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Movies That Totally Ripped Off Die Hard

Die Hard might be the perfect action movie — if not perfect movie, period. There's something for everyone: a wisecracking everyman rising to a seemingly insurmountable challenge (Bruce Willis as John McClane!), a high-stakes threat (terrorists take over a skyscraper at Christmas!), romance (McClane wants to get back to his estranged wife!), and more. But under all the set pieces and endlessly quotable quips is the best part: a plot that's genius in its simplicity and execution. One guy defends a stronghold in crisis against bad guy invaders.

Die Hard was so fresh and thoroughly entertaining that it became an archetype emulated by a slew of action movies that came after it — which is a nice way of saying that a lot of filmmakers have treated Die Hard not as an inspiration, but something they could blatantly rip off. From the parade of imitators that clogged the cineplex in the '90s to the deeply indebted action thrillers of today, here's a look at some of the most obvious Die Hard clones of all time.

Die Hard in a skyscraper, but with The Rock

Dwayne Johnson is the biggest action star of our time, both in terms of salary (he's the highest-paid star in the industry) and physical size (the dude was a wrestler named the Rock, for crying out loud). While his projects run the gamut from aspirational HBO shows (Ballers) to action comedies (Baywatch) to Disney animation (Moana), Johnson is right at home in the kind of old-school action movies that lit up the box office in the '80s and '90s, headlined by guys like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis. His 2018 would-be blockbuster Skyscraper is an unabashed throwback to movies like Die Hard — in fact, it's pretty much exactly like Die Hard. One difference: instead of a cynical cop on the outs with his wife, Johnson plays a security expert and combat vet — with a prosthetic leg! — who has to get his family out of a burning skyscraper overtaken by terrorists who've framed him for the crime.

Die Hard on a cliff

Cliffhanger, one of Sylvester Stallone's most successful non-Rocky or Rambo outings, moves the trappings of Die Hard out of a high-rise building and takes the action even higher — to the dizzying Rocky Mountain peaks. Terrorists can't exactly take a mountain hostage, it's just that the snowy, craggy mountains are a great place to stage the hijacking and heist of a well-stocked United States Treasury plane. The regular guy in the situation who will save all that money from a cadre of bloodthirsty bad guys — led by John Lithgow, an actor almost as much fun to hate as Alan Rickman — is ranger Gabe Walker (Stallone), out in the Colorado Rockies with his partner Jessie (Janine Turner) on a rescue mission when they stumble upon this huge crime they didn't know they were going to have to stop. Die Hard-esque spoiler alert: Lithgow's bad guy falls to his death, only from a cliff's edge instead of a building's ledge.

Die Hard in a school

Just like Hans Gruber didn't count on John McClane being such a ball of furious fight-back before he planned his takeover of Nakatomi Plaza, neither did Colombian drug kingpin scion Luis Cali (Andrew Divoff) and his merry band of mercenaries think that a bunch of private school preppies could give them the old what-for when they invaded Regis High School. Such is the Die Hard-esque plot of the 1991 teen thriller Toy Soldiers. Led by a Goonie (Sean Astin) and a Star Trek ensign kid (Will Wheaton), these pranksters have been expelled from other schools, which means they're prone to the McClane style of sarcasm and self-deprecating humor as well as crafty and clever ways to avert and defeat the villains. (Why'd they invade a private school? To kidnap the son of the judge overseeing the federal trial of Cali's father...but they wind up taking the whole school hostage.) So yeah, it's Die Hard with teens, but it's also sort of like Red Dawn with terrorists instead of Communists.

Die Hard in a plane

Boy, this is getting repetitive. Passenger 57 is a fun and predictable action movie that closely adheres to the playbook of Die Hard, an objectively fun and straightforward film. It also boasts the presence of Wesley Snipes at the height of his charm and movie-star prowess. Snipes stars as grieving widower and ex-Secret Service agent John Cutter, on board a passenger flight to Los Angeles where he's about to start a job as vice president of antiterrorism for that very airline. Also on the plane: recently captured terrorist Charle Payne, who calls himself "The Rane of Terror" for some reason, en route to his trial. Many of the flight attendants and passengers are Rane's toughs in disguise, of course, and kill the FBI handlers. Naturally, "passenger 57" isn't among them — that's Cutter, and once he comes out of the bathroom, he has to fight them to the death in this claustrophobic airborne Die Hard that reminds us all to "always bet on black."

Die Hard in a plane with the president

Air Force One asks the question, "What if John McClane capitalized on his experiences fighting off bad guys who wanted to take down public places, got into politics, got himself elected president, and then had to fight more bad guys on an airplane?" Harrison Ford stars as James Marshall, the most tenacious Commander-in-Chief since Teddy Roosevelt. The President and his family (along with some advisors, members of the media, and Secret Service agents) board Air Force One on the way back from Moscow, following a joint U.S./Russian operation that took down an Eastern European dictator. Naturally, one of those Secret Service guys is a dictator-loyal mole, as are some of the reporters, led by Gary Oldman in full Gary Oldman villain mode. The terrorists take control of the plane and kill a bunch of people, while the legit Secret Service sends Marshall away via an escape pod. But guess what: He didn't leave! He was just hiding in the cargo hold, and he goes to work killing bad dudes and trying to force a landing and get the hostages to safety. Great job, President McClane!

Die Hard in the White House

The White House is apparently the Nakatomi Plaza of the eastern seaboard. Out is Bruce Willis and in is Geostorm star Gerard Butler in Olympus as Fallen, as former Army Ranger and presidential Secret Service detail Mike Banning artfully dodges his way through hallways and back channels to defend the White House and save President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). During a presidential meeting with the South Korean prime minister, North Korean operatives storm the White House by air and by land, and it's up to Banning to navigate the most famous residence in the country and pull everyone to safety. One big difference from Die Hard: it's somehow more violent. For example, the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) gets kicked in the stomach and dragged on the ground while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Butler's character also has none of McClane's everyman reluctance, beating the blood out of many anonymous stooges — one with a bust of Lincoln. 

Die Hard on a bus

By the time Die Hard hit theaters in 1988, action movies had fallen into a characterization rut. The good guys were stoic and pure (think Schwarzenegger), and the bad guys were Russian or Middle Eastern, 100 percent evil, and always on message with their plan to kill Americans just because. Die Hard, and villain Hans Gruber as portrayed by Alan Rickman, changed all that. Here we had a bad guy who was from Western Europe, emotionally complex, and, shockingly likable. 

Speed is a terrific action movie because, while it cribs quite a bit from Die Hard, it lifts the fun bad guy element in particular. Late, great Hollywood crackpot Dennis Hopper plays a gleefully evil domestic terrorist responsible for the movie's novel premise — he placed a bomb on a bus, and if the bus slows down to below 50 mph, it'll blow up. It's the old Die Hard formula of public place + threat + crafty hero working hard to save the day + engaging villain. And like Rickman's Gruber, Hopper's character continually harasses and belittles protagonist Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) throughout his very bad day. "Pop quiz, hotshot!" 

Die Hard on the water

In the wake of Die Hard, Hollywood churned out a flood of ripoffs with heroes played by normal-seeming guys dealing with high-stakes situations in regular places. Sure, Steven Seagal was a martial arts master who wanted us to think he could beat up literally anyone on Earth in his prime, but he wasn't a muscle-bound brute like the action heroes of old. Unlike Bruce Willis, Seagal uses a lot of his unique hand-to-hand combat talents in Under Siege. But like Willis, Seagal fires off catchphrases as he forges a path of destruction through the film, which is more or less Die Hard if it were set on a Navy warship making its final voyage. Seagal portrays Casey Ryback, personal cook to the captain of the U.S.S. Missouri who just so happens to be an ex-Navy SEAL, giving him the special set of skills necessary to fight off the militant commandoes posing as caterers that have placed his ship, well, under siege.

Die Hard on Alcatraz

There are lots of movies about breaking out of prison, because that's the logical direction an inmate would want to go, and there are multiple movies about breaking out of Alcatraz, the punishing island prison off the coast of San Francisco. But The Rock flips the script — it's about breaking into Alcatraz, now a tourist attraction and museum, not a functioning prison — because that's where bad guys are staging a biological weapon attack on the city by the bay. In other words, Alcatraz is a shorter, less glitzy, more difficult to traverse Nakatomi Plaza. The only real innovation The Rock adds to the tried-and-true Die Hard formula is that its two good guys are together instead of merely offering moral support via walkie talkie. However, in doing that, director Michael Bay also rips off Lethal Weapon and countless other "buddy cop" movies — one of our heroes is older and more experienced (Sean Connery) and the other is a little bit cracked (Nicolas Cage...because nobody plays cracked like Nicolas Cage).

Die Hard in an arena

Every action star in the late '80s and early '90s got at least one shot at a Die Hard ripoff, and for Jean-Claude Van Damme, that movie was Sudden Death. Among the most generically titled thrillers in movie history, it's at least got an intriguing setup. Attending the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals with his kids at the Pittsburgh arena where he serves as fire marshal, Darren McCord (Van Damme) uncovers a terrorist plot led by a fired CIA goon (Powers Boothe, an actor so hammy he approaches Alan Rickman levels) that includes holding the Vice President hostage in his luxury suite. (He's also going to blow up the whole building, of course.) The one thing Sudden Death has going for it that Die Hard does not: one of the terrorists disguises herself as "Iceburgh," the Pittsburgh Penguins' mascot. Die Hard could have used one of those.

Die Hard at an airport

The recipe for a perfect sequel: Keep everything that was great about the first movie, but tweak it ever so slightly so as to keep it fresh and exciting, not just a remake of its predecessor. That's easier said than done with some movies — such as Die Hard. That movie details one man's once-in-a-lifetime fight against bad guys in a high-rise office building. What are the odds that John McClane will have to fight evil and just barely save the day only two years later, and on Christmas once again? In real life, there's next to no chance of that happening, but in Hollywood, the odds are somewhere near 100 percent if the first film was a genre-redefining, money-making classic. And that's why Die Hard 2 exists. This time, McClane once more finds himself scrambling to save the day when bad guys take over an air traffic control system — with his wife's plane waiting to land. No skyscraper this time, but there's still plenty of claustrophobic high-stakes action throughout the airport, with our hero saving the day — and cleaning up at the box office — all over again.

Die Hard with a kid

Home Alone is a broad Christmas comedy with an odd premise and a kid star, and it went on to what was basically an inexplicable blockbuster run. By the time it left theaters in early 1991, it had earned $285 million, making it the third-highest grossing film of all time. But maybe its premise wasn't so novel, and maybe its success not so surprising. Macaulay Culkin, at the time best known for his role in the moderate 1989 hit Uncle Buck, is delightful as Kevin McAllister, a sassy troublemaker who somehow gets left, uh, home alone when his family flies off to France for the holidays, inadvertently leaving him to defend their well-appointed home against the tenacious "Wet Bandits," burglars portrayed by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Despite being eight years old and having limited resources, Kevin effectively, violently, and sarcastically dispatches the thugs. That's Die Hard on every level — the only difference is that the regular guy is a regular child.