And why it might just be the best Die Hard ripoff of them all.
We all love Sylvester Stallone. So don’t let this be any sort of knock on the man or his action movie choices. It’s been well covered, but there are TONS of action movies that have taken their cues from Die Hard. And for good reason too. Die Hard is also super awesome.
And while you could also argue that Die Hard isn’t even original itself being a play off of The Towering Inferno, it’d be naive to not see that Die Hard stumbled onto something very ultimately formulaic.
And from Van Damme in Sudden Death to Thomas Ian Griffith in Crackerjack to Anna Nicole Smith (and eventually The Rock) in Skyscraper, we have plenty of Die Hard but in/with a… plots to choose from. But let’s take a look at the Stallone classic rock climbing actioner Cliffhanger, and how it most definitely is Die Hard but on a mountain, and also just as awesome because STALLONE – that’s why!
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1) Estranged Relationship Plot
So, unlike Die Hard, Cliffhanger really makes its meal in the very beginning. And man, it might be the most memorable opening sequences to any movie ever. The high wire rescue attempt gone wrong (which is so greatly lampooned in Ace Ventura 2) set the emotional crux of the movie. And while it’s a big plot point between Stallone’s Gabe Walker and Michael Rooker’s Hal Tucker, it also puts the romantic plot between Gabe and Janine Turner’s Jessie Deighan.
Said plot falls into disarray after the death of Sarah, and leaves their relationship estranged, very much similar (but for different reasons obviously) to John McClane’s estranged marriage in Die Hard. So there’s point the first.
2) John Lithgow as Hans Gruber
Pretty much the rest of the points are going to come from the bad guy setup led by John Lithgow doing his best Hans Gruber impression. And while Lithgow absolutely kills it, it’s almost a shame he didn’t get to stretch his acting muscle a bit in any other direction, because no matter what – he’s not gonna top Alan Rickman because you simply can’t.
What you can do though, is take on an elitist Ivy League vernacular with stunningly cold cruelty to offset the average Joe hero’s heroics. And to Ligthow’s Eric Qualen’s credit, he is perhaps more evil than Gruber could muster. But also much more physically mismatched to Stallone for sure.
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3) Vaguely European Henchmen
Following the orders of said Gruber-esque bad guy leader, you have your for-hire vaguely European henchmen. Not counting Rex Linn as Richard Travers, who you could consider a “new element” to the Die Hard plot, the rest of the gang are almost note for note from the original source material.
Not that it’s a bad thing. It works. And notably Caroline Goodall as Kristel and Leon Robinson as Kynette stand out for their performances and would be admirable hench-sters on any bad guy crew.
4) Stallone Without Adequate Clothing
In what almost seems like an unnecessary way to make Cliffhanger more Die Hard-ish, they include a major plot point of having Stallone’s Gabe be sent off without adequate clothing. And while it’s not as cleverly set up as McClane’s shoeless situation, it certainly does put Gabe at a significant disadvantage.
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5) The Game is Afoot
One element from Die Hard that seems kind of innocuous in retrospection, but actually might be more to do with the film’s great pacing is the plot point of having the hero and bad guy play in a sort of gentlemanly game.
In Die Hard, McClane sets himself to finding Gruber’s detonators, whereas in Cliffhanger Gabe goes after Qualen’s briefcase. But it’s fun! Although kinda odd that the latter would even tell the former that’s what they’re going to be doing.
6) Walkie-talkie Shenanigans
We also have the same – fun for the audience – back-and-forth dialogue between hero and bad guy via Walkie-talkie. It’s kind of a cool gimmick that more action movies should probably try to emulate.
A la Kylo Ren and Rey in the recent Star Wars movies, it’s a great way to build towards an ultimate final showdown, as well as keep the story more character connected, rather than just action plot driven.
7) Final Showdown Fall
And, of course, what Die Hard knock-of would be complete without a “cliffhanging” final showdown. Not that final showdowns are unique Die Hard-ian. Of course every action movie has the hero and the main bad guy has a big fiery standoff.
However, Cliffhanger almost goes out of its way to raise the stakes towards a helicopter hanging final fall for Qualen that is very much similar to Die Hard.
And, for that, we commend Stallone and his action filmmaking expertise. Because sometimes the familiar is important. And if it works, don’t fight it – just make it more ultimate!