The new Dwayne Johnson joint “Skyscraper” (which, as you might have gathered, is set in a skyscraper) borrows quite a lot from “The Towering Inferno,” with our protagonists trying to escape the flames of an inferno-ing tower.

But “Skyscraper,” which opens Thursday, also leans heavily on the “Die Hard” template — with a lone hero in a building, running, jumping and killing terrorists in an effort to save his family and/or the hostages.

There’s a reason that movies keep ripping off “Die Hard,” and that reason is this: “Die Hard,” which turns 30 this week, is one of the best action movies ever made.

In the '80s era of beefcake stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, “Die Hard” took a regular guy (Bruce Willis’ John McClane) and turned him into a wisecracking action hero for the ages. The script is perfect, boasting an escalation of action setpieces interrupted by short, steady bursts of humor. 

“Die Hard” is so often imitated, in part, because it has such an easily replicable formula. You just take the general premise but give it a different setting: a plane, a hockey game, the White House, wherever.

It’s “Die Hard” but on a ____________.

The thing about of “Die Hard” rip-offs is that many of them are quite good and a few of them are action classics in their own right. What follows is a list of “Die Hard” rip-offs, ranging from great to good to bad.

Note: To be a “Die Hard” rip-off, the movie had to (roughly) follow the outline of this model:

A lone hero (or small group of heroes) is in the wrong place at the right time. A group of terrorists (or thieves or wet bandits) have taken over a building/plane/ship/prison, and it’s up to one man (or some men) to save the day. Usually the lone McClane type is an unknown quantity to the villains, making him (sometimes her) a formidable opponent who benefits from the element of surprise. Often the hero is disgraced and must earn redemption by killing a lot of people.

There are a lot of fine films with similarities to the “Die Hard” formula that don’t *quite* fit the mold: “Speed,” “The Raid,” “Dredd,” “Executive Decision,” and so don't look for them on this list.

Anyways ... welcome to the party, pal.


“The Rock” (1996)

Pitch: “Die Hard” on Alcatraz.

John McClane stand-ins: Chemist Nic Cage and ex-con Sean Connery.

Tagline: “Alcatraz. Only one man has ever broken out. Now five million lives depend on two men breaking in.”

“Under Siege” (1992)

Pitch: “Die Hard” on a battleship.

John McClane stand-in: Ex-Navy Seal turned cook Steven Seagal.

Tagline: “In 1992, a battleship has been sabotaged by nuclear pirates out to steal its warheads. Now, surrounded by terrorists, a lone man stands with a deadly plan of attack.”

“Home Alone” (1990)

Pitch: “Die Hard” but with a kid who enjoys hurting people. 

John McClane stand-in: An ingenious sadist played by Macaulay Culkin.

Tagline: “When the McCallisters went on holiday, they forgot one minor detail ... Kevin.”

"Con Air" (1997)

Pitch: "Die Hard" but on a plane full of extremely dangerous convicts.

John McClane stand-in: Former U.S. Ranger Nic Cage, who just wants to make it home to his family so that he can give his daughter a stuffed toy rabbit, in the hopes of being able to make up for missing all of her childhood thus far. 

Tagline: "One wrong flight can ruin your whole day."


“Air Force One” (1997)

Pitch: “Die Hard” on a plane, but not just any plane!

John McClane stand-in: President Harrison Ford.

Tagline: “Harrison Ford is the President of the United States.”

“Cliffhanger” (1993)

Pitch: “Die Hard” on a mountain.

John McClane stand-in: Disgraced mountain climber Sylvester Stallone.

Tagline: “Hang On!”

“Sudden Death” (1995)

Pitch: “Die Hard” at the NHL Stanley Cup finals.

John McClane stand-in: Ex-firefighter Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Tagline: “Terror goes into overtime.”

“White House Down” (2013)

Pitch: “Die Hard” in the White House.

John McClane stand-in: Police officer Channing Tatum.

Tagline: “It will start like any other day.”

“Olympus Has Fallen” (2013)

Pitch: “Die Hard” in the White House.

John McClane stand-in: Disgraced Secret Service agent Gerard Butler.

Tagline: “When our flag falls, our nation will rise.”


“Passenger 57” (1992)

Pitch: “Die Hard” on a plane.

John McClane stand-in: Airline security expert Wesley Snipes.

Tagline: “He's an ex-cop with a bad mouth, a bad attitude and a bad seat. For the terrorists on flight 163 ... he's very bad news.”

“Toy Soldiers” (1991)

Pitch: “Die Hard” but at a boarding school for rebellious boys.

John McClane stand-ins: Prankster students Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton.

Tagline: “Misfits. Underachievers. Rebels. The boys of The Regis School have been kicked out of the best prep schools in America. Terrorists just took over the campus. Now years of bad behavior are about to pay off.”

“Snakes on a Plane” (2006)

Pitch: “Die Hard” but on a plane full of deadly, venomous snakes.

John McClane stand-in: FBI agent Samuel L. Jackson.

Tagline: “At 30,000 feet, snakes aren't the deadliest thing on this plane.”

“Skyscraper” (1996)

Pitch: “Die Hard” but with Anna Nicole Smith. Not to be confused with the 2018 movie starring The Rock, this “Skyscraper” was a direct-to-VHS action thriller that ripped off “Die Hard” more brazenly than any movie before or since.

John McClane stand-in: Helicopter pilot Anna Nicole Smith.

Tagline: “Eighty-Six Floors Of Action-Packed Terror!”

Reporter - Movies, TV and books

Micah Mertes writes about movies and books for The World-Herald. His favorite movie is "Aliens," and his favorite book is also "Aliens." Follow him on Twitter @micahmertes. Phone: 402-444-3182.

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