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All 11 John McTiernan Movies Ranked Worst To Best – /Film




John McTiernan’s career was cut short and he hasn’t been properly celebrated. Starting with his 1987 classic “Predator” the hits just kept coming with “Die Hard,” “The Hunt For Red October,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair.” McTiernan’s signature is big, brawny, macho action movies with a human touch. His heroes, like the wise-cracking John McClane, are tough but relatable. Heck, he even made an oiled-up Arnold Schwarzenegger seem vulnerable. McTiernan’s Hollywood adventure ended prematurely in 2013 when he went to prison for lying to the FBI. He was caught up in a dragnet involving crooked Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano and served almost a year in the slammer.
The Pellicano case was supposed to be an epic Hollywood scandal. Vanity Fair predicted it would “bring down some of the town’s top names.” In the end, McTiernan was the only notable collar. He’d first hired the PI in 1998 while going through a divorce. During a behind-the-scenes battle over his 2002 flop “Rollerball,” he allegedly appointed Pellicano to wiretap a rival producer. It’s not clear if any taps took place, but a strangely zealous prosecution and endless appeals bankrupted the director, his fourth wife Gail Sistrunk explained to Buzzfeed. This is why McTiernan hasn’t made a movie since 2003. He has been plotting a comeback with a sci-fi film called “Tau Ceti Four,” but even if that never materializes the director has left a remarkable movie canon. Here are all 11 John McTiernan movies ranked worst to best.

“Rollerball” was the movie that destroyed John McTiernan … and that’s not just because it’s a remake of a silly 1970s movie and went on to be his worst-reviewed film and a massive bomb. It also led to the above-mentioned wiretap case that sent the director to jail and effectively ended his career. McTiernan’s lawyer claimed the director was jet lagged, drunk, and under the influence of medication when he lied to the FBI. McTiernan’s judgment was possibly suspect during this time, but misleading a federal agent wasn’t his oddest move. More mystifying is why he would (allegedly) risk hiring a crooked private eye to tap the phones of “Rollerball” producer Charles Roven over mere creative differences.
Perhaps a wiser use of McTiernan’s resources in 2000 would have been a trip to Blockbuster to rent the original dystopian rollerskating movie starring James Caan. Pop that baby in the DVD player and two hours later call up MGM and lie about why you can’t be involved. That fib would have been First Amendment protected. Instead, McTiernan made this movie starring Chris Klein and L.L. Cool J. as two skaters in a popular and violent televised game show that’s kind of like roller derby meets jai alai but with motorcycles and murder. This version removes the original’s social critique as well as the football face masks to make terrible performances more visible. Perhaps next to the Black Dahlia, why exactly McTiernan bet it all on ‘Rollerball” is Hollywood’s most vexing mystery.

After working with Sean Connery on the underwater thrills of “The Hunt For Red October” in 1990, the two circled back in 1992 for the jungle misadventure “Medicine Man.” Connery is rocking another pretty convincing piece for his hairline but with an unfortunate ponytail extension. That’s to express his backwoods bonafides as Dr. Robert Campbell, an eccentric scientist living in the Amazon who may have just discovered the cure for cancer.
That’s when a pharmaceutical company sends Dr. Rae Crane (Lorraine Bracco) to see what exactly he’s been doing. For some reason though, even though Dr. Bob has been alone in the bush for over half a decade, he’s annoyed that a hot and smart single woman has shown up. When evil logging interests threaten Campbell’s Eden of naturopathic cures, he teams up with this dreaded feminine incursion and a love story ensues. “Medicine Man” is a departure for McTiernan being more of an environmental drama/love story than an adventure film. The themes are all about as subtle as “Avatar” without the visual feast to make it worth your while. This movie could work were there more “Indiana Jones” action and less poorly written schmaltz, especially put in the mouth of Bracco’s Bronx babe in the jungle. It’s true that rainforests represent a possible panacea of undiscovered potions and that deforestation threatens this precious resource. Watching this movie will still have you rooting for the bulldozers.

First films are a crucial training ground for young directors. “Joker” auteur Todd Phillips, for example, made a series of underground documentaries about unhinged characters long before he made his DC-universe masterpiece about mental illness. John McTiernan, on the other hand, came out of the gate with this relatively low-budget but legitimate Pierce Brosnan-led horror feature “Nomads” in 1986. The film even made it to theaters and got a BluRay redux in 2015.
There’s some slight cult status for this horror-thriller, partly because the future James Bond plays the protagonist. He’s a French anthropologist named Jean-Charles Pommier who has moved to Los Angeles with his wife. That’s when some leather-clad 80s-style street punks start terrorizing his home and then build a strange shrine to a killer in his garage. Being a man of (social) science, Pommier starts studying the group and begins to suspect they are trickster spirits. Supernatural horror is not the genre that made McTiernan famous, though his breakout “Predator” the following year was plenty otherworldly. The smaller scale of “Nomads” with a then-lowly TV star at the center (Brosnan coming off of NBC’s crime drama “Remington Steele”) allowed McTiernan to experiment. At one point the director drops a baddie off of a rooftop with the exact same framing and slow motion he would use to kill Hans Gruber in “Die Hard” two years later. “Nomads” isn’t good, but it is full of demons and other necessary evil.

To understand a bomb like “Basic” you have to get how big “Pulp Fiction” made John Travolta. The “Saturday Night Fever” star’s career suffered after all those talking baby movies, and then Quentin Tarantino made him cool again in 1994. Suddenly he was playing angels, waking up with telekinetic tumors, and switching faces with Nicholas Cage. In 1998 Oprah proclaimed Travolta her “all-time favorite” in that everybody-gets-a-car voice as she gushed and blushed and jittered like a fangirl, dedicating an entire hour of her NBC talk show to promoting “Primary Colors” … for which Travolta earned $20 million.
Basically, “Basic” (2003) is one of these post “Pulp Fiction” Travolta projects that rested on the actor’s star power, and the hammy charisma of the overcooked characters he conjured in these lucrative years. It also features his “Pulp Fiction” wingman Samuel L. Jackson as a special forces commando who goes missing in action. That’s when Travolta’s slick-talking ace investigator is brought in to crack the case. This movie starts familiarly with a bunch of soldiers on a helicopter ride into the jungle, just like “Predator,” but something is off. The scale is larger, and the intimacy of that excellent 80s scene is replaced with wide shots and big-budget cutting between tons of coverage as if this was a Tony Scott film. The “Basic” plot is just as convoluted as the editing and was almost unanimously court-martialed by critics. John McTiernan’s final film is ruinously mired in the memes of the moment.

The last few entries from John McTiernan generally represent a decline. Quentin Tarrantino, so fearful of this kind of history, has repeatedly pledged to quit making movies after his tenth film. “The 13th Warrior” is McTiernan’s first late-stage project, and though he was only 48 in 1999 (Tarantino wants to be done around age 60) something had changed as the new millennium dawned in Hollywood. The 1980s and ’90s were more similar than not when it came to the action genre. Audiences wanted competence and thrills, but suddenly expectations were elevated. The bar had been raised, largely by McTiernan himself, but also by James Cameron and others, and critics took a hard pass on this medieval movie. Worse for McTiernan, Disney spent a staggering $160 million on what turned out to be a historic bomb.
Based on Michael Crichton’s “Eaters of the Dead” — which itself is based on Beowulf — the story follows banished tenth-century Muslim ambassador Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), who travels to Viking lands and becomes one of 13 riders to fight an ancient man-eating evil. It sounds completely awesome. Crichton’s 1976 book is pretty awesome, and Roger Ebert claims the author personally even directed additional scenes when the test screenings flopped. It’s just not clear what this movie is about beyond Vikings doing Viking stuff. If swords and epic quests are your thing, you’d be better served reheating “Braveheart” or “The Fellowship of The Ring.”

Some say when culture becomes about culture, that’s the death of culture. By 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger had a decade of credits captivating 12-year-old boys, and this movie takes that concept literally. Danny (Austin O’Brien) is a tween Arnold obsessive. He practically lives at a rundown urban movie palace soon to be replaced by a sleek new Loews multiplex. The kindly old projectionist Nick (Robert Prosky) gives Danny a midnight preview screening of the new “Jack Slater” picture. Slater is an amalgamation of badass ’80s cops but then, abracadabra, Danny gets trapped inside the movie’s plot. This conceit was too much for Arnold’s fanbase in 1993. “Last Action Hero” bombed and was blasted by critics. Arnold thought the issue was politics and gave this surprising read: 
“It was one of those things where President Clinton was elected and the press somehow made the whole thing semi-political where they thought, ‘Okay, the ’80s action guys are gone here’s a perfect example,’ and they wrote this narrative before anyone saw the movie … The action hero era is over, Bill Clinton is in, the highbrow movies are the ‘in’ thing now, [and] I couldn’t recuperate.” 
More simply, “Last Action Hero” is a dopey and overly jokey kid’s movie version of the Schwarzenegger oeuvre brimming with “Terminator 2” references but none of that charm. All the meta-movie mockery isn’t actually funny and makes the stunts cartoonish, so the actual action movie is hard to care about.

The third “Die Hard” title gets to the self-aware “die harder” joke of a series where Bruce Willis’ ordinary New York cop John McClane saves the day once, but somehow just keeps tangling with terrorists. His whole thing is that he’s not Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s a balding smoker with a dad bod and a drinking problem. Why won’t he just die already!?
John McTiernan is rumored to have been set to pilot the airport takeover plot of “Die Hard 2” but made “The Hunt For Red October” instead. However, 20th Century Fox got McTiernan onboard for this third film in 1995. McClane has just been fired from the NYPD. He’s now divorced and drinking too much but gets back in action when a terrorist called “Simon” (Jeremy Irons) detonates a bomb and demands McClane put on a sandwich board with a racial slur emblazoned and be dropped in Harlem. Enter McClane’s buddy dynamic, with a new character played Samuel L. Jackson coming off of his star turn in “Pulp Fiction.” He plays streetwise electrician Zeus who saves McClane from an angry mob and then helps him survive Simon too. Critics didn’t love this third installment, but audiences did and it was a global smash for McTiernan. This movie is definitely one big string of explosions and normally that can get dull, but Jackson and Willis are so much fun together. If you saw this in a crowded theatre in 1995, yippee ki-yay!

John McTiernan has successfully subdued just about every action-adventure sub-genre. For “The Thomas Crown Affair” he pivots perfectly to make one of the best heist films ever in this thrilling and inventive remake of the 1968 original. For McTiernan’s 1999 version the almost impossibly debonair Pierce Brosnan plays the titular playboy and art thief. As a sophisticated man of means, he steals priceless paintings to admire their beauty, but mostly to admire his own handiwork. Rene Russo plays a savvy insurance adjustor who gets close to Crown to unlock his chest of secrets and recover the works. In the process, she might just be drawn in by this man’s seductive designs.
In 2020 a band of real art thieves broke into a museum in the dead of night and absconded with a priceless painting by Vincent Van Gough. They didn’t use guns, but rather took advantage of the fact that the building was closed because of COVID restrictions. “They knew what they were doing, going straight for the famous master,” the museum’s director told The New York Times. It turns out that over two dozen works by the legendary Dutch impressionist have been lifted in the Netherlands in recent decades. The 2020 heist was conducted on the artist’s 167th birthday. Crown is exactly this kind of clever and self-amusing crook. He takes things because life is as colorful as you make it, and this master always seems one step ahead. 

John McTiernan followed 1987’s “Predator” with arguably the greatest action movie ever made in 1988. In two films in as many years, he made himself immortal. After production wrapped, Ronald Reagan made an office out of one of the “Die Hard” locations. There were still spent shell casings all over the floor, according to “Die Hard: An Oral History” (via Thrillest). An editor recalled, “We neglected to tell the FBI that this was going on. They thought it looked like a terrorist attack.” That’s what kind of movie this is as New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) visits his wife during a corporate Christmas party in a Los Angeles skyscraper. The reunion is interrupted when terrorists, led by the iconic Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), take over the building. Only McClane can stop them.
Creating a vulnerable action hero seems obvious today, but Hollywood in 1988 was all about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robot assassin in “Terminator” and the inhuman body count of Sylvester Stallone’s super soldier “Rambo.” Willis’ far less muscled McClane and his bare feet full of broken glass felt like fresh takes. “Our basic task was to show what Bruce’s character was about,” McTiernan explained. “You had to let the audience in on it. He doesn’t like himself. He is in pain, basically. You let the audience see all those things behind the smart-ass face. You let the audience see the hurt. Being a smart-ass turns into an act of courage instead of just being an asshole.”

“The Hunt For Red October” is a fanciful Cold War action-thriller, but also easily one of the best submarine movies ever made. Sean Connery plays the dashing captain Marko Ramius. He’s just set to sea helming a state-of-the-art Soviet nuclear submarine with a silent “caterpillar” propulsion system. He’s not a politburo fanatic, though, but rather a lettered sophisticate who wants to defect. This triggers an international incident and only Tom Clancy’s CIA savant Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) suspects the captain’s true intentions. “The Hunt For Red October” hits all the submarine movie notes. There’s even a scene where Ramius takes the vessel deeper and faster than the anxious crew thinks it can handle, an absolute genre staple. There’s lots of underwater dog-fighting too as Ramius and an equally-savvy American captain (Scott Glenn) play torpedo games. Yet, this film’s thrilling underwater atmospherics —buoyed by Clancy’s tightly coiled plot— make it rise above the rest.
Ramius is a Russian name in the film but it rings a lot like the mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Republican Rome was foremost on the American founders’ minds and Connery’s captain has just this kind of classical education. He easily quotes the Bhagavad Gita line made famous by conflicted nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” Ramius isn’t Russian by birth, and he’s an Americophile by disposition. This thrilling 1990 film blends apocalyptic Cold War stakes with rousing post-Berlin Wall optimism.

“Predator” was only John McTiernan’s second feature as a director and his first hit. His prior film “Nomads” made only $2.7 million and “Die Hard” wouldn’t happen until the following year. It’s a little surprising then that an unproven filmmaker got tapped for the insane task of shooting this thinly-premised monster movie in a sweltering jungle … and that he didn’t get fired when the production fell months behind schedule. Producers were on location in Mexico to see the myriad issues weren’t McTiernan’s fault. Admirably, he’d shot almost half the film before the monster costume even arrived, according to this oral history. When it did show up, it looked like a giant red ant. It was so bad that “Predator” was shut down for six months as a new creative team was hired to make the iconic alien we know today.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was also originally cast inside that Predator costume but was so determined to be a star that he derailed the shoot. He wouldn’t stop throwing kicks and had to be scolded by producer Joel Silver, “Look, the Predator is not a kickboxer!” The “muscles from Brussels” also kept taking off his mask so his face would be on camera, and at one point threw an early version of the $20,000 costume in frustration and smashed it. Somehow out of this mess McTiernan rallied his rag-tag jungle rabble and assembled the most suspenseful and enduring monster movie ever shot in broad daylight. 

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