‘Die Hard’ or ‘Inception’? Get ready for an action-packed Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown

Bruce Willis in the 1988 movie "Die Hard."
(Moviestore / REX / Shutterstock)

Welcome to Week 11 of the L.A. Times Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown, our 16-week contest to program the greatest summer movie season ever. Or at least since 1975, the year that “Jaws” forever changed the landscape of moviemaking, gross tallying and beach bumming forever.

To recap the rules: Each week, I present you with a list of 16 movies from 1975 to 2019, all of which were released during a particular summer time frame. You may vote for your favorites on my Twitter account, @JustinCChang; each week’s polls are posted at 5 p.m. Pacific Tuesday.

We start by pitting the 16 films against each other in eight head-to-head match-ups. Eight films will compete in the quarterfinal round, then four in the semifinals, followed by a final showdown between the last two movies standing.

Our first nine winners are “The Avengers” (Week 1, May 1-7), “Bridesmaids” (Week 2, May 8-14), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Week 3, May 15-21), “Alien” (Week 4, May 22-28), “Finding Nemo” (Week 5, May 29-June 4), “Jurassic Park” (Week 6, June 5-11), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Week 7, June 12-18), “Jaws” (Week 8, June 19-25), “Do the Right Thing” (Week 9, June 26-July 2) and “Back to the Future” (Week 10, July 3-9).


At 6 p.m. this Thursday, my Times colleague Mark Olsen will be hosting a live chat on “Back to the Future” that will be streamed on the Los Angeles Times Classic Hollywood Facebook Page and YouTube, as well as Twitter.

This week’s terrific lineup covers films that opened between July 10 and July 16. Forced to make a prediction, I’d expect this race to come down to two thrillers, “Die Hard” and “Inception,” which exemplify, respectively, the pulse-pounding and mind-bending extremes of the action genre. That said, I hope we’re in for some surprises, given the number of excellent comedies (“A Fish Called Wanda” and “There’s Something About Mary” among them) and some superb, thoughtful dramas (like “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Boyz n the Hood”) that are also in the mix this week.

Here are our eight opening match-ups:

Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in the movie "Inception."
(Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.)

“Escape From New York” (1981) vs. “Die Hard” (1988)
Six great names in action filmmaking: John Carpenter and John McTiernan. Kurt Russell and Bruce Willis. And, of course, Snake Plissken and John McClane.

“A Fish Called Wanda” (1988) vs. “True Lies” (1994)
Jamie Lee Curtis two ways: as a conniving jewel thief in a still-hilarious comedy, and as a reluctant action hero in an action spectacular that hasn’t aged well.

“When Harry Met Sally … ” (1989) vs. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (2011)
What can I say? There’s something about Harry.

“Ghost” (1990) vs. “Point Break” (1991)
A Patrick Swayze-off between Jerry Zucker’s hit supernatural romance and Kathryn Bigelow’s hypnotic crime thriller seemed inevitable, though I suppose “Ghost” could also have gone up against “Deathly Hallows” (potter vs. Potter).

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in "Ghost."
(Paramount Pictures)

“There’s Something About Mary” (1998) vs. “Legally Blonde” (2001)
Two terrific comedies that double as PSAs on the importance of proper hair care.

“Boyz n the Hood” (1991) vs. “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)
Two career-defining, ultimately unsurpassable feature debuts: a wrenching coming-of-age classic from the late John Singleton and a conceptually innovative horror-thriller from Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.

“Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) vs. “Inception” (2010)
Is “Inception” Christopher Nolan’s most Kubrickian film? Either way, these are two remarkable forays into dream logic from two of Hollywood’s most exacting commercial filmmakers.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014) vs. “War for the Planet of the Apes” (2017)
I’d vote for “War,” but given Matt Reeves’ superb direction and Andy Serkis’ mind-boggling simian metamorphosis in both films, there really are no wrong answers here.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the movie "Eyes Wide Shut."
(Associated Press)

How to vote: If you have a Twitter account (and if you don’t, you can sign up for one for free), you may vote in the polls that I will post this week. Here’s the schedule:

Tuesday, July 14
5 p.m.: Polls open for knockout round; voting ends at 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 15
8 a.m.: Polls open for quarterfinals; voting ends at 4 p.m.
5 p.m.: Polls open for semifinals; voting ends at 1 a.m. Thursday.

Thursday, July 16
8 a.m.: Polls open for final vote.
4 p.m.: Final polls close; winner announced.

Happy voting — and stay tuned for Week 11.