Final Score is a slick and fun new British actioner starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan. With its
tense terrorist plot and man-against-the-odds storyline, it harks back to hard-hitting action classics
like Die Hard and its progeny in the early 1990s. And to celebrate this highly entertaining addition to the action milieu, we look back at the key original and some of the quality thrillers that followed.
DIE HARD (1988)
Based closely on Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Frank Sinatra was originally contractually offered the lead as New York cop John McClane with the film intended as a sequel to Thorp’s book and hit film of the same name The Detective (1968). Any references to the Sinatra starring The Detective were ultimately written out. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also in the running but wanted a change from the action genre and starred in the comedy Twins (1988) instead. Conversely, Bruce Willis was best known for his comedic role in the TV series Moonlighting, but the
casting proved perfect as he nailed the laconic “everyman” forced to deal with an ever-escalating incident. Alan Rickman, of course, basically stole the film as the charmingly evil German mastermind Hans Gruber. Die Hard was a smash hit and instant classic from talented director John McTiernan (Predator). The brilliantly crafted “one-man-against-the-odds-in-a-short-time-period” structure and pitch-perfect delivery proved to be ripe for re-making…
DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER (1990)
The wrong guy once again finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) stepped up to direct and the film is an effective action ride with a charismatic performance from Willis and memorable set pieces and dialogue. Die Hard 2 was also a smash hit, establishing that lightning can strike twice. Although released as ‘Die Hard 2’ with the “Die Harder” used only as a tagline on posters, the film was often called Die Harder but only officially released with “Die Harder” as part of the title on packaging on later DVD releases from 2000s. Like it’s predecessor it works as a Christmas movie too.
UNDER SIEGE (1992)
The first big Die Hard inspired movie is arguably still one of the best. Andrew Davis directs this “DieHard-on-a-boat” with ex-Navy SEAL Steven Seagal arriving as a mainstream action star. Streamlined and pacy, the tight script includes quality scene-chewing roles for Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey and all the requisite action and suspense. Under Siege also has a relatively believable and sophisticated terrorist threat and enough memorable scenes and lines to stick in the memory; “I’m just a cook.” Nominated for two technical Academy Awards, Under Siege also encouraged Harrison Ford to bring on Andrew Davis to direct 1993’s classic thriller The Fugitive. It’s still Seagal’s biggest hit and probably his best role too.
PASSENGER 57 (1992)
Wesley Snipes takes the lead in a predictable but fun actioner which was one of his breakthrough hits. Originally written as a Clint Eastwood vehicle with Iranian terrorists, it was re-written and given to Snipes; “Always bet on black” being his oft-quoted line which originated here. Also starring Tom Sizemore and (briefly) Elizabeth Hurley, the main baddie is played by charismatic British actor Bruce Payne who gives a memorable performance as a well-spoken but highly sadistic antagonist. As People magazine correctly said at the time; “Bruce Payne steals the plane—and the movie”. The film was another success in the burgeoning Die-Hard-style movie genre, but better variations on the theme were still to come…
Hang on! Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin returned with the entertaining “Die-Hard-on-a-mountain” hit Cliffhanger in 1993. The Sylvester Stallone hit was based on a concept by climber John Long, and follows a mountain climber (played by Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay), who becomes embroiled in a failed heist of a U.S. Treasury plane in the Rocky Mountains. The film also stars the charismatic pairing of John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) and Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) in suitably juicy bad guy roles. Cliffhanger is lots of fun and was rightly a pop culture and box office hit earning over £200 million worldwide. The film also re-ignited Stallone’s career, box-office and action credentials.
Inspired somewhat by Jon Voight starrer Runaway Train (1985) Speed was Die Hard cinematographer Jan Le Bont’s directorial debut. The Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock led-actioner incorporates several Die Hard elements with John McTiernan turning down directing duties (and suggesting Le Bont) as he felt it was too similar. The tense “can’t fall below 50mph” plotline leading to plenty of tension, but the film studio only agreed to fund it if additional scenes were written that took the viewer off the bus. Thus, the opening is a tense scene in a lift (inspired by a real-life incident that happened to Le Bont on the set of Die Hard) and the ending is a high energy scene on a subway train. Speed is a fun ride that proved a huge hit with Dennis Hopper’s “Pop quiz, hot shot…” line
being one of many elements to impact on pop culture. Le Bont went on to have another hit with Twister in 1996, but Speed is still arguably his best-loved movie.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995)
McTiernan returned – with Bruce Willis in tow – to make 1995’s mega hit Die Hard With a Vengeance.Originally a one-off thriller called Simon Says, the script was rewritten as the third in the series after a script called Dreadnaught was turned down by Willis for being too similar to the original. That script was re-purposed into the mega-flop Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997). Quality support came from Samuel L. Jackson as sidekick and Jeremy Irons as the brilliantly cold and calculated villain Simon Gruber. Although geographically spread out, the film retains the tension and claustrophobia elements of the original with clever narrative drive and McTiernan’s usual balance of beautifully shot action and humour. The entertaining city-spanning thriller was the second largest box-office hit of 1995.
SUDDEN DEATH (1995)
Sudden Death is one of the more obviously Die Hard inspired movies with many elements (including the poster) similar to the much loved 1988 original. Jean Claude Van Damme stars for director Peter Hyams following their hit collaboration Time Cop from the previous year. Powers Boothe takes on the evil mastermind role and the terrorist plot unfurls as we might expect, but with some fun JCVD style fights and action to keep us entertained. The film was not a big hit in the US but did well internationally including in the UK and did very well on home video. Sudden Impact was a fun diversion at the time and it’s still worth a watch now, particularly for JCVD fans.
EXECUTIVE DECISION (1996)
A lesser known title – Executive Decision is also one of the most entertaining and thrilling films on our
list. Starring the always watchable Kurt Russell as a US Army Specialist, we follow him as he boards
and takes on terrorists on a passenger jet travelling from Greece to the US. Steven Seagal plays a colleague of Russell who famously departs the film very early. Executive Decision has less in common plot-wise to Die Hard but it successfully recreates the thrilling tone of the original. Directed by established British movie editor Stuart Baird (who edited Die Hard 2 and Lethal Weapon), the film was produced by Joel Silver who also produced the first two Die Hard movies. Suspenseful and twisty, Executive Decision is a 90’s action gem.
FINAL SCORE (2018)
It’s been a long while since we had one, but Final Score is here and it has proven that this style of
movie is still highly entertaining. Final Score stars Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as an exsoldier who gets caught up in a hostage incident at West Ham’s old Upton Park Stadium. Also starring former Bond Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye) and the excellent Ray Stevenson (Thor) as a menacing antagonist, the film has great performances, exciting fights and tense action. British director Scott Mann (Heist) is a proven talent at shooting fights and explosive action and he manages the spectacle here without losing anything in the well-crafted character beats and not over-written narrative. Without feeling like a retro throwback it’s refreshing to watch a contemporary film with relatable characters and practical effects (including blowing up part of the stadium!) rather than a
bombardment of super-powers, un-resolved plotlines and CG. Final Score is a brilliant large-scale action thriller and proof that there is life in the stripped down ‘90s-style action model when made with care. Back of the net!