The original Die Hard (1988), generally and rightly regarded as one of the action movie classics of the 1980s, was in its scale, ingenuity and intensity something of a revelation at a time when the genre was characterized by such absurdities as that summer's Rambo III.
Like all such classics, it had its imitators in a whole subgenre of action movies featuring heroes trapped in a building or vehicle under an enemy's isolating control and forced to fight back alone (typically with hostages and a ticking clock in the background). Some were significant successes, like Under Siege (1992) ("Die Hard on a battleship"), Speed (1994) ("Die Hard on a bus"), and Air Force One (1997) ("Die Hard on a plane") - while there was also a plethora of less successful films like Masterminds (1997) ("Die Hard in a school"), which starred a pre-Angel, pre-Mad Men Vincent Kartheiser and Patrick Stewart, and is perhaps best remembered for showing Stewart landing in a pool of sewage.1
And of course, there were more Die Hards. The second film (1990) scaled up the concept by putting McClane in an airport attacked by an even larger and more sophisticated enemy force. The third (1995) abandoned the use of isolated sites in favor of a more mobile battle across New York, the principal link to the original the character, the incorporation of the words "Die Hard" into the title, and the evocation of the first film by having its villain's brother be the bad guy. The fourth movie (2007), twelve years after the third, nineteen years after the first, had just the protagonist and the title, and so far it looks like the fifth film - A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), opening this Valentine's Day - will be the same in this respect.
Evocations of '80s action movies are a gamble, often a bad gamble as the ticket sales of Last Stand and Bullet to the Head proved earlier this year, reminding everyone that The Expendables sold on novelty and nostalgia, rather than the strength of some great appetite for films in yesteryear's style. And the February release date hardly seems like a vote of confidence. Still, a film bearing the Die Hard brand, which still produced a decent-sized hit in the summer of 2007 (albeit, with the help of a more commercially-friendly PG-13 rating), and fans might hope that this likely last film in the series will be a fitting cap rather than another dismaying exercise in the Suits' insistence on running every one of their properties into the ground rather than letting go.
1. Of course, neither of those did particularly well. I thought Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) a satisfatory follow-up to the original. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), however, scaled up the story massively while playing its improbable concept for laughs too often for the taste of fans of the original. I suppose it is rather like Moonraker that way - except that I still find a lot to like about Moonraker.
The Return(?) of the '80s Action Movie
My Posts on James Bond
On the Graying of the Action Hero
Mad Men: My Two Cents