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5 ‘Die Hard’ knockoffs besides Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Skyscraper’

Updated July 11, 2018 - 10:04 pm

On July 15, 1988, Bruce Willis burst onto movie screens as John McClane, the lone hero trying mightily to save his wife from inside a tall building, in “Die Hard.”

Nearly 30 years to the day later, Dwayne Johnson hits theaters this weekend as Will Sawyer, the lone hero trying mightily to save his wife and kids from inside a tall building, in “Skyscraper.”

As McClane himself might say, “Yippee ki-hey, wait a minute!”

“Skyscraper” isn’t the first movie to imitate the “Die Hard” formula: professional hero, outgunned and outmanned, who’s unexpectedly caught up in a hostage situation that only he can stop.

It isn’t even the first one to be called “Skyscraper.”

Here’s a look back at some of the other notable attempts:

“Passenger 57” (1992)

It’s “Die Hard” on … a plane, just like “Executive Decision” and “Air Force One.”

John McClane stand-in: aviation security expert John Cutter (Wesley Snipes).

The villain: Charles Rane (Bruce Payne), a notorious airplane bomber being transported on the not-at-all-fake-sounding Atlantic International airline.

Most obvious similarities to “Die Hard”: a hero named John who hates flying; a cultured villain; an international band of accomplices; a bad guy who falls to his death from a great height.

Where things get weird: “You’d think they’d put an airline hijacker on a bus or a train,” declares the Atlantic International president (Bruce Greenwood). Yeah. You would.

The catchphrase: “Always bet on black.” — Cutter.

“Under Siege” (1992)

It’s “Die Hard” on … a battleship.

John McClane stand-in: Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal), the USS Missouri’s cook.

The villains: Commander Krill (Gary Busey); William Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones), a former CIA operative who poses as the tie-dye-and-sunglasses-wearing frontman for Bad Billy and the Bail Jumpers, a rock band that reveals just how starved for entertainment sailors can be after months at sea.

Most obvious similarities to “Die Hard”: Ryback strips down to a tank top; he clings to a rope while leaping off an exploding flight deck; there’s an international band of accomplices.

Where things get weird: Jones proves nearly as adept as Seagal in whatever you call that martial art that’s really just a lot of waving your hands around without really accomplishing much of anything.

The catchphrase: “Go get my pies outta the oven!” — Ryback.

“Cliffhanger” (1993)

It’s “Die Hard” on … a mountain.

John McClane stand-in: rescue climber Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone).

The villain: Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), who masterminded the theft of $100 million from the U.S. Treasury.

Most obvious similarities to “Die Hard”: instead of being barefoot, Walker is stripped of his coat in the snow at high altitude; a villain who knows what to do with bearer bonds; an international band of accomplices; Walker wears a tank top; a bad guy falls to his death from a great height; “Cliffhanger” director Renny Harlin also helmed 1990’s “Die Hard 2.”

Where things get weird: For no apparent reason, Lithgow speaks in an intermittent British accent, more than two decades before he’d win an Emmy as Winston Churchill in Netflix’s “The Crown.”

The catchphrase: “Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times!” — Walker. (Admittedly, it isn’t great.)

“White House Down” (2013)

It’s “Die Hard” in … the White House, just like “Olympus Has Fallen.”

John McClane stand-in: Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum).

The villain: Martin Walker (James Woods), the head of the president’s Secret Service detail.

Most obvious similarities to “Die Hard”: An off-duty cop named John who strips down to a white tank top; action in an elevator shaft; a hacker tries to get past the final firewall; a botched rescue attempt the hero warned would fail that leads to fiery casualties; the hero being fired upon by a “friendly” helicopter while on the roof.

Where things get weird: right around the time pacifist President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) fires a rocket out of his SUV during a high-speed chase on the White House lawn.

The catchphrase: “Get. Your. Hands. Off. My. Jordans.” — the sneaker-loving Sawyer.

“Skyscraper” (1996)

It’s “Die Hard” in … a high-rise, so basically “Die Hard.”

John McClane stand-in: helicopter pilot Carrie Wink (Anna Nicole Smith), whose absurdly long, manicured fingernails are shown, wrapped around the flight controls, in far too many closeups as if that will convince viewers she’s really, really flying that chopper.

The villain: Fairfax (Charles Huber), a mush-mouthed, Shakespeare-quoting terrorist who’s stolen some kind of gizmo.

Most obvious similarities to “Die Hard”: the movie feels like a “Die Hard” remake, made by people who’ve only heard of “Die Hard” third hand; a bad guy falls to his death from a great height; at one point Carrie wears a tank top, although “wears” is a strong word.

Where things gets weird: It’s a movie about a hostage crisis that’s foiled by Anna Nicole Smith — it gets weird long before the opening credits. The whole thing is about as coherent as Smith was at the time. Somewhere, there’s a CIA black site playing this on a loop.

The catchphrase: “Keep your shirt on. Keep your shirt on.” — Carrie’s dispatcher, Chauncey. (To the surprise of literally no one, Carrie does not comply.)

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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