Happy 26th Birthday to 'Die Hard'!

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How old is "Die Hard?" So old it was released July 15th  but I saw it the day after Christmas. You see young'uns, in olden times, movies used to play for more than a few weeks.

"Die Hard" was made for a then-pretty high budget of $28 million (especially when your lead actor -- "Moonlighting's" Bruce Willis -- is (at the time) only a television star) but grossed a phenomenal $140 million.

That success changed action moves for a decade: Sophisticated, sociopath Euro-trash villains like Hans Gruber were everywhere and the concept of one man trapped in a tight spot playing cat-and-mouse with the villain(s) was duplicated on a ship, a train, a bus, an airplane, a sports arena, and a mountain … and they were all awesome … and always bet on black.  

Over the last 26 years, "Die Hard" has also spawned 4 of its own sequels. Let's rank 'em:

1. "Die Hard with a Vengeance" (1995) - The second sequel is almost as good as the original --  so good it could have launched the franchise all on its own. "Die Hard" director John McTiernan returns with a vengeance and brought with him Samuel L. Jackson, Graham Green, and the great Jeremy Irons as a mad bomber targeting New York City schools.

Top-notch action mixed with great character relationships and some politically incorrect truths about race in America.

2. "Die Hard 2" (1990) - The first sequel is a total cartoon but beautifully structured and executed. Dumb kinetic fun. Too much yelling and conflict for contrived reasons, but you’re never bored.

3. "Live Free or Die Hard" (2007) - Twelve years after its predecessor John McClane tries to stop a computer hacker for reasons we really never care about. Once you recover from what you wanted and expected the third sequel to be, it actually gets better with each viewing.

A big drawback, though, is Timothy Olyphant as the villain. He's beyond great on "Justified" and none of this was his fault, but his character's stature gap compared to McClane never makes the stakes feel real. A villain stuck behind a keyboard versus a rough and tumble action hero just doesn't work. 

Kevin Smith's cameo, though, is epic.

4. "A Good Day to Die Hard" (2013) - I have nothing positive to say about this CGI'd boondoggle with a straight-to-DVD script and forced one-liners. 

Everyone phones it in.

It's not "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," but it's close enough.

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At 59, Bruce Willis is still young enough for another kick at the cat. My only advice is: Back to basics.



Follow  John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC              


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