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Face Off: Paul Verhoeven vs. John McTiernan

02.13.2014by: Dave Davis
In last week's Face-Off column, the WWII "men on a mission" movies INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and THE DIRTY DOZEN went up against each other, and the overwhelming consensus seemed to be that I was essentially insane for giving Tarantino's movie the edge over the Lee Marvin tough-guy classic.

With the remake of ROBOCOP stomping into theaters this week (to some less than enthusiastic reviews), let's cast the light on Paul Verhoeven, the man behind the original 1987 genre masterpiece. We'll put him against another director of outstanding action movies from the 80s and 90s, John McTiernan.
THE BEST
Verhoeven made his first major big-budget Hollywood movie in grand style, skewering the media and corporate politics in gleefully savage style with ROBOCOP, and then sending Arnold Schwarzenegger on an exquisitely brutal head-trip to another world in TOTAL RECALL.

After getting sex out of his system (mostly) with the smash hit erotic thriller BASIC INSTINCT, Verhoeven took his eye for propaganda and slaughter into deep space with the brilliant STARSHIP TROOPERS, followed by a sparse stretch and the underappreciated WWII spy thriller BLACK BOOK.
PREDATOR and DIE HARD are stellar (some might say perfect) examples of genre filmmaking, with the latter actually creating its own subgenre of action movies. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER launched the Jack Ryan franchise and was the director's biggest box office hit (even if DIE HARD became his most famous).

McTiernan also gave us the last decent John McClane sequel, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, and 1999's THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR was a breezy improvement on the 1968 Steve McQueen romantic thriller.
THE REST
After finding success and acclaim with a number of Dutch films (several with actor Rutger Hauer), Verhoeven made his American debut with the grimy medieval sex-and-swords tale FLESH + BLOOD.

While SHOWGIRLS has somehow achieved a considerable cult following, that doesn't dismiss the fact that it's not a particularly good movie. HOLLOW MAN featured some impressive (and Oscar-nominated) special effects and an invisible Kevin Bacon causing havoc, but otherwise just turned out to be kind of a disappointing slasher flick.
Before jumping onto the A-list with PREDATOR, McTiernan got his start with the laughable Pierce Brosnan horror movie NOMADS. His MEDICINE MAN was a dreary reunion with HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER star Sean Connery, the remake of ROLLERBALL was justifiably vilified, and BASIC was a glossy but nonsensical attempt at a RASHOMON-style thriller. And at best, THE LAST ACTION HERO could be described as an interesting failure.

Coincidentally, McTiernan and Verhoeven both made a troubled and poorly received (but now admired by some) R-rated, slow-burning medieval adventure filled with mud and misery. McTiernan's was THE 13th WARRIOR, an adaptation of Michael Crichton's book EATERS OF THE DEAD. The author ultimately took over the final edit on the out-of-control production, with McTiernan's original cut likely never to be seen.
STAR MAKER
Though Verhoeven gave her a juicy part as wife-turned-villainess in TOTAL RECALL, it was Sharon Stone's seductive cooch-flashing murder suspect in BASIC INSTINCT that thrust her into stardom (which, aside from CASINO, she never really capitalized on completely).

And before Rutger Hauer began making an impression on American audiences in movies like NIGHTHAWKS, BLADE RUNNER and THE HITCHER, he got his first role on a Dutch TV series thanks to Verhoeven, who also then cast the actor in several features, including the excellent WWII film SOLDIER OF ORANGE.
The then-surprising casting of "Moonlighting" co-star Bruce Willis in DIE HARD shot him to the top of the A-list (the role was initially turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford and Don Johnson). Alan Rickman also made quite an impact as DIE HARD's unforgettable villain Hans Gruber -- the actor's first feature film role.

Before THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, Alec Baldwin's biggest successes were BEETLEJUICE, WORKING GIRL and the primetime soap "Knot's Landing". While he never reprised the role of Jack Ryan or achieved the demand (or paycheck) of Willis, it helped make him a recognizable face and name, and he's been working steadily ever since.
SCHWARZENEGGER COLLABORATION
Verhoeven took advantage of Schwarzenegger's cartoonish size and delivery for the splatter-filled sci-fi epic TOTAL RECALL, which pretends to be a cerebral mystery before Arnie gets his ass to Mars and causes grisly chaos before saving the Red Planet.
Remarkably enough, Arnie was nearly matched in the macho department by his supporting cast for PREDATOR, not to mention having to deal with an eight-foot-tall spaceman with a fatal hobby.

It's more than enough to forgive THE LAST ACTION HERO, an attempt to parody the hyperviolent action genre that Schwarzenegger came to symbolize. That kind of satire is best left to someone else... like Verhoeven.
BLOODSHED
At the time, the squib-loving Verhoeven was truly testing the boundaries of the R-rating with the exaggerated violence of ROBOCOP (with additional mayhem in his director's cut), TOTAL RECALL, and the pure intergalactic carnage of STARSHIP TROOPERS.
We got plenty of bullet-riddled terrorists in two DIE HARD movies, in addition to an extraterrestrial skull collector with some vicious weaponry in PREDATOR and a fair amount of gushing crimson and decapitations in THE 13TH WARRIOR.
CURRENT STATUS
BLACK BOOK has been Verhoeven's only feature in over a decade. The director has been attached to numerous projects, and while nothing has been officially announced, he was most recently rumored for a potential Arnie reunion on the sequel THE LEGEND OF CONAN.
McTiernan is serving a 12-month sentence in a federal minimum-security prison after years of legal entanglements regarding his alleged involvement in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping and racketeering scandal. Though he hasn't been behind the camera since BASIC in 2003, he already has a project lined up to direct once he's released: an independently financed mercenary action movie called RED SQUAD.
IT'S A TIE!
I realize some may get annoyed when Face-Offs wind up in ties, but the truth is I generally just select two subjects and don't know who will end up victorious until I start actually writing my way the column. And in this case, the realization slowly dawned on me that I probably wouldn't be able to decide on a clear winner, as both directors gave us true genre classics while in the prime of their careers -- some of my favorite all-time movies!

Both filmmakers redefined the action genre in the era before CG overkill, McTiernan with his masterful pacing and explosive style, Verhoeven with his fierce pessimism and satirical sensibilities. Their finest efforts were influential and enduring to this day -- Verhoeven's popular releases have spawned a bunch of remakes, sequels and spinoffs both theatrical and direct-to-video (and some that should have been direct-to-video), and we got four more DIE HARDs and four more PREDATOR appearances after McTiernan's gems turned them into franchises.

Agree? Disagree? Which filmmaker is your favorite?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!

MORE FUN FROM AROUND THE WEB

+0
12:00AM on 02/17/2014

McTiernan all the way!

It's no contest! McTiernan duh!?!?!?!?!
Die Hard trumps all of Verhoeven's films. Verhoeven is the one who made Showgirls......come on Joblo!!!!!
It's no contest! McTiernan duh!?!?!?!?!
Die Hard trumps all of Verhoeven's films. Verhoeven is the one who made Showgirls......come on Joblo!!!!!
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7:00AM on 02/14/2014

There is a tie breaker that was not taken into consideration...

Dave, I have to say this is one of the best Face Off columns I've read. Not only for the content, but for the directors you are comparing, I love them both immensely. However, I think there is one point you didn't go through that is important to this discussion: the variety of genres directed and how transcendent the movies were for the industry. With McTiernan, you have an action director, with different sub-genres (action, action-adventure, action-comedy, action-thriller, action-scifi), who
Dave, I have to say this is one of the best Face Off columns I've read. Not only for the content, but for the directors you are comparing, I love them both immensely. However, I think there is one point you didn't go through that is important to this discussion: the variety of genres directed and how transcendent the movies were for the industry. With McTiernan, you have an action director, with different sub-genres (action, action-adventure, action-comedy, action-thriller, action-scifi), who with Die Hard, inspired plenty of filmmakers and studios to make similar movies.
Verhoeven, on the other hand, has more films that have set trends in Hollywood with Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. Everybody and their sister wanted to make the "next of these" (just like some years ago, everyone wanted to make the "next Harry Potter"). On top of that, Verhoeven has definitely played on a wider range of genres, action, sci-fi, erotic thriller and even drama with "Black Book". To me, this definitely gives Verhoeven the edge, as he might have got out of his comfort zone and directed a more diverse selection of films without necessarily playing it safe ("Showgirls").
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5:04PM on 02/13/2014

Got to go with Verhoeven

The man has made one of my top 10 favorite films (Total Recall) and I love Robocop and Starship Troopers as well. But its that movie that gives him the edge, plus I've never been as fond of Predator or the first Die Hard (not to say they were bad). But they each have one of the best action movies of all time (Total Recall and Die Hard with a Vengeance).
The man has made one of my top 10 favorite films (Total Recall) and I love Robocop and Starship Troopers as well. But its that movie that gives him the edge, plus I've never been as fond of Predator or the first Die Hard (not to say they were bad). But they each have one of the best action movies of all time (Total Recall and Die Hard with a Vengeance).
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2:13PM on 02/13/2014

Hey!!!

Whats wrong with Last Action Hero? You keep trying to knock it down. The movie is great and has aged very well and is probably more appreciated now due to the fact that back in 1993 people didnt understand the ridiculousness of the movie and why it was funny because movies were still like that at the time.
Whats wrong with Last Action Hero? You keep trying to knock it down. The movie is great and has aged very well and is probably more appreciated now due to the fact that back in 1993 people didnt understand the ridiculousness of the movie and why it was funny because movies were still like that at the time.
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6:10PM on 02/13/2014
Might be my nostalgia holding me back lol was 7 when it came out haha
Might be my nostalgia holding me back lol was 7 when it came out haha
4:46PM on 02/13/2014
I've gone back and forth on it over the years (actually saw it in the theater) but it's just too much of a mess. Charles Dance is great and it has some good ideas, but the script was clearly overly rewritten and some of the parody attempts are sub-LOADED WEAPON painful. And the kid is too punchable.
I've gone back and forth on it over the years (actually saw it in the theater) but it's just too much of a mess. Charles Dance is great and it has some good ideas, but the script was clearly overly rewritten and some of the parody attempts are sub-LOADED WEAPON painful. And the kid is too punchable.
2:04PM on 02/13/2014

Tough one but...

...I agree with the tie, they're both legends and gave us a ton of great films. Here's hoping Verhoeven does helm Conan 3.
...I agree with the tie, they're both legends and gave us a ton of great films. Here's hoping Verhoeven does helm Conan 3.
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12:53AM on 02/14/2014
No I meant 3. They can ignore movies all they want, I don't.
No I meant 3. They can ignore movies all they want, I don't.
2:14PM on 02/13/2014
You mean Conan 2. They wanna ignore "The Destroyer"
You mean Conan 2. They wanna ignore "The Destroyer"
12:49PM on 02/13/2014

Hell no

No way this is a tie. Hunt for Red October is so much better than anything Verhoeven has ever done. Then add in Die Hard and Predator. Unsure why this is even close? McTiernan's movies hold up over the years, Verhoeven's don't.
No way this is a tie. Hunt for Red October is so much better than anything Verhoeven has ever done. Then add in Die Hard and Predator. Unsure why this is even close? McTiernan's movies hold up over the years, Verhoeven's don't.
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7:36PM on 02/13/2014
You must work at McDonald's.
You must work at McDonald's.
2:19PM on 02/13/2014
You must eat at McDonald's.
You must eat at McDonald's.
12:12PM on 02/13/2014

Like saying "Pick your favorite parent"

They've both given us hits and flops...I'd punch McTiernan for Rollerball but also can't forget how painful Showgirls was to watch. The only ones getting hurt in this battle are the kids. McClane, the Predator, Robocop, Kauto. It's Get to the Choppa vs Get your ass to Mars.
They've both given us hits and flops...I'd punch McTiernan for Rollerball but also can't forget how painful Showgirls was to watch. The only ones getting hurt in this battle are the kids. McClane, the Predator, Robocop, Kauto. It's Get to the Choppa vs Get your ass to Mars.
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5:01PM on 02/13/2014
I was saying that they've both had hits and misses. It's not an easy decision where one is clearly better. I enjoy both directors and own many of their films. That's why I compared this face off to picking a favorite parent.
I was saying that they've both had hits and misses. It's not an easy decision where one is clearly better. I enjoy both directors and own many of their films. That's why I compared this face off to picking a favorite parent.
4:23PM on 02/13/2014
Ridley Scott has had just as many flops as hits, and he is still considered a go to Director. These 2 had more hits than they had flops. Legends if you ask me.
Ridley Scott has had just as many flops as hits, and he is still considered a go to Director. These 2 had more hits than they had flops. Legends if you ask me.
11:59AM on 02/13/2014
As an Action genre fan,love 'em both but Paul Verhoeven wins for Total Recall ('Inception' for Arnold)
As an Action genre fan,love 'em both but Paul Verhoeven wins for Total Recall ('Inception' for Arnold)
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11:30AM on 02/13/2014

:O

John Mctiernan has launched more super stars then Verhoeven.
John Mctiernan has launched more super stars then Verhoeven.
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+4
9:34AM on 02/13/2014
This was a great face off! These two have made some of my all time favorite movies, and i agree on the tie
This was a great face off! These two have made some of my all time favorite movies, and i agree on the tie
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+1
8:50AM on 02/13/2014

Verhoeven takes it

John McTiernan runs very hot and cold for me. I've seen four terrific films from him, but the rest are pretty terrible, and I include Die Hard With a Vengeance in that latter group. Verhoeven has made exactly two stinkers: Hollow man and Showgirls...however his good movies are EXTREMELY good. I haven't seen Nomads or any of Verhoven's pre-Flesh and Blood work, but going by what I have seen, the Dutchman wins this match.
John McTiernan runs very hot and cold for me. I've seen four terrific films from him, but the rest are pretty terrible, and I include Die Hard With a Vengeance in that latter group. Verhoeven has made exactly two stinkers: Hollow man and Showgirls...however his good movies are EXTREMELY good. I haven't seen Nomads or any of Verhoven's pre-Flesh and Blood work, but going by what I have seen, the Dutchman wins this match.
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8:15AM on 02/13/2014
They've both made some killer films - genuine all-time classics. They've both got at least two films that I absolutely cannot get bored of watching. Makes it pretty hard to choose between them.
They've both made some killer films - genuine all-time classics. They've both got at least two films that I absolutely cannot get bored of watching. Makes it pretty hard to choose between them.
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8:15AM on 02/13/2014

Love them both but Verhoeven should win this

Both of their Hollywood careers are pretty much neck and neck with their shares of classics and the rare dud or two but Verhoeven's Dutch film career is pretty stellar and give him the edge over McTiernan.
Both of their Hollywood careers are pretty much neck and neck with their shares of classics and the rare dud or two but Verhoeven's Dutch film career is pretty stellar and give him the edge over McTiernan.
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7:45AM on 02/13/2014
Two great action directors that should work more.
Two great action directors that should work more.
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6:57AM on 02/13/2014
I think these two directors were the reason I became passionate about film.
I think these two directors were the reason I became passionate about film.
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6:52AM on 02/13/2014

As a fellow dutchman and huge fan I'm glad with this verdict.

I would however like to point out that Verhoeven actually directed a small film called Steekspel(don't know if it has a english title) that had a limited release last year. This was a very special project that started on the internet and everone could contribute to it. Although only the best contributed stuff got used, which amounted to nearly nothing. But still! Not Verhoeven's best film, but worth checking out.
I would however like to point out that Verhoeven actually directed a small film called Steekspel(don't know if it has a english title) that had a limited release last year. This was a very special project that started on the internet and everone could contribute to it. Although only the best contributed stuff got used, which amounted to nearly nothing. But still! Not Verhoeven's best film, but worth checking out.
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11:46AM on 02/13/2014
Yeah you're pretty much right in that regard. It doesn't have much of his trademarks in it and was indeed more of a collaborative effort. Although Verhoeven being Verhoeven he still very much held the reins on the project. But you were right not to include that one as a true Verhoeven feature.
Yeah you're pretty much right in that regard. It doesn't have much of his trademarks in it and was indeed more of a collaborative effort. Although Verhoeven being Verhoeven he still very much held the reins on the project. But you were right not to include that one as a true Verhoeven feature.
10:13AM on 02/13/2014
I noticed that project, but it looked like it's only 50 minutes long? It wasn't feature-length and it seemed like a collaborative experiment so I just didn't think it should be included as "his".
I noticed that project, but it looked like it's only 50 minutes long? It wasn't feature-length and it seemed like a collaborative experiment so I just didn't think it should be included as "his".
6:48AM on 02/13/2014

Tie seems more than fair.

I would have struggled to pick between them as, between them, they have directed the greatest action movies ever in Die Hard (and with a vengeance), Robocop and Totall Recall.
Oh and Starship Troopers and Hunt for Red October.
They should make a film together.
I would have struggled to pick between them as, between them, they have directed the greatest action movies ever in Die Hard (and with a vengeance), Robocop and Totall Recall.
Oh and Starship Troopers and Hunt for Red October.
They should make a film together.
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6:10AM on 02/13/2014
For once I agree that this face/off is a tie. Both directors have their own ways of making movies and becoming badasses. In McTiernan defense, I really like Last Action Hero. It has interesting concept and great action although some parts were too long and Austin O'Brien was freakin' annoying.
For once I agree that this face/off is a tie. Both directors have their own ways of making movies and becoming badasses. In McTiernan defense, I really like Last Action Hero. It has interesting concept and great action although some parts were too long and Austin O'Brien was freakin' annoying.
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5:52AM on 02/13/2014

There is redemption for all of us. (apart from those who like the New Robocop)

You redeemed yourself this week Dave.
You redeemed yourself this week Dave.
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5:31AM on 02/13/2014

Tie

I agree… I want to give the edge to McTiernan for the straightforwardness of the bulk of his films, but I love the pulpy self-awareness of Verhoeven…Either way, these two defined 80's action and for that I thank them.
I agree… I want to give the edge to McTiernan for the straightforwardness of the bulk of his films, but I love the pulpy self-awareness of Verhoeven…Either way, these two defined 80's action and for that I thank them.
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5:29AM on 02/13/2014

Clash Of Tians

100% agree - a tie is fair
Some of my all time favorites movies comes from those guys so....
May those 2 legends come back for (at least) one more kick-ass movie !
100% agree - a tie is fair
Some of my all time favorites movies comes from those guys so....
May those 2 legends come back for (at least) one more kick-ass movie !
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5:11AM on 02/13/2014
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Paul Verhoeven's style. Odd comparison to draw but it's like with Tim Burton. I recognise that he's broken a lot of cinematic ground, pushed his share of envelopes and delivered some very innovative work and I understand why many enjoy it, but there is an over the top quality to his work that most garishly manifested itself in Showgirls and which is evident in RoboCop, Total Recall and the rest. I'm going with John McTiernan for how well the likes of Die Hard and
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Paul Verhoeven's style. Odd comparison to draw but it's like with Tim Burton. I recognise that he's broken a lot of cinematic ground, pushed his share of envelopes and delivered some very innovative work and I understand why many enjoy it, but there is an over the top quality to his work that most garishly manifested itself in Showgirls and which is evident in RoboCop, Total Recall and the rest. I'm going with John McTiernan for how well the likes of Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October are constructed. Not a fan of Basic (it's very much a shaggy dog story) but there was an attempt there to something different from your run of the mill thriller. Eagerly awaiting Red Squad.
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