A comprehensive review of the ‘Die Hard’ series

All five movies explained and ranked

Electronically published February 9, 2022 by Anders McAllister, Staff Reporter

John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, screams as he shoots at the terrorists who took control of the Nakatomi Tower in the first “Die Hard” film. (20th Century Studios)

To get into the holiday spirit the right way this year, I decided to watch everyone’s favorite Christmas movie, “Die Hard.” But in honor of the action packed year that was 2021, I went above and beyond, watching all five movies of the series. Here’s the breakdown of the wild ride, featuring over 11 hours of explosions, bullets and gruesome action. Yippee ki yay!

“Die Hard” – 10/10

The original “Die Hard” film pits protagonist John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, against a gang of German terrorists taking over a Los Angeles skyscraper. McClane’s mission is to save his wife and the many other hostages taken by the terrorists. The film involves gunfights, fistfights, bombs and satisfying plot twists throughout. As an off-duty police officer himself, McClane establishes a complicated relationship with both the police officers outside and the terrorists in charge.

The film is often dubbed a classic for good reason. Bruce Willis plays a compelling and charismatic McClane and brings intensity and humor to the film. The movie is just over two hours long, but every minute carries suspense and action. The wild explosions, shooting and fight scenes are electrifying, but I also felt my heart pounding in the quiet moments as McClane crept around the tower trying to take down the intruders.

For any action fans, “Die Hard” is a must watch. While some scenes are brutal and gory, the movie is a wonderful thrill. If you haven’t watched “Die Hard” yet, you should.

“Die Hard 2” – 8/10

In the second installation of the franchise, Willis again plays the character of John McClane, now a sworn officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. But to start the movie, he finds himself in a Washington D.C. airport on Christmas Eve. This time around, McClane must fight back against a team of rogue American military officers. To make matters worse, his wife is yet again in danger, in a plane holding above the airport.

“Die Hard 2” carries many of the same themes as the original film, with McClane acting as a lone wolf, some incompetent officials resisting his help and squadrons of mercenaries fighting against him throughout. “Die Hard 2” also features some especially surprising plot twists, which kept me in suspense.

Overall, “Die Hard 2” isn’t quite as strong as the original, but it’s still a wonderful and fun sequel overall. I enjoyed the film, and I felt like despite the persistence of some identical themes and plot devices, the movie was still interesting and every minute was engaging. There were lots of aeronautical inconsistencies that were laughable, but everything still worked well to create the intense action the series is known for. If you don’t care to see a bad guy ingested into the engine of a 747, maybe avoid this one. For everyone else, I highly recommend “Die Hard 2” once you start the series.

“Die Hard 3: Die Hard With a Vengeance” – 7/10

The third movie offers a change to the formula of the first and second “Die Hard” films. “With a Vengeance” unfortunately abandons the Christmas theme, and McClane is now estranged from his wife and suspended from his new detective post in the NYPD. When a terrorist begins bombing New York, McClane is requested by name. The plot involves this mysterious terrorist sending McClane around the city solving puzzles, disarming bombs and fighting to stay alive.

In this quest, McClane soon is paired with shop owner Zeus Carver, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson and Willis are a good pair together and the buddy element combined with some tension works well. I found myself laughing more than in the first two films, and I feel like the performances are compelling.

Things get a little bit scattered during the course of the film, and it’s certainly not the most refined product of the franchise. The movie still has plenty of twists that kept me guessing, although I did see the possibility for a lot more creativity in the plot.

Like “Die Hard 2” I enjoyed this movie and I’d recommend a watch of the third installation of the series. It’s definitely the most mediocre of the three so far, but it stacks up alright in comparison to the fourth and fifth.

“Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard” – 7/10

Live Free, the fourth film in the “Die Hard” series, brings back the buddy duo element with Willis as McClane and Justin Long playing a hacker McClane is tasked with protecting. Long’s character is crucial to stopping the ongoing destruction of America through a hacking armageddon.There are the same explosions, fight scenes, shooting and everything else expected from the series. Lucy, McClane’s daughter, also makes her first appearance as an adult in the film. This adds another emotional layer for McClane and I liked her addition to the plot.

The realism aspect, which had been at least moderately preserved in the first couple movies, is really lacking in the fourth. The hacking, McClane clinging to the wings of a fighter jet, injuries being nonexistent and many other elements of the movie are quite unrealistic, even for action movie standards.

While the realism aspect was jarring at times, “Live Free” still had a fun plot, some exhilarating action, and significant suspense as the hackers mount attacks against McClane. The modern feel was a little tough to adjust to, but I enjoyed my experience watching the movie overall. I’d give this film a watch if you’ve liked the “Die Hard” anthology thus far. It’s still a fun movie with lots of the series’ signature action and intensity, and it’s not the weakest of the five, but you may start to miss the original film more by this point.

“Die Hard 5: A Good Day to Die Hard” –  4/10

In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” McClane is now in Russia unexpectedly helping his son and CIA agent, Jack, in rescuing a political prisoner. Many elements repeat again, like the intense car chases, shooting, clinging to aircraft and massive explosions. The plot is heavily centered around reconciliation between father and son, but this element of the movie seems cliché and forced much of the time.

Unfortunately, the movie is by far the most underwhelming of the series overall. The plot is scattered, and the characters seem devoid of the same passion and charisma from movies before. With the setting now outside the U.S., and the element of protecting McClane’s home nation gone, the fifth installation loses much of the series’ trademark intensity. Even the writing of McClane seems tired, randomly and inexplicably exclaiming “I’m on vacation!” in the middle of gunfights.

The movie is only an hour and a half, making it significantly shorter than the previous movies. Still, I found myself getting bored at times, as the car chases and other action scenes seemed to drag on, exhausting me as a viewer. If you’ve made it through the first four movies, and you find yourself craving more McClane, you’ll find the action present, but expect to be put through the most disappointing experience yet. If you’re just getting your first taste of the “Die Hard” franchise, just stick to the first several movies of the series.

“Die Hard” is a fantastic series of movies, and while the quality does drop incrementally with each film, I highly recommend any action fans watch the films. The first movie is a classic and a must watch, and if you enjoy it, moving on to the next several movies is a good idea. While watching all five movies back to back within one weekend was potentially unwise, the first two got me in the Christmas mood, and the third and fourth satisfied all the desire for action and violence one could ever have this holiday season. If you do decide to heed my advice and watch the series, welcome to the party, pal!