Tim Grierson on the Enduring Legacy of “Die Hard”


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On July 15, 1988, the weekend’s big action-thriller was a film featuring one of Hollywood’s most beloved characters played by one of its biggest stars. I’m speaking, of course, of “The Dead Pool,” the last of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” movies. But that weekend also included another release, although it was only on 21 screens. Starred some TV actor. Had a kinda ridiculous premise. It was “Die Hard.”

It’s been 25 years, and a lot of the movies from that summer have been forgotten: “Cocktail,” “Young Guns,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.” But “Die Hard” has endured. This Friday sees the release of the franchise’s latest sequel, “A Good Day to Die Hard.” Over time, the series has gotten increasingly more ludicrous and cheerfully over-the-top. But at its core, the scrappy, underdog spirit of that original “Die Hard” remains. Which is another way of saying, thank god for Bruce Willis.

When the original “Die Hard” opened, Willis had enjoyed a little success in films thanks to the comedy “Blind Date,” which had come out the year before. (He followed it up with “Sunset,” a bomb.) Still, Willis was primarily known for his Emmy-winning role as David Addison on the comedy-drama series “Moonlighting.” He wasn’t the most obvious choice to play John McClane, a NYPD officer who has to take out a bunch of terrorists holding a gaggle of hostages (including his estranged wife) in a Los Angeles skyscraper right before Christmas. This was the 1980s, when action heroes were played by Schwarzenegger or Stallone.

But the secret to the film’s success — the whole franchise’s, really — was that Willis didn’t try to be one of those action heroes. Instead, he seemed to take a page from Harrison Ford, whose “Star Wars” fame had only grown due to the Indiana Jones films. As Indy, Ford never wowed us with his hulking frame; it was his sarcastic, black-and-blue ordinariness that made the character so appealing. He was a hero not because it was easy but, rather, because it was really hard. Willis took wisecracking David and turned him into a reluctant gun-toting, explosion-evading grumpy smartass who wanted to defeat the bad guys mostly because they were annoying the hell out of him. Eddie Murphy had proved the viability of the high-octane action-comedy with the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, but in “Die Hard” Willis leaned more toward the action than the comedy. In ’88, people probably didn’t go to “Die Hard” because it was funny. That was just a lucky side benefit.

It also didn’t hurt that he was paired with a truly fun nemesis. As Hans Gruber, Rickman did a variation on every super-snide James Bond villain that came before, except he was actually smart and not campy. It’s almost as if Rickman wasn’t aware that ’80s bad guys were supposed to be really cheesy. Best know for his work on the stage and on television in England, Rickman wasn’t well-known by film audiences. For all we knew, maybe he was a criminal mastermind. (And for all the fine performances he’s given since, his cool, slightly haughty demeanor has been their constant through-line, connecting him back to Hans forever.)

Another reason the film has held up is because it’s simply ingenious. Based on the 1979 book “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “Die Hard” basically invented a whole new genre of action movie: one in which a regular guy is trapped in a location with a bunch of heavily-armed baddies. (As luck would have it, though, these “regular guys” often just happened to be buff dudes like Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.) This was a major change from most action movies, which drew their excitement from elaborate chase sequences or scenes in which the hero has to infiltrate the villain’s stronghold. With “Die Hard,” McClane was constantly hiding in the Nakatomi Plaza trying to evade capture while communicating via walkie-talkie to a local cop (Reginald VelJohnson) outside the building. The film was more of a cat-and-mouse thriller than a conventional shoot-‘em-up. (Although, granted, there is still a lot of shooting ‘em up.) Maybe that’s why none of the sequels was ever quite as good: They all had Willis, but they opened up his world to make them more like other people’s action movies.

This isn’t to say that “Die Hard” is perfect. As groundbreaking as the film is, it features one of the stupidest side characters in all of action movies. That, of course, would be Dwayne T. Robinson, the LAPD chief played by Paul Gleason who’s almost maniacal in his distrust of McClane. As Roger Ebert said perfectly in his review at the time, “As nearly as I can tell, the deputy chief is in the movie for only one purpose: to be consistently wrong at every step of the way and to provide a phony counterpoint to Willis’ progress. The character is so willfully useless, so dumb … that all by himself he successfully undermines the last half of the movie.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Robinson does deliver the film’s unforgivably dumbest line: After a FBI helicopter is destroyed, killing everyone inside, he matter-of-factly comments, “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess.” It’s entirely possible Gleason is playing the same numbskull from “The Breakfast Club.”

But when you go back and watch “Die Hard” now, fondness will probably help you forgive those types of problems. Above all, what’s great is that the movie doesn’t realize it’s going to give birth to a genre or a franchise. It’s just this plucky little movie about a dude in an undershirt winning back his wife by saving her and her coworkers. The movie is simply a great idea executed extremely well.

The sequels realized that they never could recapture the once-in-a-lifetime ingenuity of the “Die Hard” plot, so they had to keep expanding the concept and adding new quirks, all the while joking about the fact that, yes, it is completely preposterous that the same shit keeps happening to the same guy over and over. In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” which I haven’t seen yet, he’s fighting alongside his son — a plot point that I’m sure Fox is hoping will extend the brand after Willis really is too old to be doing these movies. But it’s funny how the franchise has come full circle. “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the book that inspired the original movie, was written by Roderick Thorp and was itself a sequel to his book “The Detective,” which became a movie starring Frank Sinatra in 1968. In “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the hero (Joe Leland) is an older guy trying to save his daughter and grandchildren from terrorists. No doubt Fox decided to make McClane younger for “Die Hard” so that it seemed more realistic. Nowadays, McClane’s old enough that such a storyline doesn’t seem nearly so farfetched anymore.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

Jon Benjamin

Jon's Erotic Tales

Jon Benjamin Developing ‘Erotic’ Anthology Series for IFC

Jon Benjamin is getting racy for IFC.

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Photo Credit: Derek Storm/Everett Collection

Get ready to get hot and heavy with Jon Benjamin.

IFC has teamed up with Benjamin and Leo Allen (Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Review) to develop Jon Benjamin’s 100 Erotic Nights, a show filled with personal, passionate tales perfect for awkwardly watching with your family. “I always wanted to make a show that my kid could watch and I’m thrilled that IFC has given me this opportunity,” said Jon Benjamin.

The scripted comedy anthology series (currently in the pilot presentation stage) finds the man behind Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher starring in and narrating a series of lurid tales of secret passion, burning desire and ruthless betrayal sure to raise a few eyebrows. As the tales unfold, Benjamin’s narrator is overcome with confessions of love, lust, romance and sex, from the local waitress to a church nun, to a lover who’s revealed to be a robot.

“IFC is excited to dive into deadpan erotic humor, a new and untapped genre of scripted comedy for us,” said Christine Lubrano, IFC’s SVP of original programming. “As a send up of Red Shoe Diaries, these steamy and seductive tales represent a hilarious departure from familiar erotica. As our narrator and guide, Jon Benjamin’s irreverent and revealing journey will leave viewers gasping for more.”

Be sure to check back here for more updates about Jon Benjamin’s sure to be salacious series.

Gigi Does It Ice Skating

Gigi's Ready, Are You?

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Gigi Does It

Catch Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

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Garfield might hate Mondays, but now that Gigi Does It is in its new time slot Mondays at 10:30P ET/PT, it’s your new favorite day of the week. Here are five ways you can get ready for tonight’s all-new episode.

1. Watch David Krumholtz Become Gigi

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Wondering how David Krumholtz transforms into Gigi? Check out a video time lapse to see the incredible work that goes on behind-the-scenes of Gigi Does It.

2. Get in Touch With Your Inner Kristy Yamatushy

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This week Gigi and Ricky hit the ice. Will they fall flat or soar like Olympic great Kristy Yamtushy?

3. See the Video That’s Too Hot for Facebook

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Gigi has a filthy mouth that is NSFW and Not Safe for Facebook. Check out the video Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want you to see.

4. Read Gigi’s Book “Call Your Grandmother”

Call Your Grandmother

Gigi became an author recently when she self-published her heartwarming children’s book about the perils of forgetting to call your dear grandma. Read the story that could give Go the F**k to Sleep a run for its money on the bestseller charts.

5. Put on Something that Highlights Your Kishkes

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You’ll want to slip into something comfortable when you watch Gigi. Just ask poor Ricky.

Lethal Weapon

Lethal Duos

7 Mismatched Buddy Cop Duos Who Play By Their Own Rules

Catch IFC's Lethal Weapon movie marathon Sunday, November 22nd starting at 8:30AM ET/PT.

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Mismatched buddy cops are a staple of action flicks, because “putting unstable people into high-pressure situations with guns and hoping things work out” always leads to comic mayhem. You know the trope — a beleaguered police chief assigns polar opposite detectives to a case that nobody wants to solve. They start out at each other’s throats before a begruding respect leads to geniune comraderie. (Nothing like blowing away some bad guys of vaguely European origin to stoke the fires of friendship.) In honor of IFC’s Lethal Weapon movie marathon, check out our tribute to the mismatched cop duos who play by their own rules and leave an epic body count in their wake.

7. Hammond and Cates, 48 Hrs.

Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte invented and mastered the art of buddy comedy, and they didn’t let little things like Eddie’s Reggie Hammond not being a cop stop them. The premise of “I’m borrowing this convicted thief from jail for a couple of days so he can be a peace officer” violates pretty much every law we know about. But the results (and Eddie’s Reggie) convincingly speak for themselves.

6. Lee and Carter, Rush Hour

Rush Hour‘s  combination of Jackie Chan’s high-flying kicks with Chris Tucker’s motormouth means this movie never stops for a single second. Whether it’s action-packed set-pieces, turbocharged wise-cracking, or the wonderful novelty of clashing characters where neither is playing the straight man role, this duo is always going full tilt.

5. Raymond Tango and Gabriel Cash, Tango & Cash

Tango and Cash are forced together fairly quickly even by buddy cop movie standards thanks to falsified murder charges and a maximum security prison full of every perp they’ve ever put away. Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell bring high-tech attack vehicles and self-destruct sequences to the genre and the results, which are so not by the book they aren’t even fit for print, are all kinds of awesome.

4. Sykes and Sam Francisco, Alien Nation

Alien Nation took the mismatched partner genre to its ultimate conclusion by importing an alien “Newcomer” from an entirely different planet specifically to annoy James Caan’s grizzled cop. Oh, and also to fight an alien dealing “xeno-drugs” that make aliens immensely strong. Mandy Patinkin stars as the super-strong, ultra-helpful, and ridiculously named Sam Francisco.

3. Angel and Butterman, Hot Fuzz

Edgar Wright’s love-letter to buddy comedy moves London’s top cop Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) to the sleepy town of Sandford where PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) has nothing better to do than watch buddy cop movies and dream of action sequences. A hilariously self-aware parody of the genre pits both against a gloriously greasy Timothy Dalton.

2. Friday and Streebek, Dragnet

Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks is the kind of super-cinematic dream team that used to happen all the time in the buddy action comedy heyday of the ’80s. Aykroyd plays possibly the Akroyd-iest character of his career with Joe Friday, who has apparently replaced his soul with “the book” and doesn’t understand how silly he sounds when he reads from it. Hanks counters this with his streetwise Streebek, whose loose charm serves as Friday’s comedic foil. The classic mismatched pair join forces to fight P.A.G.A.N., the People Against Goodness And Normalcy, which should tell you whether you or not you want to watch this underrated ’80s comedy.

1. Riggs and Murtaugh, Lethal Weapon

Hammond and Cates were the original buddy cops, but Riggs and Murtaugh are the icons. In retrospect, pairing the almost-retired Murtaugh with suicidal loose cannon Riggs seems more like a scheme to avoid pension payouts than any way of fighting crime, but the results birthed an action comedy franchise that inspired more than a few imitators.


Benders Tonight

5 Ways to Get Ready For Tonight’s All-New Benders

Catch Benders tonight at 10P on IFC

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Thank Chubbys it’s Thursday! Follow these tips for preparing for tonight’s brand new Benders if you want to end the week in style.

1. Throw a Chickenpox Party.

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Beer helps cure chicken pox, right?

2. Get Your Flu Shot.

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Just a friendly reminder that it’s cold and flu season. You don’t want to empty the contents of your stomach during your next game of floor hockey like poor Sebalos. Serious party foul, bro.

3. Recruit Some Friends

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Get your friends on Team Uncle Chubbys with this recruitment video.

4. Practice the “What up, bro?” Move.

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Your bros will never know what hit them.

5. Prepare for The Force to Awaken in You.


There is no try when it comes to chugging beer. Do like the Benders or do not.

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