Live Free or Die Hard (2007) -vs- Die Hard (1988)

Mark Sanchez, Featured WriterThe Smackdown

Sometimes you just need to see a well-deserved butt kicking. On that basis, the Die Hard series generally satisfies because all of the movies are intended to simply deliver what they excel at  — a chance for really bad guys to get theirs. All three earlier editions made you reach for the popcorn: lively action, attractive cast, hero who can wisecrack in the face of death, and the requisite good smacks down evil by the end. “Die Hard” introduced this simple franchise formula in 1988 (along with that memorable one-liner) and made Bruce Willis a bankable action hero forever after. The film earned back its $28 million production costs more than six times over. The sequels did well financially. Now comes a fourth version, “Live Free or Die Hard.” So you wonder: Do Willis and company  still have what it takes to save the world and the franchise? Was it better when it was wholly original, or do the filmmakers better understand what the audience wants and how to give it to them?

The Challenger

“Live Free or Die Hard” begins as computer screens blink off along the eastern seaboard: Hackmasters take control of federal agencies, Amtrak, Wall Street, even traffic lights! The bad guys cover their tracks by killing off associates  involved in a cyber “fire sale” where everything must go. We reconnect with Detective John McClane (Willis), still with the NYPD, divorced now and estranged from his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). He’s called to bring in hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) for questioning. They’re targeted for deletion, but escape. The stakes — to say nothing of the body count and wrecked vehicles — shoot through the roof when the crooks grab Lucy. McClane’s job now becomes Save the Daughter, Save the World. Look out.

The Defending Champion

“Die Hard” begins easily enough: NYPD Officer John McClane flies to Los Angeles to spend the Christmas holidays with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and family. He arrives for her Christmas office party as bad guys show up with more in mind than party crashing. They want to steal $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds from the security vault and one of their hostages is McClane’s wife. The body count builds and John’s task comes down to Save Holly and Save the Day. The script by Jeb Stuart and Steven de Souza delivers high-altitude heroics, smash-ups and humor. Entertainment Weekly magazine generously calls this the Greatest Action Film ever.

The Scorecard

Big action is the currency and both films pay off big.  “Die  Hard” dangles Bruce Willis over the side of a building and offers gang leader Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) who is both charming and lethal. German audiences apparently were not charmed: The European version of “Die Hard” gave Anglicized names to Rickman and his crew. Screenwriter Mark Bomback’s characters face no such identity crisis in “Live Free or Die Hard” — the villains are standard issue — and he delivers much more action. Director Len Wiseman stages several spectacular sequences, one in particular involves a helicopter chasing a car. The producers briefly considered Paris Hilton for the tough-talking Lucy McClane role; Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears reportedly auditioned for the part. They found the right actress in Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
And the winner is…

The Decision

“Live Free or Die Hard” will not change your life but  it demonstrates the franchise is healthier than ever. Neither is a perfect film, not by a long shot. This is well-written popcorn entertainment. Bruce Willis wears well and will effectively carry these films as long as he wants. It’s a loss not having Bonnie Bedelia and Alan Rickman in “Live Free or Die Hard” but Justin Long performs especially well. Both films do what they intend, but the newcomer gives more action and, surprisingly, hasn’t gone stale. “Live  Free or Die  Hard” will outperform the movie that spawned it, and why not:  It’s an even better movie.


About Mark Sanchez

Oregon based media and communications consultant Mark Sanchez is on the fifth or sixth step of his recovery program from his career as a television news reporter. And that’s the way it is. Mark has been an Oregonian since the Reagan administration and shows no signs of leaving. He lives in Portland — a city that is famous for its transit system, its rain, its independent film community and, lately, for the TV series Portlandia, which Mark notes is about half-true, but to protect confidential sources he won’t say which half.
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5 Responses to Live Free or Die Hard (2007) -vs- Die Hard (1988)


  1. his is a summer movie, after all, and a Die Hard sequel, to boot. So we get a computer breach of our nation’s internal security system that prompts high-ranking government officials to round up a who’s who of hackers to solve the crime.

  2. Bryce Zabel says:

    We just got back and I’m exhausted! The film really never does let up. When Bruce was able to defend against a jet fighter with a semi-truck, you know that it’s not about reality, it’s about the ride. Great as the action was, I was most charmed by the performance of Justin Long as the hacker Matt Farrell. This is the film where he becomes a major star. Their relationship together really made the film. I guess I still have a soft spot for the first, and the scale and character stakes feel more authentic, but it’s hard to quibble: “Live Free or Die Hard” is still a phenomenally well-crafted piece of 4th of July entertainment!


  3. I agree that “Live Free” stands side by side with the original “Die Hard”. Didn’t realize how much I missed the wise-cracking Bruce Willis. Extremely entertaining, the audience was actually applauding as the bad guys piled up. The question for me is, when the world needs saving, who you gonna call; John McClain, Jack Bauer or Ethan Hunt?

  4. Mark Sanchez says:

    I watched both films today..and I’m glad “Die Hard” doesn’t seem dated. It holds up well to comparison. Really, both have elements special to each but the new one ratchets up the action several clicks. Some of the activity is just eye-popping. That’s the only reason audiences may like “Live Free or Die Hard” better. The franchise is very strong and this will be a major ticket seller. Great popcorn entertainment!

  5. Bryce Zabel says:

    I’ll have to scoot out soon for “Live Free,” but it’ll take some doing to best “Die Hard.” I remember how exhilirating it was to see the franchise born in ’88 and what a revelation Bruce Willis was as an action star. The whole thing back then was a high-wire act that worked. If this latest one is better, I can’t wait!

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