At its release, Die Hard set the standard for action movies that followed it. The premise of an everyman beating the odds from fierce antagonists that outnumber him had changed the landscape of what makes a great action film and had also inspired a lot of imitators throughout the years.
Little did everyone know that the Die Hard formula had existed before even the Bruce Willis action vehicle popularized the concept.
10 Emergency Squad (1974)
Emergency Squad is an Italian crime film about a cop (Tomas Milian) who wants to take revenge of a master criminal who killed his wife. At the same time, that criminal, dubbed “The Marseilles” (Gastone Moschin), is preparing his next crime spree to fund his retirement.
The 1974 actioner is actually a poliziottesco film, a subgenre of Italian-produced crime thriller that emerged during the 1960s to 1970s. This particular film pits a grizzled cop against a group of bandits and their charismatic leader. It is essentially Die Hard, Italian style.
9 The Day of the Wolves (1971)
A small cult classic, The Day of the Wolves stars Richard Egan as the chief of police of a small town that becomes a target for a group of thieves, who call themselves “wolves.” The wolves soon take over the town and rob its banks, prompting skeptical Chief Pete Anderson to spring into action.
While the film is known for being an underground classic, thanks to its rock score by Sean Bonniwell, it is also known, at its time, for being subversive by allowing the antagonists to escape freely.
8 Nighthawks (1981)
While Die Hard is meant to subvert the fads of action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, the latter had an early influence of an ordinary man being pitted against overwhelming forces. Nighthawks sees Stallone as NYPD detective Deke DaSilva, where his street-smart skills are put to the test against a menacing terrorist.
On Stallone’s post-Rocky action career, Nighthawks stands out for allowing Stallone to bring the grit of a man with a badge. Plus, Rutger Hauer’s villain “Wulfgar” Reinhardt is truly joyous to watch with his legitimate threats.
7 The Enforcer (1976)
The third film in the Dirty Harry series, The Enforcer sees Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan having to outwit a terrorist group composed of Vietnam veterans, led by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalter). However, he is teamed up with Inspector Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), whose partnership tests his perception and skills.
While not the most well-known Harry Callahan feature, this film has its notable highlights, like Inspector Moore’s presence, its colorful villains and its over-the-top violence. It would not be surprising that this Dirty Harry inspired Die Hard with A Vengeance.
6 Coogan’s Bluff (1968)
Continuing the Eastwood streak comes Coogan’s Bluff. An extension of his signature Old West persona, this film centers on Eastwood as an Arizonian sheriff who goes to New York City to extradite escaped killer Jimmy Ringerman (Don Stroud).
This is the first of the five collaborations that Eastwood had with director Don Siegel. And it perfectly sets up a brand new persona that Eastwood would possess to pave way for the Dirty Harry series. And that transition has been subtly remarked with Walt Coogan moving from Arizona to New York.
5 Key Largo (1948)
Based on the 1939 Maxwell Anderson play, Key Largo pairs Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall for the fourth and final time for a noir crime drama. Bogart plays army veteran Frank McCloud who stays at a hotel in Florida, dominated by gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Once his threats started to manifest, McCloud confronts Rocco during a storm.
Key Largo is one of the earliest instances of the Die Hard formula. In here, McCloud has to re-utilize his seamanship skills to take down Rocco’s gang in a hotel.
4 48 Hrs. (1982)
48 Hrs. sees Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy (in his film debut) as a cop and a convict, respectively trying to catch two cop murderers within forty-eight hours. While not technically the first buddy cop film, this paved the way for the fad (and the action comedy trend) that flourished in the ’80s, with the likes of Lethal Weapon, City Heat and Beverly Hills Cop.
The strength of 48 Hrs. is how Murphy and Nolte play off toward each other. And their chemistry made the gritty police action pay off.
3 Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
One of the genre-benders that John Carpenter directed, Assault on Precinct 13 focuses on an average police officer (Austin Stoker) who defends his precinct against a criminal gang, with the assistance of a convicted murderer (Darwin Joston).
While not successful on its release, this action film garnered a critical reevaluation, with much praise attributed to how Carpenter crosses invasion-like threats of his zombie movies with the high stakes situations of action films like Rio Bravo. As a result, the action piece felt authentic and brutal, something Die Hard took inspiration.
2 Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Back on Eastwood territory, Escape from Alcatraz sees the action superstar as convict Frank Morris who famously busted from the maximum security prison in Alcatraz Island on 1962. Since this is based on a non-fiction book from a real-life story, the film is depicted as a thriller about a highly intelligent everyman convict pitted against the prison guards and inmate opponents.
Director Don Siegel amped up the tension and the thrills with subtle yet spurious details. And Eastwood, no surprise, worked well in succeeding his prison escape plot with finesse.
1 Bullitt (1968)
Bullitt is deemed one of the coolest action films ever made, starring the “King of Cool” himself, Steve McQueen. McQueen is SFPD detective Frank Bullitt, who dives into the underbelly of the Bay Area crime world with both the force and the kingpin being pitted against him. He takes revenge on the perpetrator who killed a witness under his protection.
This iconic film boasts its action sequences, particularly on one of the sleekest car chases in cinema. Fans also cannot forget Bullitt’s 1968 Ford Mustang.
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About The Author
Paolo Alfar is a freelance writer, based in Manila, Philippines. His passion for films is accidental when he designed a movie theater during his childhood. From there, his fondness for movies grew. And the Leo DiCaprio epic “Blood Diamond” somehow kicked off that passion.