According to a recent Hollywood Reporter news item, "As the summer movie schedule kicks off Friday with 'Spider-Man 3,' the sleeper hit of the season could be the latest Bruce Willis 'Die Hard' movie [Live Free or Die Hard] if buzz in the blogosphere is any measure of success."
Well, it's not (see: opening weekend of Snakes on a Plane, August 2006), but it never hurts to dream!
Still, it has been 12 years since the last Die Hard film, and there are lots of thirtysomethings like myself who were teenagers when the first three Die Hards came out and who now have these public diaries known as blogs. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia, but thirtysomething males aren't in the demographic that drives ticket sales; if Live Free or Die Hard (biggest opening weekend ever in New Hampshire!) is going to succeed this summer, the marketing had better be targeted at teenage boys. Since News Corporation, the parent company of 20th Century Fox, which is distributing Die Hard #4, owns MySpace, that shouldn't be too difficult.
"Pam Levine, co-president of domestic theatrical marketing at Fox, said the film is unlike many of the other big summer movies, which feature fantastical elements, a fact that might have struck a chord with the blogosphere. 'It confirms that there's a real hunger in the marketplace for a straightforward action movie without the gimmicks and CGI,' Levine said."
Puh-leeeez, Pam Levine! Anyone who's seen the two trailers for Live Free or Die Hard is familiar with the shot of Bruce Willis and Justin Long ducking to avoid being hit by a car flying toward the camera. (When was that CGI effect first used? 2003's Bad Boys II? That's the first time I remember seeing it. Since then it seems to have replaced the early aughts' "180-degree rotating-camera Matrix trick shot" as the wow effect favored most by action directors.) It should also be noted that any movie in which a 50-year-old cop single-handedly saves America from terrorists does in fact contain "fantastical elements."
The original Die Hard (1988) is still a great action movie, and its basic premise inspired tons of other action movies in the early and mid-'90s: 1992's Under Siege was "Die Hard on a navy destroyer," and the same year's Passenger 57 was "Die Hard on a plane"; 1994's Speed was "Die Hard on a bus," and 1997's Speed 2: Cruise Control was "Die Hard (no, not Speed) on a cruise ship" (back in '92 or so, Die Hard 3's original script was rumored to have the same ocean-liner setting); and 1996's Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Sudden Death was "Die Hard in a hockey arena."
The Ben Stiller Show did a memorable parody in '92 called "Die Hard 12," in which Willis's John McClane character was battling terrorists in a grocery store on Christmas Eve. Len Wiseman, the director of Live Free or Die Hard, said last August in USA Today that "it got to the point where, 10 years later, Bruce was talking to some writers and it came back to him full circle. They said, 'What we've got is Die Hard in a building. A really tall building.' He said, Umm ... OK."
Die Hard 2 ("Die Hard in an airport") still has its moments, like the bird's-eye view of McClane escaping from an exploding plane in an ejector seat, but the absence of a great villain like the first film's Hans Gruber, memorably played by Alan Rickman, hurt it in many ways. (Die Hard 2 did, however, have the best box-office take of the series in the U.S., grossing $117 million.) I didn't like 1995's Die Hard: With a Vengeance that much, but it was a good move by the filmmakers to not limit the action to one general location—and the night of Christmas Eve—like in the first two films. It was also a good move to hire Jeremy Irons to play the villain, Simon Gruber, Hans's older brother, but Irons's performance never really took off like Rickman's did. Nice biceps, though, Mr. Irons.
(Tangent time: I disliked the title of Die Hard: With a Vengeance much more than I disliked the movie. Any title that includes the words "With a Vengeance" reeks of straight-to-video Brian Bosworth or Lorenzo Lamas franchises. And for the record, 1990's Die Hard 2 was only subtitled "Die Harder" in the TV and print ads, not in the opening credits of the movie. You could argue that Die Hard itself is a stupid title to begin with, but I've always liked it. I sure don't like Live Free or Die Hard as a title, though. It isn't fair that America gets stuck with this silly, knee-jerk patriotic title while the rest of the world gets the more run-of-the-mill but superior title of Die Hard 4.0, as seen on the poster above. Whine whine whine ... alright, tangent over.)
Die Hard: With a Vengeance squeaked past the $100 million mark at the North American box office—$100,012,500, to be exact—but it made $254 million elsewhere in the world. That's mighty impressive. And since I'm already looking up box-office numbers, here's what the original Die Hard made in '88: $81 million domestic, $56 million abroad. (Die Hard 2 made $120 million abroad.)
Part of me thinks Live Free or Die Hard won't make $100 million in this country, but I also don't think it'll crash and burn like Snakes on a Plane ("Die Hard on a plane ... with snakes instead of terrorists") did last year thanks to pre-release Internet fans not showing up on opening weekend. Live Free has a built-in audience thanks to its prequels, and who knows how many kids who were in diapers when the last one came out a dozen years ago have since discovered the series on DVD. We'll see at the end of June when Live Free or Die Hard makes its way into theaters.