Die Hard” (1988) is required Christmas season viewing for many, but “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” (1990) should not be overlooked. Although both are rightly revered as classics, I personally like the sequel more, and it certainly leans harder into its holiday trappings. This one takes place in Washington, D.C., in a snowstorm, and the terrorists set up camp in a church that’s being shut down to make way for runway expansion.
Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of Philip K. Dick adaptations: Those that are faithful to his themes while switching the medium to movies (“Blade Runner,” “Minority Report”), those that are so faithful they come off too rigid (“A Scanner Darkly,” “Radio Free Albemuth”), and those that launch an action movie from a PKD premise (even though PKD almost never wrote action sequences). “Total Recall” (1990) introduces us to this most ubiquitous type of adaptation.
The Crow” (1994) is more style than substance, as director Alex Proyas uses the comic book adaptation as a testing ground for his brilliant “Dark City” (1998). But the style is pretty great. The unnamed city patrolled by Eric Draven/The Crow (Brandon Lee) is filled with crumbling and seemingly abandoned architecture and perpetually wet streets. And when the back-from-the dead Crow reflects on the murder of himself and his wife Shelly (Sofia Shinas), he’s literally seeing red. Those flashes of red-tinged violence are hard to follow – as are the motivations of the bad guys, of which there are just enough to fill the running time of this revenge actioner.
Swamp Thing” (1982) achieved a spot on the short list of worst movies to get a sequel upon the release of “The Return of Swamp Thing” (1989). With B-movie and soft-core porn director Jim Wynorski taking over for Wes Craven, this followup likewise belongs on the cinematic compost heap, but it’s actually the less bad of the two pictures. It has a consistent campy tone, and while it’s never for a minute good, it has enough forward momentum to not be as mind-numbingly boring as the first one.
Director Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” (2002) isn’t the most by-the-book adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story (most agree that’s “A Scanner Darkly”). But it respects the themes and messages of the 1956 short story and it’s ultimately one of the best movies inspired by his work. In addition to being a propulsive blockbuster actioner starring Tom Cruise, it’s also an irresistibly detailed vision of 2054 that lets us mull the pros and cons of precrime even as Cruise’s John Anderton tries to solve a tangled mystery.
Between the “Matrix” and “John Wick” franchises, Keanu Reeves took a stab at another franchise with “Constantine” (2005), based on the DC/Vertigo comics antihero (invented in 1985) who can see demons in their true form. It didn’t launch a movie saga – perhaps because it gets overblown in the back half — but it was followed by a TV series (2014-15), and both the film and series have loyal fans.
Aneat thing about the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise is that it’s one big saga, with the 1976-81 TV series, the 2000-03 movies, the short-lived 2011 TV series and the new movie (opening Friday) taking place in the same universe. This is possible because it’s a simple premise: The independently wealthy man of the title (voiced by John Forsythe in the first two incarnations) hires out his trained-from-youth agents for missions that require them to achieve objectives and escape huge explosions by microseconds.
Blade: Trinity” (2004) gives Blade (Wesley Snipes) some friends, and what a great decision that is. Blade retains his badass loner persona, but now Ryan Reynolds is in the mix, laying down one-liners like he’s auditioning for Deadpool, and a buff and sexy Jessica Biel also signs up. David S. Goyer, the ubiquitous (some say too much so) superhero film writer who also penned the first two installments, adds director duties here and pares “Blade” down to its essentials. The wonderfully staged action sequences, snort-worthy quips and game performances combine to make this the best of the trilogy.
With Season 2 (April), which recently wrapped its free-to-all run on YouTube Premium, “Cobra Kai” has secured its spot as the best continuation of a 1980s premise (a surprisingly robust genre lately). The safe, cheesy and sometimes flat-out bad (but yes, we loved it anyway) filmmaking of the “Karate Kid” trilogy has given way to a confident, funny, epic and ultimately heart-wrenching TV series.
Rambo: First Blood Part II” (1985), following the 1982 masterpiece “First Blood,” is generally seen as the point at which “Rambo” turns into a dumb action series, but that’s unfair. Certainly, it has all the stereotypes of over-the-top Eighties spectacle such as the Russian helicopter’s single bomb blowing up an entire waterfall and hillside, Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) unfurling explosive arrows that blow people up on impact, and the meme-worthy shot of muscleman Rambo letting loose with his machine gun and a savage yell.