains and spirit as well as brawn that I’m going to make sure they appreciate about McClane. I’m not interested in a hero who’s handy with a gun. They're a dime a dozen. McClane stands out to me for his ability to think on his feet, to persevere in unreal situations because he’s smarter and far more dedicated than his foes.
Also, the reason I love McClane in the Die Hard movies is because he never quits. He’s not a Terminator, an unfeeling machine who's programmed to endure extreme punishment. He simply hates to lose, and that stubbornness also carries him through hell until he achieves his impossible goals. It is a fantastic life lesson I’m anxious to instill in my boys through the Die Hard movies. I can’t wait to watch these films in a marathon and point out all of the places McClane could have quit. But it wouldn’t be Die Hard if he had.
This is one of those interactive When Can I Watch columns where I reach out for help, fellow parents. Let me know if you’ve shared the Die Hard movies with your kids. And if so, when did you share them? It would be ludicrous to start with Live Free or Die Hard simply because it is the only PG-13-rated movie in the franchise. I’m not starting until we can start with the first, and the language and violence (and very brief nudity) have me thinking my sons will have to be closer to 14 or 15 when we can watch them together. I was in eighth grade when I caught the first Die Hard in theaters. That made me 14 years old. They should be at least as old.
My boys turn 10 and five this month. That feels like a lifetime away.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.