John McTiernan’s film Die Hard (1988) was, without a doubt, one of the most influential productions of its day. In the years after Bruce Willis — as John McClane — defeated Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in a terrorist-infested skyscraper, the action genre changed shape to imitate the film’s crowd-pleasing formula.
What was that formula?
In short, all Die Hard knock-offs featured the same elements.
These include an isolated location, one cut off from law enforcement assistance.
Similarly, these films feature a scrappy hero left to his her own devices in that location, working alone and with only the resources on hand.
And finally, these films always include a gang of villains taking over that location with lots of semi-automatic weapons. The mission of these villains usually involves a heist of some type.
Movie-makers soon gave audiences Die Hard on a battleship (Under Siege ). Die Hard on a jumbo jet (Passenger 57 ), Die Hard on a Train (Under Siege 2: Dark Territory ), Die Hard on a Bus (Speed [1994) and even Die Hard in a sports stadium (Sudden Death ).
At home, cult-television creators promptly took notice of the Die Hard formula’s popularity. Episode-after-episode of genre TV series now rushed to feature a Die Hard episode, bringing the hit film’s formula to the small screen.
Here are five memorable examples of Die Hard on the Tube, though there are others, to be certain.
Die Hard on a Starship: Star Trek: The Next Generation -“Starship Mine” (March 29, 1993)
In its sixth season, The Next Generation (1987-1994) aired an action-packed episode which transformed the humorless, staid Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) into a swashbuckling, McClane-like action hero.
In “Starship Mine,” the U.S.S. Enterprise is docked at a facility called the Remmler Array to undergo a process known as a baryon sweep. This procedure requires the entire 1000+ crew to disembark.
While the ship is empty (and thus an isolated location, in keeping with the Die Hard template), a group of terrorists come on board to drain the warp engines of the rare substance known as Trilithium Resin. The heist is thwarted, however, when Picard returns to the Enterprise for his saddle (!) and runs afoul of the criminal operation. Now Picard, just like Bruce Willis, is the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, and so on.
Die Hard at a Newspaper Building: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – “Fly Hard” (March 27, 1994)
A terrorist with a dirty bomb, named Fuentes (Robert Beltran) attacks and seizes the Daily Planet Building on a sleepy Saturday.
Clark Kent (Dean Cain) is there working on his taxes, and Lois (Terri Hatcher) and Lex Luthor (John Shea) — now dating — show up too, and are captured by Fuentes. So, we have the hostages of Die Hard, and the terrorist dynamic too. And what does Fuentes, our Latino Hans Gruber want?
Well, a gangster named Dragonetti from the Prohibition Era is reputed to have left a treasure in the building.
Die Hard in a High School: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “School Hard” (September 29, 1997)
It’s funny to consider that the episode of Joss Whedon’s Buffy that introduced two of the most popular characters — Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) — was actually a Die Hard knock-off. Even the segment’s title telegraphs that fact.
Here, the two vamps arrive in town and team up with the Anointed One (Andrew J. Ferchland) to kill the Slayer, in revenge for her murder of The Master. They choose as their venue of attack Parent-Teacher Night at Sunnydale High School.
Now Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) must not only defeat the villains, but prevent the attending parents — including her Mom (Kristine Sutherland) — from her learning her identity as the Slayer.
Die Hard in a Doctor’s Office: Nightman – “I Left My Heart” (October 13, 1997)
Glen Larson’s (deservedly) forgotten superhero TV series, Nightman (1997 -1997) aired in syndication, and featured a Die Hard knock-off right out the gate.
The third episode aired sees series protagonist Johnny Domino (Matt McColm), a jazz musician in L.A., performing at the gala celebration of a new high-rise plastic surgery center.
Unfortunately, the event is disrupted by heavily-armed Colombian criminals. One needs plastic-surgery to alter his identity, and another needs immediate heart surgery if he hopes to survive. It’s up to Nightman to save the day.
Die Hard in the CIA: Alias – “The Box.” (January 20, February 10, 2002).
In this first season two-parter, Quentin Tarantino adopts the Hans Gruber role in the by-now familiar Die Hard scenario. This time, the character’s name is McKenas Cole, and he has endured torture after a failed overseas mission and a lengthy imprisonment. He blames SD-6 director Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) for his troubles.
Beginning in the parking garage of SD-6 headquarters — from a van labeled with the legend “McTiernan,” after Die Hard’s director — McKenas and his machine-gun-armed terrorists begin a violent take-over of the high-tech offices.
SD-6’s staff is held hostage, and McKenas seeks — again in old-school Gruber-style — something important from SD-6’s impenetrable vault. In Die Hard, of course, opening up the Nakatomi Building’s computerized vault was a lengthy, elaborate process, and “The Box” adopts that aspect of the story to help ramp up the tension.
Our John McClane in this particular TV variation on Die Hard is Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) who returns to SD-6 HQ determined to quit, only to find an emergency already-in-progress. Bristow promptly takes to the vent shafts and begins eliminating Cole’s operatives one at a time.
Just as McClane had some crucial help from outside, provided by Officer Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson), so is Sydney assisted in her efforts here by her CIA handler, Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan)…
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