The original “Die Hard” was a near-perfect action film, putting a reluctant hero in a confined skyscraper setting, facing him off against memorable villains and treating the whole enterprise with wit, style and imagination. It made Bruce Willis a movie star, established Alan Rickman as a classic villain and made a fortune at the box office back in 1988. So, naturally, there were imitations, all following the formula of a lone hero stuck battling badguys in a distinct location. There was Die Hard on a Bus (“Speed”), Die Hard on a Boat (“Speed 2”), Die Hard on a Plane (“Passenger 57”), Die Hard on a Mountain (“Cliffhanger”) and even Die Hard at the Stanley Cup (“Sudden Death”). Unfortunately, there was also the official sequel, Die Hard at an Airport, better known as “Die Hard 2.”
When it hit theaters in 1980, “The Empire Strikes Back” changed everything. Yes, “Star Wars” was huge when it arrived three years earlier, but there had been blockbusters before. Movies like “Jaws,” “The Godfather” and “The Exorcist” drew record audiences and wowed the filmgoing world. But the reality we live in now, the one where every movie has a sequel pre-sold and any movie that goes into the black instantly becomes the foundation for a multi-film franchise? That’s the reality that “The Empire Strikes Back” spawned
The strangest thing about “Starship Troopers” is that so few people got the joke. Back in 1997, when Paul Verhoeven’s movie hit theater screens, critics blasted its simple storyline and cardboard characters, missing the fact that Verhoeven used an old science fiction novel to satirize patriotism, nationalism and the gung-ho military mindset of a hundred Hollywood war movies.
It’s hard to remember now, but back in 1981, when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” hit theaters, the world — the movie world — was a different place. Sure, there had been blockbuster movies before — “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back,” to name two, and “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” to name two more. Those four movies were directed by two guys — George Lucas and Steven Spielberg — men who, in 1981, were still known mostly as the “Star Wars” guy and “The Jaws” guy. But with the arrival of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which was directed by Spielberg and based on a story by Lucas, those two guys suddenly became two of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood history.
Out of Theaters shifts gears this week and reviews a movie that’s in theaters now. You may have read reviews of The Force Awakens by Will Pfeifer and me. Or you may think reading is for chumps. If that’s the case then here’s the review that requires absolutely no reading.
The 1980s were the Golden Age action movies. And “Die Hard” was the very, very best. During that long-ago decade, action movies starred actors who seemed to be more than mere human beings. Guys like Stallone, Gibson, Van Damme, Seagal and, striding like a colossus above the rest, Schwarzenegger, the Teutonic god with the unpronounceable last name who was the biggest star of them all.
Before the Force could awaken this week, it had to be created. And that conversation between Luke Skywalker and Old Ben Kenobi is the first time the Force was ever mentioned in “Star Wars,” a movie released way back in 1977 and the one responsible for everything — good and bad, inspirational and embarrassing — that’s come since.
Before there was Hunger Games there was Battle Royale (2000), an absolutely apeshit display of teen violence that could only come from Japan. The 15-year-old film pits 42 ninth graders (21 male, 21 female) against each other on a deserted island. They have three days to kill each other until only one remains. The survivor can return home. If they refuse to fight they all die thanks to electronic collars that will make their heads explode off their necks.
Two serious detectives with silly names try and halt the heroin deal of the century in The French Connection (1971). Popeye (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy (Roy “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” Scheider) are on a series of undercover stakeouts as they try to bring down an elaborate heroin-smuggling ring. The film, based on a true story, is the first R-Rated movie to win the Academy Award.
James Bond is back in theaters with Spectre, so we’re bringing you an Out of Theaters two-fer with a 007 from yesteryear and a recent year. Today’s episode simultaneously discusses and compares Live and Let Die (1973) and Casino Royale (2006).