by J.M. McNab
In the early to mid-nineties, it seemed as though almost every action movie imitated Die Hard to some extent. Several movies straight-up lifted the Die Hard premise (one person in one location against a slew of bad guys) adapting it to a variety of locations: a boat in Under Siege, a hockey arena in Sudden Death, a plane in Air Force One— but while those movies are still relatively well-known, there are many Die Hard rip-offs that simply faded into obscurity.
In conjunction with our recent podcast about Die Hard With a Vengeance, we present 6 Die Hard Rip-Offs That Time Forgot. So if you’ve worn out your VHS copy of the original Die Hard and you’re looking for a new, probably terrible, alternative this holiday season, check out one of these six films.
6. Masterminds (1997)
If the producers of this 1997 film had any sense, they would immediately re-release it on DVD with the new title CAPTAIN PICARD VS. PETE CAMPBELL. That’s right, Patrick Stewart is a mustachioed villain and a teenaged Vincent Kartheiser is our Bruce Willis surrogate (not to be confused with the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates) when a wealthy school is seized by criminals. Also the school’s principal is the homeless pigeon lady from Home Alone 2… so that’s pretty cool.
The movie was directed by Roger Christian, who won an Oscar for his Art Direction for Star Wars, and was nominated for his work on Alien. While this, his eighth directorial effort, was a box office flop, the stars aligned for his next project: big-budget, A-list movie star, based on a best-selling novel. What could possibly go wrong?
5. Skyscraper (1996)
If you love Die Hard but think it would have been better if John McClane was a buxom blonde, than this movie is for you… weirdo. Skyscraper stars Anna Nicole Smith as a helicopter pilot who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in a subtle twist on the original Die Hard, this one is about terrorists who seize control of… a building! Not that different you say? Did I mention it’s a really tall building? Maybe if we compare the two posters.
One has “Forty stories of sheer adventure” the other has “eight-six floors of action-paked terror”… Different.
4. Assault on Dome 4 (1997)
Employing the same creative tactic used by franchises like Leprechaun and Friday the 13th, Assault on Dome 4 takes an existing story (Die Hard) and rejuvenates it using the magic of making the same events happen in space. Bruce Campbell steps into the Rickman role for this Sci-Fi Channel movie, but instead of a building, he takes a scientific colony, the titular Dome 4, hostage. What he doesn’t know is that one of his hostages is the wife of interstellar lawman Chase Moran. Why stop there? Is there an intergalactic cokehead who keeps hitting on Chase’s wife, do they keep playing Space-Ode to Joy?
Oddly, because Bruce Campbell is the biggest star in this movie, the poster features him firing a machine gun looking cool. Ideologically, this seems to suggest that the film’s villain is actually its hero– would Die Hard be as successful if it featured Alan Rickman on the poster, implying that we were supposed to be rooting for Hans and his friends?
3. Blast (1997)
“What if all the hostages in Die Hard were women in swimsuits?” Is a thought no one should ever have had– but for some reason someone did, and that inane notion evolved into the screenplay that would become the movie Blast. Despite it’s bland title, Blast actually has a pretty wacky premise: terrorists have taken the women’s swim team hostage at the Olympic games, and the only one who can stop them is the building’s janitor, a former Tae Kwon Do champion turned alcoholic soiled towel-cleaner-upper. So maybe the next time Justin Bieber decides to pee in a janitor’s bucket he stop and make sure that he’s not disrespecting a former Olympic athlete in desperate need of redemption.
Like most of the entries on this list, the cast of this movie is pretty great: the McClane-ish hero is played by Linden Ashby, who sounds like he’d be a Jane Austen character, but is actually the guy who played Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat. Stepping into the villain role is Andrew Divoff, who played eye-patch guy on LOST. Also, Rutger Hauer appears as a Rutger Hauer-ish type character.
2. Demolition High (1996)
Similar to Masterminds, Demolition High is about terrorists seizing a school. Not similar to Masterminds, instead of a former member of the Royal Shakespeare company and a future cast member of one of the greatest television shows of all time, this straight-to-video action movie stars Corey Haim, Alan Thicke, and Dick Van Patten– thus breaking the unwritten rule of Hollywood: that Dick Van Patten and Alan Thicke should never, ever star in an action movie.
Strangely the movie spawned a sequel the following year. Demolition University featured Haim again, plus Robert Forster and SNL’s Larraine Newman. Even stranger still, for some reason, Demolition High was referenced in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. But don’t look for any Assault on Dome 4 references in There Will Be Blood, I’ve already checked.
1. No Contest (1995)
With the blank in the phrase “Die Hard in a [blank]” being filled by every conceivable location or mode of transportation imaginable by desperate movie studios, logistically, like an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters, it was inevitable that an executive somewhere would come up with “Beauty Pageant” to fill that blank. Satiating America’s appetite for both gratuitous violence and the mindless objectification of women, No Contest may be the most bizarre riff on the Die Hard template. At the very least, it’s the most bizarrely cast.
Starring in the McClane role, who in No Contest is a beauty pageant host/kickboxer, is Shannon Tweed. Fulfilling the movie’s Gruber-quota, the hostage-taking villain of the film is played by master thespian Andrew Dice Clay. So basically, bearing the dramatic weight of this film is a former Playboy model and a washed-up comedian. To lend some Die Hard-cred to the film is Robert Davi, who played Agent Johnson (one of them) in the actual Die Hard. You know, the one not set at a beauty pageant. In fact, the movie’s poster makes it seem as though he’s the star, even though he plays the cop on the outside, along with Andrew Dice Clay– this is like putting Hans and Al together on the poster for Die Hard.
Surprisingly, like Demolition High, a sequel to this movie was made in quick succession. No Contest II stars Shannon Tweed and Lance Henriksen… which mainly just makes me feel bad for Lance Henriksen.