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Skyscraper is the latest in a long line of imitators.

The 28 Best and Worst Die Hard Knockoffs Ever

If Skyscraper — the new movie in which The Rock1 squares off against a very tall building that is on fire and also filled with gun-totting bad guys in order to save his family — looks kinda familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

You’ve probably heard people joke that Skyscraper is basically “Die Hard, but in a taller building,” and they’re not wrong. It is very much that! It’s also the scariest movie of the year for anyone with a fear of heights.2 Along with a reminder that The Rock continues to be one of the most charming, bankable movie stars in Hollywood right now. With Skyscraper, he’s reaching Peak Arnold heights — capable of carrying a movie on his own ludicrously muscled shoulders, no matter how cheesy or derivative its story is. It’s the type of star-driven, fun but implausibly dumb action movie you could’ve stumbled across on cable pretty much 24/7 in the late ‘90s.

But! Skyscraper also certainly isn’t the first movie to knockoff the basic formula behind Die Hard — bad guys + loved ones taken hostage + everyman hero + [insert location here]. In the 30 years since John McClane first shouted Yippee-ki-yay and Hans Gruber ho-ho-ho’ed about his machine gun, we’ve heard it all. It’s like Die Hard, but on a bus! It’s like Die Hard, but on a plane! It’s like Die Hard, but in a Lady Foot Locker! (OK, I made that last one up, but tell me you wouldn’t go see that opening day if it starred The Rock and Tiffany Haddish.)3

So, in honour of Skyscraper and the upcoming thirtieth anniversary of one of the finest action movies ever made, let’s see where the latest Die Hard imitator ranks among three decades’ worth of knockoffs to figure out who came up with the most clever spin on the original.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In a different building.

Skyscraper (1996)

Not to be confused with the one that’s currently in theatres, this Skyscraper went straight-to-video and starred Anna Nicole Smith in a gender-swapped, softcore but otherwise exact Die Hard copy.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In an apartment building.

The Raid: Redemption (2012)

Dredd (2012)

Call it a coincidence or simultaneous invention, but personally, the Karl Urban-starring Dredd reboot will always be a rip-off of the vastly-superior Indonesian action flick The Raid to me. Which — OK, fine — was also a pseudo Die Hard take-off in its own right, but whatever.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In the world’s tallest building.

Skyscraper (2018)

All due respect to Mr. Johnson, but adding a few hundred stories to your tower (and subtracting a leg from your star) isn’t exactly an “inspired” take. That said, Skyscraper’s not just “Die Hard, but starring the Rock.” It’s also got a healthy dose of The Towering Inferno, the Steve McQueen thriller that Die Hard was accused of ripping off at the time. Ah, shit.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In an airport.

Die Hard 2 (1990)

This one almost feels like cheating, since the M.O. for pretty much every blockbuster sequel is “Do the exact same thing as the first time, only slightly different.” Though, ironically, Die Hard 2 is the only other movie in the franchise that retains that crucial “single contained location” element that makes for a genuine Die Hard knockoff. Also, it’s set in an airport on Christmas Eve, and I legitimately cannot imagine a worse place to be trapped.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a plane.

Passenger 57 (1992)

Executive Decision (1996)

It makes sense that this would be a popular one, since it’s a slightly more claustrophobic version of your typical hostage scenario. But original? Hardly. Especially not coming on the heels of Die Hard 2.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a plane. With convicts.

Con Air (1997)

Now we’re getting somewhere. Except this time, the good guy’s the one doing the bad accent.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a plane. With snakes!

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

Bad guy with a ridiculously complicated plan (use poisonous snakes to take out a key witness)? Check. Gruff hero with a great R-rated catchphrase? Big time check. Still a better title than movie, though.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On Air Force One.

Air Force One (1997)

The gold standard for all “Die Hard on a plane” movies, that also doubles as Harrison Ford’s last legitimately fun action hero role.4 Nothing but respect for my president.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a bus.

Speed (1994)

Directed by Die Hard cinematographer Jan De Bont, this is, hands down, the most successful of all the Die Hard imitators, considering it spawned its own sub-subgenre of “It’s like Speed, but…” movies. Including a terrible, Keanu-less sequel. (More on that in a minute.)

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a train.

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1994)

Derailed (2002)

People always say there’s something romantic about train travel. I don’t think the same sentiment applies to Die Hard rip-offs set on trains starring D-list action movie stars though.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
At a boarding school.

Toy Soldiers (1991)

Masterminds (1997)

Basically the same idea, six years apart: a bad boy boarding school kid saves the day, John McClane style. In Toy Soldiers, it’s Sean Astin. In Masterminds, it’s a young Vincent Kartheiser (who, to his credit, explicitly acknowledges the Die Hard theft). Plus, there’s just something so wonderfully ironic about the idea of watching Patrick Stewart torment a school of gifted youngsters (in the very same set they’d go on to film all the X-Men movies at!).5

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a battleship.

Under Siege (1992)

It’s probably no coincidence that the biggest hit of Steven Seagal’s career is a rip-off of another (better) movie. Seagal is washed, is what I’m saying. But a Navy battleship has a couple intriguing elements that an office tower can’t boast: namely, nuclear warheads and the ever-present threat of sinking.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a cruise ship.

Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

Yes, the fact that it takes place on a cruise ship — a mode of transport not exactly known for its blistering speed — and the conspicuous lack of Keanu Reeves makes Cruise Control a bad Speed movie, but it’s actually not a bad Die Hard movie plot. There’s a version of this that could work under different circumstances.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a whitewater raft.

The River Wild (1994)

That’s right, even Meryl Streep’s tried her hand at a Die Hard movie, playing a river guide struggling with marital issues who gets taken hostage by a pair of criminals. There is literally nothing Meryl can’t do.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On a mountain.

Cliffhanger (1993)

Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin put his experience ripping off the original Die Hard to good use here: Cliffhanger’s got the menacing nihilist villain part down, plus the palm-sweating, vertigo-inducing action scenes. But Stallone’s more the sort of superhuman hero McClane became in the sequels than the relatable everyman he first started out as.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
At a ski resort.

Icebreaker (2000)

Another straight-to-DVD “masterpiece,” also starring Sean Astin, weirdly. Still, “Die Hard on a ski hill” isn’t an inherently terrible idea. Put The Rock in Astin’s ski patrol outfit, make it a Baywatch-style comedy, and this could make a $100 million dollars, easy.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
At a beauty pageant.

No Contest (1995)

Former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed gets to play hero when terrorists attempt to take over the “Miss Galaxy” pageant. Co-starring Andrew Dice Clay and Rowdy Roddy Piper, because sure, why not?

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In a mall.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

A sad sack mall cop having to channel his inner John McClane is actually lowkey brilliant. Unfortunately: A+ idea, D- execution. It’s like Die Hard, but terrible!

It’s like Die Hard, but…
On Alcatraz.

The Rock (1996)

Admittedly, The Rock messes with the formula a bit by having not one, but two terrorist-ass-kicking heroes. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the best action movies of the ‘90s borrows liberally from one of the best of the ‘80s, thanks to a hostage situation that turns the famous San Francisco prison into a literal tourist trap.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In the White House.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

White House Down (2013)

It’s the Armageddon/Deep Impact of White House-set Die Hard imitators. But there’s one crucial distinction that sets the two apart: White House Down was a good movie. Olympus Has Fallen was not.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
At the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sudden Death (1995)

Having Jean-Claude Van Damme play a former fireman named Darren McCord who foils a terrorist plot is basically the movie equivalent of changing the first sentence in your friend’s essay and handing it in as your own. But setting a Die Hard rip-off during Game Seven of the Stanley Cup? That’s inspired stuff. Truly.

It’s like Die Hard, but…
In space.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Starship Mine” (1993)

Lockout (2012)

Adding “in space!” onto the end of just about anything is a proven technique for Mad Libs-ing your way into a million-dollar idea, so it’s honestly a little surprising there haven’t been more attempts to remake Die Hard outside the confines of planet Earth. …What’s The Rock up to next?

References   [ + ]

1. I know he goes by Dwayne Johnson these days, but calling him that still feels weird to me. Like calling your parents by their first names.
2. You know that scene in Mission: Impossible — The Dubai One, where Tom Cruise dangles off the Burj Khalifa because he’s insane and trying to give Paramount’s insurance underwriters a collective panic attack? Skyscraper is basically that feeling, stretched out for an entire movie.
3. Go ahead and try making your own. It’s almost impossible to come up with a Die Hard scenario you wouldn’t at least drunkenly Netflix.
4. Feel free to check my math on IMDb. I’ll wait.
5. Pretty sure this makes it part of X-Men canon.