WARNING: Spoilers for Skyscraper (and Die Hard).
You don't need to be the world's biggest Bruce Willis fan to notice that there are some similarities between Die Hard and Dwayne Johnson's new film, Skyscraper - although the sheer extent of the parallels is startling.
Since he first revealed the physically-impossible first poster for Skyscraper, The Rock has been keen to make a point that the film is an "original property". And he's right, to a point: compared to his recent efforts Rampage, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Fate of the Furious, as well as upcoming movies Hobbs/Shaw and Jungle Cruise, Skyscraper is original, not based on or following up any established property. This has been a long-stated point of Johnson's rise, with his status as "franchise viagra" ironically counterpointed by a lack of any fresh franchise to his name.
However, Skyscraper's inspirations are still obvious. This is a disaster movie that owes more than a little debt to Irwin Allen, producer of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but it's also unbelievably evocative of Die Hard. Bruce Willis' star-making classic, now often regarded as a Christmas movie, is viewed as the definitive take on the everyman action subgenre, with an influence that looms to this day - and nowhere is that better seen with Rawson Thurber's Skyscraper.
Here we're going to run down all the crazy parallels between Skyscraper and Die Hard, from the incredibly obvious to unnervingly specific. Do these make Dwayne Johnson's latest too derivative? That's up to you, although the box office opening suggests The Rock needs something even more original going forward.
A Tall Building (That The Main Character Rappels Down The Side Of)
First things first, yes, both Die Hard and Skyscraper feature tall buildings, albeit of entirely different scales: Nakatomi Plaza (in real life the Fox Plaza) is 35 stories high, while The Pearl is an improbable 225 stories. Despite such differing scale, the buildings are practically used in very similar ways; too high to jump from, with Skyscraper simply increasing the height to amp up the nausea. The building parallels don't stop there, with many of the industrial interiors of both movies going for very similar set dressing.
Crucially, both movies have a lot of fun with the exterior of the building, sending their hero off the edge with a makeshift rope and fighting to get back in (multiple times in Skyscraper's case).
The Hero Has A Law Enforcement Past (And A Family Who Is His Biggest Weakness)
Skyscraper follows Dwayne Johns's Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who now oversees security at The Pearl. What drives him to save the building and those it contains, though, is the fact that his family is trapped above the fire line. This is a similar setup to John McClane, who is a New York cop visiting LA for Christmas and only gets wrapped up in Hans Gruber's plot due to his soon-to-be-ex-wife.
That said, the actual life block the two protagonists need to get over is different; while John is on the brink of divorce, Will has a happy family life even before the building goes up in flames. Instead, his challenge is more his inability to cope with the failed mission that starts the film.
Scenes Where The Hero Talks To Himself & Performs Self-Surgery
The hero parallels don't end at the character, though. During their ascent through the buildings, each end up in a variety of similar situations. There's no moment where Dwayne Johnson meets the villain feigning an American accent, but there's some famous Die Hard moments to spot.
First, there are multiple points where Will starts talking to himself, just as John McClane does after his first run-in with the terrorists. While the purpose of each moment seems different - Die Hard's use, for sure, is trying to give us a taste of John's stressed internal monologue - both are a screenwriting trick to interest explanatory dialogue into scenes with just one character. Later, Will removes a piece of metal from his chest (and earlier had a makeshift bandage to a knife attack), something very reminiscent of McClane's more brutal foot injury after the office shootout.
A Law Enforcement Character On The Ground
Of course, John McClane doesn't do it by himself. On the ground is cop Al Powell, who serves as his link to the rest of the world. This is one aspect where it appears Skyscraper has only half-attempted to echo its inspiration: it too has a police officer on the ground, presumably because it's impossible to tell a story of this scale without accounting for the authorities, yet Byron Mann's Inspector Wu doesn't ever actually converse with Will Sawyer (instead, he suspects him of being behind the attack at first, then teams up with Neve Campbell's Sarah). However, at the end of the film, there's still the apparently long-anticipated meeting, with Wu saying he's glad to finally meet the man he never talked to.
Another part of Al's character is used in Skyscraper, albeit transferred to a different character. Just as how Powell is afraid to use a gun after his unfortunate incident with a child, Johnson's hero refuses to use them due to a failed hostage situation turned bomb attack at the start of the movie.
A Villain Who Uses One Bad Thing As A Cover For Something Worse (And Eventually Falls To Their Death)
One of Die Hard's best story decisions was having the terrorists use the threat of hostage-taking terrorists as a cover for an old-fashioned bank robbery, a modern twist on the action movie villain. This trope is well worn, but its use in Skyscraper is definitely evocative of its predecessor: those setting the building on fire aren't interested in destroying the actual structure (as early discussion of insurance policies alluded to) but forcing owner Zhao Long Ji into handing over a drive containing information on three connected crime syndicates.
The distinction comes from perspective. While Die Hard had the true nature of the plot learned from John McClane's perspective, Skyscraper lacks the tighter focus on its hero and so the audience knows something is afoot long before Will Sawyer does.
However, by the end, things line up again, with Kores Botha falling to his death just like Gruber (albeit with the drop cut somewhat short by his own grenade).
A Key Use Of Duct Tape
Perhaps the most bizarre link between Die Hard and Skyscraper comes from something so specific it's almost self-mocking. Famously at the end of 1988 movie, Bruce Willis uses Christmas wrapping to tape guns to his back in a final confrontation with Gruber. In Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson uses duct tape for... everything: to patch up a wound; to walk along the outside of the building Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol style; and as a far-less-elaborate-than-expected final sting against the villain.
Both Movies Released In The Same Week Of The Year
Die Hard is somewhat infamously regarded as a Christmas film: set on December 24th, it's peppered with lots of festive iconographies and ends on an ironic cover of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow" (and it even has a somewhat Xmassy message if you squint). However, all of this ignores one key aspect: the film released in July. Die Hard may be regarded as a Christmas film by many (if not Bruce Willis), but it wasn't by Fox in 1988, who released it on July 20. That date is just one week ahead of Skyscraper's July 13 release weekend thirty years later, providing another unexpected connection between the two