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Franchise Wars: Rambo vs. Terminator vs. Die Hard

I’ve seen plenty of comparisons on the site but decided to update it with three beloved yet rather key franchises featuring the noted Planet Hollywood stars Arnie, Stallone and Bruce. There can be only ONE best of the best franchise ultimately though so time to break it down!

 

BEST FIRST PARTER:

First Blood kicked off the beginning of the ‘80s action craze with its Bad Day at Black Rock type premise and a modified version of the popular novel of the same name. The Terminator was an above average B-movie with beyond respectable production values by Roger Corman-vet James Cameron, coincidentally inspired by a similar cyberpunk story featured on The Outer Limits and was a surprise hit meant as James’ answer to epics like Star Wars and slashers like Halloween. And Die Hard was an unofficial Christmas movie that closed put the ‘80s with its unusual heist (so unusual that every plot summary and poster for it even gets it all wrong!), ‘70s inspired disaster movie cliches, hostage taking, Eurotrash villains and also being inspired by an action-packed book while going through a list of various leading men and TV leads before finally picking the star of Moonlighting as the most unlikely next tough guy.

 

This is absolutely the hardest one to pick as all of these first entries gave it their all and it paid off for each of them. They all have the perfect mood, notable fights, great dialogue (even by action movie standards) and upped their stars’ in the fame department. We could be here all day so you know what? They all win as they’re all the ingredients that are part of one huge key recipe and I (or anyone for that matter) can’t embrace ‘80s Action without any of these results.

The Winner: Tie!

 

BEST SECOND PARTER:

Here we go now with another dilemma: Rambo got a make-over as a one man army sent on a disaster-ridden spy mission to save some Vets and get even with Russian militants in his unexpected second parter. Die Hard 2 decided to do a copy and paste only to have the action be more Airport-inspired and feature an Oliver North type baddie. Terminator 2 showed that it was possible to have visual storytelling and make yet another grimly fascinating epic with seemingly no happy ending in site. It also made firing shotguns and riding motorcycles cool on-screen again!

 

This is where it gets trivial if not overtly biased. They were all hits in their own right but yet so different from their original installments. I’ll just move Die Hard 2 out of the way as it truly accomplishes nothing new. Rambo II is easily one of the most jaw-dropping action-war flicks ever conjured up yet T2 is also so stunning in its well-captured shots and always energetic even when it’s showing slower character development.

 

T2 though has just a tad better pace and epicness to it overall though. Wether by a slight hair or just 10x more fun, I think we can all agree that it has just a way better done plot, stunts and technical specifics.

 

The Winner: Terminator.

 

BEST THIRD PARTER:

It’s always tough to conjure up a third part, let alone justify its own existence. Rambo III showed that while the series was out of ideas, it was hardly out of steam with more Russian killing by its hero only set in Afghanistan. Die Hard 3 decided to expand to a free roaming approach, take a Speed type mad bomber story, make said mad bomber be the brother of Hans, insert another rejected Lethal Weapon script to allow John some buddy moments with Samuel “mofo” Jackson and brought back the same director as before.

 

And Terminator 3 was noted as a T2 rehash only this time the baddie was female. Only to be rejected as canon when the TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles emerged…

 

Only for the sixth film Dark Fate to come out and emerge as the truly intended third film after it too stated that anything made between 1991 and 2019 was non-canon. This is a hard decision to determine as T3 is a harmless yet unremarkable T2 rehash yet its truly intended sequel is also rehashing T2.

 

Rambo 3 is rehashing Rambo 2 but Die Hard 3…. isn’t rehashing Die Hard 1…. solved!

The Winner: Die Hard.

 

BEST FOURTH PARTER:

All these franchises ended up rebooting a 4th part side-by-side as if to remind millennials that they could still keep the beloved icons alive wether it was in a future timeline or a mirrored look at them in modern-day times.

 

Die Hard 4.0 adapted its premise from various other screenwriters including a rejected script for a sequel to Enemy of the State. Rambo showed the title character reawakening what humanity he had left to save some arrogant missionaries in war-torn Burma while showcasing gruesome battles much akin to Saving Private Ryan and Blood Diamond. T4: Salvation decided to also go through numerous rewrites from its previous entry before agreeing on showing a take on the often-briefly shown future wars before coming off as a Battlestar Galactica type cyborg story with some Transformers-type moneyshots and having the bratty kid John Connor be shown as Christian “I’m Batman!” Bale.

 

Long-story short: both fans and critics are still torn on these entries to date. Die Hard 4.0 was successful but didn’t necessarily feel like true Die Hard material and while met with mostly positive reviews, its fans are still split on it. 2008’s Rambo got lots of newbies and older fans excited while critics ignored it like usual but some were still disappointed by its pace and the best battles happening near the end. T4 is also mixed as some found it better than Part 3 yet others found it much worse because of it lacking Arnie (only implied in a scene thru CGI), being overlong and being a huge stretch from its creator’s original world.

 

I can see pros and cons in each of them here but one of them has to be eventually picked. Die Hard 4 has some witty pokes at the trilogy’s running gags while updating the hero John in a real-life cyber world but feeling more like Swordfish at times. Rambo ‘08 does wear on your patience at times but does wrap up the character’s storyline in a welcome brutal fashion despite the bad CGI gore and some village war crimes being overshown to where you wish the movie could fast-forward thru the unpleasantries and get on with what the Red Band trailers promised. T4 feels like a fun tribute to Terminator while feeling barely like Terminator anymore due to feeling almost as robotic as the killer bots it displays despite some catchy visuals and good acting at times.

 

I overall have to go with Die Hard 4.0 due to at least being as implausible as the first three while showcasing the no-holds-barred chases and free roaming like in Part 3. But Rambo ‘08 comes rather close but since all the good stuff is in the second hour it will have to miss this ranking. And T4 should’ve been a different film/TV pilot and doesn’t have Arnie so it gets tossed right out despite trying to show viewers more of the often-talked about future events.

The Winner: Die Hard.

 

 

BEST FIFTH PARTER:

First, Die Hard 5 decided to showcase a beautiful car chase in an otherwise fast-moving Mission: Impossible/007 type espionage plot. T5 then emerged ready to go back to basics by doing the J.J. Abrams type routine of inserting homages around a bizarre time-travel rehash premise. And then Rambo 5 decided that the 4th part was not the final one and that it needed one last touch-up before finally dying off.

 

Notice I don’t say any of their names as A Good Day…, Genisys and Last Blood are all rather stale names and only foreshadow the silly expectations that are to follow. I went in with zero expectations so here’s what I assessed: Die Hard 5 decided to be a chance to have Bruce pull a Taken by showing that he’s still got it while turning into a Lethal Weapon type buddy flick halfway in. T5 decided that it was going to be the true canon by never mentioning the last two non-James Cameron sequels (while still not involving him) and doing a greatest hits tribute to T1 and T2 while falling into issues with bad casting, crap CGI, no way to take any of its ideas seriously and bringing Arnie back for more action-comic relief.

 

Rambo 5 emerged mostly unexpectedly and kept hyping up its unusual premise while showing that this was going to please hardcore fans despite not exactly being asked for. So who’s the winner here you ask?

 

Well, despite them all having promise with their premises, 1/3rd of this equation actually worked. Die Hard 5 just went too fast and while it could be enjoyed for its scenery and explosions, it did feel like an unremarkable aftertaste. And T5 (or Genisucks) was too trivial, very fake looking all around and felt too much like the last two films that it tried to avoid being like while also taking derivative action shots from other blockbusters like Speed and Spider-Man(!).

 

In fact, both these felt like rejected ideas from other franchises mashed up together. They had ideas but neither was delivered anywhere near as clever as it could’ve possibly been scribbled onto paper (probably because it wasn’t?).

 

Despite no one asking for Rambo 5, it still did a banged up job. I’d even go as far as to say it was a better ending to the saga than Part 4 due to it having way more heavy involvement from its lead star than either of the other two.

The Winner: Rambo.

 

 

BEST SIXTH PARTER:

Guess which one actually got that far?

Winner: Terminator.

 

 

MOST LETHAL PROTAGONIST:

This won’t be a walk in the park on this section either. All of these franchises are admired especially because all the leading men damn near injure themselves each time as the near unstoppable heroes to the endless waves of goons they have to defeat. Or in the Terminator’s case, thwart a few policemen before fighting a near unstoppable machine the entire way.

 

None of them are shabby in anyway. They all earn the roles, all looking and feeling much appropriate for it due to their courageous display, never accepting defeat, heavy arsenal of various weapons and thinking outside the box.

 

I went on other forums for second opinions and found too much sarcasm and little thought put into this geeky question. The scenario, amount of weapons and ethics shouldn’t matter- I want to know who would emerge victorious after wiping the floor with the other two.

 

Rambo is a Green Beret, John’s a hard-boiled cop and any of the versions of Arnie’s title role are reprogrammed killer cyborgs. This is all fantasy worlds these characters live in but there is just SOOOO much bullshit that goes on, especially in how they win. John always seems to be able to get thrown around and make whatever environment his own personal weapon; Rambo seems to grow immortal the more people he kills (is he the next Highlander?) and (insert robot model) with Arnie’s persona always seems to defeat, be defeated or even sacrifice himself until the next Judgment Day happens.

 

Screw it! Which one of these guys was a big champ back in the day? Better yet which one of them is a non-human character?

 

Alright so even if John is still breathing after almost drowning or being thrown into space and Rambo uses every kind of gun on the Terminator, let’s just say that since he’s the good guy and by good guy rules, the good guy can take extra hits just to make it to the end of their respective movie.

 

And if it’s a non-human main character, then the other two are going to be animated skeletons while the cyborg will be a still functioning metal skeleton…

The Winner: Terminator.

 

 

BEST FRANCHISE VILLAIN:

Man, oh man, why am I making this hard on myself? As much as I like an Italian-Native American Vietnam vet going all Billy Jack on some crooked deputies and giving the Commies their overdue competence via helicopter (while also giving the finger to Murdock!), I just don’t see a way to top either of the first two Terminators or the Gruber brothers. The T-101/800 machines were diverse due to hinting that they weren’t human before the gruesome reveal and the T-1000 is easily the most creepy looking alone from that stare he gives you prior to changing into liquid metal. And the Die Hard villains all had pretty cool ideas regardless if they actually were a worthy mastermind ready to pull it all off.

 

I can’t keep doing a tie. There has to be one candidate that I can go with! As awesome as the Terminators are, it does lose some points by having Arnie be the good guy in all the sequels after being one of the key baddies and Die Hard loses TONS more points for having yet to outdo Hans’ ingenious scheme (nope, not even Simon!).

 

Dammit, this shouldn’t be hard. Fine, I’ll throw out Die Hard since again, like them or hate them, no one has as disturbing a presence as the original big cheese. And while there are different killer bots, I’ll always remember multiple ones wether it’s in a good sequel or not.

The Winner: Terminator.

 

 

BEST ONE-LINER(S):

Geez, where to begin? Terminator has many foul-mouthed ones to choose like “Fuck you, asshole” and “You’re terminated, fucker!” as well as the various “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back.” reiterations. Other than “Hasta la vista, baby,” I can’t think of ever really quoting any of this franchise.

 

Rambo is mostly noise pollution but soundbites of endless gunplay is hardly a quote. I do often quip “I didn’t do anything!!!” but that’s hardly a line to associate with that franchise.

 

Die Hard however has plenty of quotes I could use in real life and even makes me want to call 911 while acting crazy. Not really.

 

Seriously you can’t beat “I saw it on 60 minutes,” “No fucking shit, lady! Does it sound like I’m ordering a pizza?!?,” “I’m on fucking vacation!!!” and endless other ones before you resort back to yelling the “yippee-ki-yay” line. Yeah the more quotes and actual relatability, the better.

The Winner: Die Hard.

 

 

BEST ACTION:

Geez, I know these guys are all believably lethal, have well-filmed fights and are some of the most feared fictional characters but this is another huge toss-up. Rambo has many incredible knife throws, explosive arrows and death traps. Die Hard and Terminator both incorporate plenty of gruesome fight scenes, gory shoot-outs, SWAT teams, factory stand-offs, car chases and building explosions.

 

I guarantee that even the biggest non-fan remembers segments from all three series’ various action-y moments. So now I have to decide which series was more groundbreaking and the answer is all of them.

 

So now I have to determine which one is just way more awesome. And once more, it’s a struggle. Holy shit, why can’t I choose?!?

 

OK, you know what? Which one has a bigger body count for its main dude? Die Hard kills plenty but because it’s trying to maintain some kind of plausibility at times to avoid much criticism, they try to have John kill 10 guys per movie. The evil Terminators managed to claim thousands of lives especially with T3’s ending suggests but the main model Arnie plays only kills a bunch in the first evil outing before mainly sticking to the Robocop routine of wounding people and only eliminating vital threats.

 

Rambo, according to various body counting sites, was no slouch when it came to taking out the trash. He did in fact kill thousands after all.

The Winner: Rambo.

 

 

BEST EFFECTS:

All these franchises make huge use of practical effects. Die Hard is especially rather impressive before getting slightly digital later on. Terminator uses both special and visual shots but only starts looking faker as time goes on ironically despite using the same main effects gurus(!). And Rambo is all real until ‘08 when Sly entrusts the Bulgarian producers to work whatever cheap magic they have while he figured out the story.

 

Since Die Hard hardly comes off as an eye-sore in either category and lacked fake looking bots and gore in recent installments, need I say more about those awesome explosions?

The Winner: Die Hard.

 

 

BIGGEST EGO:

Die Hard helped create Bruce Willis’ ego even after his heart was not as much in it or any other film for that matter due to getting old. Arnie was already becoming a big deal before he took on the cyborg franchise but since he pursued politics after acting and missed one of these films, I can def say that while he’s still humble, he can’t compete in the ego category.

 

Stallone was already ego-fueled thanks to the acclaim of Rocky and its sequels allowing hum more creative control behind the camera and Rambo only boosted it all the more.

The Winner: Rambo.

 

 

BEST STORYLINE:

All the storylines in these franchises fall victim to lesser moments eventually but since every Rambo and Die Hard installment is always so different and Terminator has some of the same coherent writers.

 

P.S.: I know that William H. Wisher wrote both Terminator and Die Hard installments but with the latter he often was rewriting them so only was a sign of too many cooks in the kitchen as opposed to the story which he and James cooked up until it was ready to be taken out of the oven. Plus, this was one of the best apocalyptic low budget turned big budget stories ever!

 

P.S.S.: James Cameron also conjured up the story for Rambo 2 but barely any of that version was the one that ended up in the final cut.

The Winner: Terminator.

 

 

BEST VIDEOGAME SPIN-OFF:

Rambo had a fun arcade game in recent years featuring stock footage from the original trilogy. Die Hard Trilogy was a hit for Playstation 1 and Terminator had some cool arcade games for both T2 and Salvation. Yes, the cyborg franchise also had some lame cash-ins but guess what? It also had a rather underrated storyline expansion while having way better chases and inspired missions in T3: The Redemption. This also had some fun multiplayer and was far more inspired than the Salvation console game or the 2002 Dawn of Fate game which had a cool premise let down by clunky gameplay and irritating cut-scenes.

The Winner: Terminator.

 

 

BEST TV SHOW SPIN-OFF:

Well let’s rule Die Hard out because while the 5th film was originally supposed to cross over with FOX’s other hit show 24, it decided instead to have it’s movies be almost as intense as that show for better or worse.

 

Rambo had a kid’s show. Make that, a kid’s cartoon show. Yes, a kid’s cartoon show based on an R rated film franchise.

 

However, Terminator had that awesome two-season show was easily the best of the now non-canon continuations.

The Winner: Terminator.

 

 

BIGGEST POP CULTURE APPEAL:

Yeah, all these films are over-mentioned in pop culture. So therefore they’re all relevant. I can name as many infamous killer cyborg franchise as I can stupid hostage thrillers and AWOL veteran dramas.

 

The Winner: Tie for all three!

 

 

BEST DIRECTOR’S CUT/SPECIAL EDITION:

This is a tough one as while T2 has a special edition and a 3D version that fixes up any often noticed bloopers, it isn’t considered a director’s cut just an expansion with all of the previously seen deleted scenes put back in. It also, as enjoyable as it is, unfortunately makes the film way longer than needed.

 

It’s follow-up Salvation also has an arguably superior R rated version which has more gory fights, tits and extra Michael Ironside monologuing but it’s overall rather minor in terms of improvement and won’t change anyone’s mind. Especially if they never liked it to begin with.

 

Die Hard 2 has some fun deleted scenes, Die Hard 3 an alternate ending that wouldn’t have worked and Part 5 just had some extended action. Yeah, fuck all of that! Go with the 4.0 unrated cut as that bloody violence and foul-mouthed humor was the version we were meant to see theatrically and has other minor elements like show what happened to henchman Russo. And it feels more like a Die Hard movie this way! Way fucking more!

 

But hold on there a second: Rambo 4 has an extended cut (sometimes called John Rambo on some sites). By seamlessly extended while altering or eliminating other scenes, you too get a film that feels more like a Rambo film. Yes, you get less action but you also get the opening massacre removed, better character development/motivation for the previously  thought-to-be-annoying supporting characters and this was the version shown by Stallone at some film festivals which even got him some accolades. People complain about the “unrated extended cut” not being truth in advertising but other than most of us believing it meant more bloodshed, it is a better movie. And for those that believe it not to be, it’s still worth a look for seeing the cut that Stallone intended.

 

And since both these latter two cuts are the versions that were meant to be seen on the big screen before studio interference…

The Winner: Tie between Die Hard and Rambo.

 

 

THE BEST FILMMAKERS:

Ted Kotchoff started out the First Blood franchise’s suspenseful action before Stallone forced the director of Part 2 to ghost direct and oversaw the remaining sequels while also directing Pt. 4.

 

Terminator was brought to wonderful life by Will Wisher and James Cameron. However, ILM brought both great visual effects (T2) before sinking incredibly low (T5). And James decided he was better off supervising Dark Fate from afar and doing more pointless Avatar sequels instead of returning to the editor and director’s chairs.

 

Die Hard launched John McTiernan to greater heights. He’d already created Predator but the rest of his career always had many shots and stylish flourishes that noted his work on Die Hard. This franchise also launched each of its other filmmakers to bigger scripting and directing duties as well. So since that was more lucrative for multiple people…

The Winner: Die Hard.

 

 

THE BEST CAST:

Well, since some of the supporting characters in Rambo 2 are the main ones getting noticed on the character actor circuit (which is five people max), I’ll rule them out of here.

 

I can think if numerous faces from the first Terminator but can also think of loads more who played the various terrorists, FBI and cops in the first four Die Hard entries.

The Winner: Die Hard.

 

THE BIGGEST CASH-GRAB::

Well, all of these installments have eventually had money-driven installments versus putting time into both the budget and a story that worked. Doesn’t help that Carolco/C2 Pictures executives Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar produced installments of all of these franchise entries (T1-4, Rambo 1-3 and Die Hard 3 respectively).

 

Die Hard was always going to be a cash-cow for FOX but that franchise kept switching producer hands. The Carolco guys changed the ending to Rambo 1 by making Stallone’s title character live to fight another day and also requested that Cameron stall the Judgment Day timeline ending to T2 so they could keep a sequel open, regardless if he approved of it or not. Subjectively or not, Stallone was always heavily involved with the Rambo character when he switched over to producing thru Millennium Films and the Terminator franchise was overseen by huge fan-turned-filmmakers with prior visual effects and writing experience.

 

However, since Terminator kept changing owners and eventually even producers before making it’s way back to James’ desk, and as silly as Stallone can be, it seems like Terminator was an out of control product which fell victim to bad advertising models so it is the victor in this fight.

The Winner: Terminator.

 

 

BEST FICTION BLURRING REALITY:

Who would actually win in a fight- in real life? Well, Arnie gained a few pounds and isn’t actually a robot and Willis seems more keen on being verbal as opposed to an actual physical encounter. Stallone still appears rather fit if not steroid fueled so Stallone could probably win in real life wether in character as Rambo or just as his actual self.

The Winner: Rambo

 

 

MOST NOTABLE KILLING STYLE:

Yes, we already tackled effects and best action but each of these films has notable murders, deaths and even explosion caused fatalities.

 

Die Hard mostly goes for the headshots and machinery-caused deaths but it ultimately is just a compliment to whatever involving adventure is already proceeding.

 

Terminator and Rambo can be involving in both an over-the-top way and for their grim premises. Their violence is obviously key to their story progresssing while with Die Hard you could easily rewrote certain segments and it would get from Point A to B. With Rambo, he has to go on a jungle romp and the Terminator can’t proceed without being chased by another  seemingly invincible machine.

 

However, since the Terminator often sits in static when not driving or shooting or doing both, and Rambo always spends time rescuing or planning different death traps each installment, the latter has to be the one that impresses the most.

The Winner: Rambo.

 

 

THE FINAL VERDICT:

None of these franchises are perfect (is there ever truly one that is 100%?) and there’s no need for me to restate the various mentions any further. They all have their place in pop culture as stated above but we had to decide the most vital one.

Rambo scored 8 points and Die Hard picked up 9 but Terminator, by just a hair, snagged 10! It was a good match but as inspirational as either of those war or cop thrillers were, we just had to side with the time-traveling bot!