In 1988, the world was introduced to Die Hard starring an unknown by the name of Bruce Willis, an everyday NYPD policeman who happens to get trapped within an exclusive high-rise thanks to a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber. The critically acclaimed action film spawned a new star in a genre dominated by big muscular dudes such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Die Hard garnering $240.2 million worldwide. The movie would go on to have several sequels and clones that would pop up throughout the years.
Enter Speed, which is considered Die Hard on a bus, the film follows Los Angeles police Jack on his quest to save a group of passengers on a bus that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. Out of all the Die Hard clones, Speed is considered the best by many, with the movie both being a critical and commercial success, making $283.2 million worldwide. That success saw the movie get an expensive sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control, which was both a critical and commercial failure.
As previously stated, Speed carries many of the traits found in Die Hard (everyday policeman, a crazed terrorist, trapped inside of a place) and both movies currently carry a rotten tomatoes score of 94%. So, is Speed better than its original counterpart? Let’s dive deeper into both films.
What makes Die Hard such a memorable movie is the fact that it doesn’t just focus on insane action, but it actually gives you a reason to care about the characters. Holly McClane, Sgt. Al Powell and Argyle are given a chance to develop throughout the film and the action vehicle is better because of it. The only character that felt unnecessary in the film was Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, who was unnecessarily an asshole to both McClane and Powell. The film didn’t need another antagonist and Robinson wasn’t a character helping McClane or Powell until the very end. A worthless character that should’ve been left on the cutting floor. Of course, Die Hard wouldn’t be great if the action was bad and the film delivers the goods on that front as well. What’s great is that Die Hard doesn’t have any over-the-top stunts, with the scene of Gruber shooting out the glass, forcing McClane to walk through it simple but effective for showcasing just how mortal the New York policeman is.
This film also works because McClane is bouncing off a charismatic villain, Hans Gruber. The script smartly doesn’t make him an overzealous idiot like most action villains and Gruber showcases different layers that help create tension between him and McClaine. Arguably one of the best scenes is the meeting between the two characters, with the writers finding a clever way of having McClane and Guber meet face-to-face in a calm manner. Despite being over two hours, the film moves at a fast pace and even the minor hiccups never stop Die Hard from being enjoyable.
Despite being a Die Hard clone, Speed feels anything but; The fast-paced action film does a great job of carving its own identity thanks to a sharp script that makes sure to develop its character. Not surprisingly, Dennis Hopper is fantastic as Howard Payne, with the veteran actor employing the right emotions without being over-the-top or cartoonish. Payne is the perfect foil for Jack, played by Keanu Reeves. Both Reeves and Sandra Bullock have nice, believable chemistry and perfectly evoke the emotions necessary for a film of this nature. The script wisely builds tension by pushing its simple concept to the limit.
Moments like Annie being forced to turn off the highway or the bus jumping over an unfinished bridge help keep you on the edge of your seat and the characters on the bus are given enough detail to make them likable. The also movie does a nice job of having quiet character moments, something that’s often rare in high-octane action films like this. The threat or tension is never lost throughout runtime; however, you grow to care about these strangers as they progress, thus making your heart beat fast when danger looms. Speed is by no means a perfect film, but it checks off all the boxes necessary to be a great one.
So which film is better?
Speed. Die Hard is without a doubt an instant classic; however, the hiccup of having an unnecessary character (Dwayne T. Robinson) edges Speed out by an inch. The Keanu Reeves action film is lean and compelling, though it doesn’t have as many memorable quotes as Die Hard.