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The Correct Order In Which To Watch The Die Hard Series

When it hit theaters in July of 1988, "Die Hard" shocked the whole of Hollywood by becoming not just the unexpected hit of the summer, but one of the biggest hits of the year, and a legit star-making vehicle for a then little-known actor by the name of Bruce Willis. In the years since, "Die Hard" has been acknowledged a full-blown cinematic classic, with generation after movie-going generation giving over to both the salty charms of John McClane (Willis), and the film's beautifully over-the-top action.  

It's worth remembering that "Die Hard" also inspired an unlikely franchise that's now a full five movies strong. The "Die Hard" Cinematic Universe may not be done yet, as Bruce Willis is reportedly hot to portray his most famous character at least one more time on the big screen (per EW). If you're looking to catch up with the wild, wacky, and perpetually life-threatening tales of John McClane ahead of that final chapter, this is the correct order in which to watch the entire "Die Hard" series.

Die Hard begins with one hell of a Christmas party

If you're wondering where to begin your quippy, action-packed "Die-Hard-a-thon," we can tell you the franchise features no prequels or spin-offs, so you can indeed start your journey at the very beginning and work your way through — and boy, should you, 'cause 1988's "Die Hard" is an action spectacular well worthy of its lofty cinematic legacy. For those who've haven't seen the film, it unfolds on Christmas Eve, and finds NYPD cop John McClane in Los Angeles attempting to reconcile a split with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Things take a turn for the insane when her company's Christmas party in a posh skyscraper is interrupted by armed men who take revelers hostage. Separated from the group, it's up to John to stop the bad guys from doing some very bad things.

Equal parts survival thriller, character-driven hostage drama, and full-throttle action adventure fit with all the pomp and bombast you'd expect, "Die Hard" was a crowd-pleasing thrill ride that instantly became the gold standard for action movies upon release. Many fans believe it still holds that title. And yes, it happens to feature one of the great villainous performances in the history of moving pictures, with Alan Rickman's movie-stealing turn as the smarmy, over-confident Hans Gruber.

Next Christmas brought Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and more holiday insanity for the McClane clan

John McTiernan directed the first "Die Hard," imbuing the film with a gritty realism that somehow grounded a patently unbelievable narrative. The plot for that film's 1990 sequel was every bit as absurd, by the way. Unfortunately, McTiernan didn't return for "Die Hard 2," and was replaced by '80s action auteur Renny Harlin, a filmmaker hardly known for reigning in cinematic absurdities. True to form, Harlin largely eschewed the grounding aspects of "Die Hard" in favor of unfettered bombast. Thankfully, the tonal shift didn't detract from the sequel's giddily ridiculous premise.

Some might even argue the tonal acrobatics of "Die Hard 2" made it more fun than the original, with John and Holly having reconciled after the events of "Die Hard," only to find themselves at the center of another hostage situation two Christmases later. This time, a Special Forces unit holds Dulles International Airport (and several in-flight aircraft) hostage in exchange for the release of a South American drug lord, with the expected chaos ensuing. Boasting style, wit, and bluster in spades, "Die Hard 2" savvily continues and even builds upon the lore explored in the original, and it ranks as the one "Die Hard" movie to depict John and Holly as a loving, suitably-matched couple.

Die Hard With a Vengeance showed summer in the city is no vacation

Sadly, the good times did not last for John and Holly. When we pick up with John a few years after "Die Hard 2," Holly has once again given him the boot. Living in New York, John has pretty much bottomed out. Having been suspended from his NYPD gig, John has taken to drinking his way to the bottom of whatever bottle he can grab. That changes when a bomb goes off in a New York shop and the riddle-loving bomber, Simon, specifically requests to speak to him. Tasked with solving a series of puzzles to prevent more bombs from exploding, John sets off on a city-wide odyssey to prevent more carnage as he and a whip-smart Harlem shop owner named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) try to figure out Simon's endgame.

That bomber (played with menacing gusto by Jeremy Irons) has a few ulterior motives of his own, not to mention some very specific ties to John's past, all of which eventually come to light. Along the way, the aptly-titled "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is bolstered by the crackling chemistry between Willis and Jackson, who've rarely been better in their storied careers. The film also benefits from the return of director John McTiernan, who came back with a vengeance himself, delivering the cleverest, grittiest, and most effortlessly entertaining "Die Hard" flick to date.

Live Free or Die Hard finds the McClane family deeply fractured and in more trouble

People don't typically apply the term "jumped the shark" to feature film franchises, but if the "Die Hard" franchise had sharks, "Live Free or Die Hard" is undoubtedly the film that jumped them. In this case, the sharks are an F-35 fighter jet, and an absurd-by-any-standard set piece that finds John McClane more or less surfing the wing and bringing the plane down with little more than his wits. It's not only the most unbelievable moment that ever happened in the entire "Die Hard" franchise, and virtually undoes all of the gritty, grounded goodness John McTiernan brought to the third "Die Hard." 

Up until John's infamous wing-dancing shenanigans, "Live Free or Die Hard" is a fun if slight continuation of John's story that finds the aging, Holly-less NYPD detective tasked with rounding up a famed hacker (Justin Long) and getting him to Washington before cyber-terrorists bring the country to its knees. From there, a suitably Die-Hardy narrative unfolds that sees John outwitting and/or beating down all comers in hopes of once again saving the day. The film wisely finds a way to keep things personal for John too, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead turning up as his adult daughter Lucy, who naturally finds herself in the middle of the chaos. Look out for a brief appearance from Kevin Smith for a crossover you never knew you wanted.

It's never A Good Day to Die Hard or watch this one

There's something to be said for walking away from a role before it becomes caricature. Even if "Live Free or Die Hard" wasn't the best film of the franchise, it would've made a solid-enough finale in the ongoing saga of John McClane that Bruce Willis could've left on a relative high note. Unfortunately, that saga continued a few years later with "A Good Day to Die Hard," which most critics and fans acknowledge it as a legit low-point for the franchise even if it does boast the series' best title.

Set a few years after "Live Free," the latest "Die Hard" entry finds an older, wiser John jetting off to Russia to help out and hopefully reconnect with his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney). Once in the country, he learns Jack is actually an undercover CIA operative who's hardly in need of his famous Dad's help to stop yet another global terrorist conspiracy. Told with a wit that winks a little too often and featuring a plot that never ventures far from franchise staples, "A Good Day to Die Hard" is not a very good movie. It is, however, a decent-enough "Die Hard" movie that shamelessly feeds the hunger of franchise faithful still invested in John's cinematic journey. As a potential franchise closer, however, it's bound to leave even franchise diehards thinking the McClane saga deserved better. We'll have to see how "McClane" fares in production and wait until a proper finale.