All 5 Die Hard Movies, Ranked

Movies


Few action franchises are quite as beloved or well-known as the Die Hard film series. Totaling five movies released over a quarter of a century (1988-2013), the series has helped spawn the idea of “Die Hard on an ‘X,'” referring to action/thriller movies released in the shadow of Die Hard that apply its tried and true formula to various scenarios. Speed (1994) is probably the best example (Die Hard on a bus), and there’s also Under Siege (1992), which is like Die Hard at sea.


Its influence is undeniable, and while the series didn’t invent the action genre by any means, it refined it into something exciting, satisfying, and instantly popular with audiences. Not all films in the series were created equal, but it’s one that’s had more hits than misses, largely thanks to dependably fun action scenes, an iconic protagonist in John McClane (expertly played by Bruce Willis in his best-known role), and enough years between movies to (generally) ensure each one feels distinct. Below are all five movies in the Die Hard series, ranked from worst to best.


5 ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ (2013)

Directed by John Moore

Image via 20th Century Studios

The fifth movie in the Die Hard series, A Good Day to Die Hard, will be the final one to feature Bruce Willis as John McClane, after he announced his retirement from acting in 2022 following an aphasia (and later, dementia) diagnosis. It was nice to get one final proper Die Hard movie before potential spin-offs or prequels begin getting announced (it seems almost inevitable when it comes to popular franchises), but it’s unlikely any fans of the series would count A Good Day to Die Hard as one of their favorites.

The plot here sets McClane up with his son (played by Jai Courtney), another person who finds himself in various dangerous situations, thanks to his job as a CIA operative. The two end up going to Russia to combat terrorists who are attempting to steal nuclear weapons, though the narrative itself is fairly muddled and unusually hard to follow. The humor and action sequences also feel lacking compared to the rest of the movies, and the villains are entirely forgettable. Action movie fanatics may find a little entertainment value here, but it’s otherwise largely (and regrettably) disposable, clearly standing out as the least compelling entry in the series. It’s no surprise that A Good Day to Die Hard has an IMDb score of 5.1, the lowest of the franchise.

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4 ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990)

Directed by Renny Harlin

Bruce Willis as John McClane holding a gun standing in the snow in Die Hard 2
Image via 20th Century Fox

With the first Die Hard coming out in 1988, and Die Hard 2 being released in 1990, the gap between the pair is easily the shortest of any two movies in the series. It’s the proximity to the first movie, and the over-reliance on recycling that made it work (while trying to make certain things a little bigger and more explosive) that makes Die Hard 2 falter a little. It is by no means a terrible movie, and is overall better than A Good Day to Die Hard – that does need to be stressed.

Like the first movie, Die Hard 2 is set on Christmas Eve, and sees John McClane getting mixed up in another terrorist plot. Here, the villains effectively take a large airport hostage, with their ultimate mission being to rescue a corrupt military leader named General Esperanza, and McClane finds himself as the only one who can stop them. The antagonists aren’t particularly memorable, the film’s tendency to make things cruder, angrier, and more violent feels unnecessary, and the whole thing stretches plausibility and then some… but those who want something that scratches a very similar itch to the first will probably like this, even if it doesn’t scratch said itch quite as well.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Release Date
July 2, 1990

Director
Renny Harlin

Runtime
124

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3 ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ (2007)

Directed by Len Wiseman

Bruce Willis hiding from someone on top of a metal structure in Live Free or Die Hard
Image via 20th Century Fox

Just as the second movie in the Die Hard series is a compelling action movie with a few drawbacks, so too is the fourth film: Live Free or Die Hard. Once again, it’s far from bad and not anywhere close to a series’ low point, and successfully plays with the idea of an older John McClane getting tangled up in a wild plot more entertainingly than the fifth movie. In this film, McClane is up against ambitious cyber-terrorists, with their expertise and McClane’s lack of knowledge about newer technologies leading to plenty of comedy.

Live Free or Die Hard is aggressively 2000s in its style and overall feel, which could be a good thing or bad thing depending on the viewer. The humor is broad and the action loud, but it’s the kind of dumb fun that feels satisfying when viewed with the right frame of mind, and the dynamic McClane has with a young hacker/reluctant sidekick played by Justin Long is also fun. Additionally, Timothy Olyphant is quite underrated here as the main antagonist; fittingly, Live Free or Die Hard is the third-best Die Hard movie, and features the series’ third-best lead antagonist. Funny how action movies are seemingly only as good as their villains…

live free or die hard

Release Date
June 20, 2007

Director
Len Wiseman

Runtime
128

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2 ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance’ (1995)

Directed by John McTiernan

Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson in Die Hard With A Vengeance
Image via 20th Century Studios

John McTiernan returned to the Die Hard series after directing the first movie by also directing its third entry, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, which is almost universally regarded as the second-best in the franchise. It did away with the restricted setting premise found in the first two movies, and set John McClane loose within New York City, following him taking on a new antagonist who seems to have some sort of personal connection to him, taunting McClane and making him perform a series of tasks.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance benefits greatly from incorporating buddy comedy elements into the story, with McClane being paired with a local played by Samuel L. Jackson; this type of dynamic was reused decently (but not as cleverly) in the fourth movie. It’s a consistently fun and exciting movie, and provides a good amount of tension in the first half, followed by plenty of catharsis in later scenes. The lead antagonist also ensures things remain exciting, with Jeremy Irons playing a bad guy who’s undoubtedly the best foe McClane’s clashed with outside the first movie. Speaking of…

Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Release Date
May 19, 1995

Runtime
131

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1 ‘Die Hard’ (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan

Bruce Willis as John McClane jumping from a roof in Die Hard
Image via 20th Century Fox

The first Die Hard might not need much of an introduction beyond saying that it is the first Die Hard. It’s one of the most legendary films within the entire action genre. As far as modern action movies go, it may not in fact get any better than Die Hard. It pits a likable and vulnerable hero against a cunning, charismatic, and stupendously memorable villain (played by Alan Rickman), and features a great mix of action and humor with a simple premise that’s paced perfectly, leading to no wasted time.

Even those who aren’t big on action movies will get a kick out of Die Hard, and those who do like the genre will undoubtedly be in heaven upon watching and rewatching this movie (and it is ridiculously rewatchable). It’s a Christmas classic, an essential action movie, boasts an all-time great villain, and helped redefine the extent to which a modern-day thriller could be capable of thrilling. It’s one of the most popular 1980s movies for good reason, and has aged beautifully in the years since release, standing as an undeniable classic to this day.

Die Hard

Release Date
July 20, 1988

Runtime
132 minutes

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NEXT: The Best Action Movies of All Time, Ranked



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