DIE HARD: One of the greatest action movies of the late 1980s, DIE HARD ushered in a new standard for the genre. With the dissolution of the Cold War, both the stereotypical Russian threat (represented in movies such as TOP GUN and RED DAWN) and the destructive egoist (as seen in OCTOPUSSY) became less fearful. With DIE HARD, director John McTiernan introduced Hollywood to a new type of villain: the terrorist entrepreneur. Alan Rickman stars as Hans Gruber, a relentless businessman whose lethal tactics achieve his goals. Unlike most '80s film villains who committed globally dangerous acts for liberty, genocide, or megalomania, DIE HARD's Gruber uses guns, explosives, and cunning to storm the Takagi Corporation's Christmas party and heist millions of dollars from the company. In addition, DIE HARD also saw the development of the clumsy or bad luck hero with John McClane (Bruce Willis), a man in the wrong place at the wrong time who chooses to intervene.
SPEED: A mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) is out for revenge against rookie cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), who, with the help of his partner on the LAPD Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels), foils the criminals plot to extort money from the city by holding an elevator-full of people hostage. He plants a bomb on a bus which is set to arm itself when the vehicle hits 50 mph, and detonate if it drops below that speed. The hero, with the help of beautiful passenger Annie (Sandra Bullock), must diffuse the explosive device before the bus runs out of gas. This fast-paced thriller received two Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, as well as a nomination for Best Film Editing.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION: Released in the same year as Clint Eastwood's DIRTY HARRY (1971), William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION marked the beginning of a new era of gritty, urban police dramas. Here, the theme of tough-cop amorality serves a conservative demand for a police-state crackdown on the domestic chaos and subversive youth culture of the Vietnam War period.
The film is based on the true story of two New York City police detectives and their investigation into a French heroin smuggling operation. THE FRENCH CONNECTION is perhaps best known for its infamous, masterfully filmed chase scene (influenced by Peter Yates' BULLITT) in which the lead policeman, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman), recklessly drives a stolen car through oncoming traffic in pursuit of a sniper escaping by elevated train. The thrill of this crime drama is accentuated by director William Friedkin's early European influences, perhaps best represented by the handheld documentary-style visuals and Friedkin's claims that the Oscar-winning screenplay was frequently disregarded in favor of improvisation. THE FRENCH CONNECTION marked not only a significant change of course for his career, but also a stylistic shift that all of Hollywood would soon follow.