Even without taking the fifth, “Die Hard” is a billion-dollar franchise. It was ahead of its time, as the second, third and fourth movies earned more overseas than in North America. The initial “Die Hard,” released in July 1988 despite its Christmas setting, proved that Bruce Willis was worth the $5 million he received, a princely sum that caused an industry uproar, way back when.
As moviegoers decide if this is a “Good Day to Die Hard,” here’s a look at the first four movies:
“DIE HARD” (1988)
What we said: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Marylynn Uricchio started her review by predicting, “ ‘Die Hard’ will be the monster hit of the summer. It can’t miss. Besides, the movie is as good as ‘The Terminator,’ which should tell all you action fans something. ...
“What sets ‘Die Hard’ apart from most action movies is the depth of characterization. [Detective John] McClane is not a macho toy with a bulletproof body. He is a thinking, feeling man who can’t believe he’s doing most of what he does. Willis brings his cocky humor to the role, but he also displays a physical and emotional range that comes as a nice surprise.”
Bonus points: For the well-drawn villains led by Alan Rickman as the leader of terrorists who look as if they belong in a GQ fashion spread.
Bottom line: $80.7 million in North America and another $58 million international gross. (All box-office grosses supplied by hollywood.com.)
“DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER” (1990)
What we said: “In a summer of wildly violent action films, ‘Die Hard 2’ stands out. It is the best action movie since ‘Lethal Weapon II,’ as vastly entertaining, exciting and improbable.
“Both films strain credibility to the brink of absurdity, yet both offer boldly imaginative sequences that almost literally lift an audience out of its seats,” the late George Anderson wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Bonus points: The story calls for Willis’ McClane to use a pilot’s ejection seat to escape a cockpit full of hand grenades. It’s the most preposterously enjoyable moment in the cinematic roller-coaster ride. Bonnie Bedelia returns as McClane’s wife, and the supporting cast includes Franco Nero, Dennis Franz and Reginald VelJohnson.
Bottom line: $112.5 million domestic gross and another $122.5 million international gross.
“DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE” (1995)
What we said: “How does the third ‘Die Hard’ stack up?” Uricchio asked in her review. “Not as good as the first but better than the second. While the original was set in one building, which focused the tension as well as the plot, ‘Die Hard With a Vengeance’ takes place all over New York City. ...
“Willis looks like a barbecued chicken during the whole movie — sinews covered with blood and grime — but he does the job in top form.”
Bonus points: Jeremy Irons, on the heels of “The Lion King” and “Reversal of Fortune,” is the chief bad guy, and Samuel L. Jackson is a Harlem shopkeeper who helps McClane.
Bottom line: $100 million domestic gross and another $264.5 million international gross.
“LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” (2007)
What we said: “Yippee-ki-yay. Unlike its R-rated predecessors, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ is PG-13, but it’s still as violent as the 1988 movie that introduced John McClane as a cop with a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“In fact, it’s probably more violent, with a higher body count and a terrorist plot designed to drive a stake through all that Americans hold dear.”
Villain Timothy Olyphant isn’t as deliciously devilish as his predecessors, the wisecracks are thinner and the movie falls into a series of stunts and chases, I wrote in my review.
Bonus points: The plot, in which sophisticated hackers mess with transportation, the airwaves, Wall Street, utilities and cellphones, was timely in post-9/ 11 and Katrina times. At 52, Willis may have lost his hair but not his ability to convincingly play an action hero.
Bottom line: $134.5 million, domestic, another $249 million international gross.