There are action movie blockbusters and then there is Die Hard.
Released back in 1988, Die Hard set out the blueprint for the modern action movie. Pumped up muscles were out, with ordinary joe heroes the new order of the day. Humourous quips were also encouraged, while the painful puns of Arnold Schwarzenegger were relegated to the past.
In a weird way, fans have Arnie to thank for Die Hard though – Bruce Willis only landed the role of John McClane after Schwarzenegger turned it down. Even then, 20th Century Fox head honcho Rupert Murdoch took some convincing before greenlighting Willis’s $5 million paycheck.
It ended up being money well spent though, with Die Hard going on to be a major box office success that spawned four sequels and countless rip-offs. Three decades on from the movie’s debut, it’s time to test your knowledge of the entire franchise.
Jeb Stuart, who wrote the original script for Die Hard, was having difficulty completing the screenplay until a near-death experience. He was involved in a near miss involving a truck carrying refrigerators while driving at night in LA back in the 1980s, following an argument with his wife.
Realising he might have died without making amends with his wife, Stuart inspired to flesh out the motivations of McClane and his wife Holly: they wanted to reunite after a fight.
Reginald VelJohnson may have made the role of Twinkie-loving cop Al Powell his own, but he faced some pretty stiff competition for the part. According to VelJohnson, Wesley Snipes also auditioned for the role while the part was previously offered to none other than Gene Hackman.
The scene where Gruber and Willis meet, with the former pretending to be an American, was only added into the script after producers discovered Rickman was adept at an American accent. Willis and Rickman didn’t rehearse the scene either, with McTiernan eager to create a feeling of spontaneity in their exchange.
It didn’t go so well – part of the scene required Rickman to jump off a three-feet high ledge. He ended up damaging some cartilage in his knee and filmed the rest of the scene standing on one leg. He ended up having to use crutches for a week.
One major plot hole from Die Hard concerned that moment where McClane encounters Gruber for the first time and almost immediately suspects he’s one of the terrorists, despite his American accent.
Steve E. de Souza, who served as a script doctor and co-writer on the project, cleared it up:
“Originally, they get off the truck, the camera craned up you saw them in a circle and Alan Rickman says, ‘Synchronize your watches.’ They all put their arms out in a circle with the camera moving down and they all had the same Tag Heuer watch. If you notice, the first guy Bruce kills almost by accident going down the steps, he searches the body, looks at the IDs. He steals the cigarettes, which is a laugh. He looks at the watch which gets another laugh because you’re thinking he might steal the watch. As he kills each guy, he notices they all had the same watch. When he talks to Dwayne Robinson, he says, ‘I think these guys are professionals. Their IDs are too good. There are no labels on their clothes and they all have the same watch.'”
This scene became problematic, however, when the final few scenes were rewritten to include Gruber’s crew trying to escape in an ambulance that hadn’t featured in the original “synchronise your watches” scene. It, therefore, had to be cut for continuity reasons.
“[Director] John [McTiernan] says to the editor, ‘Get the scissors in there. Cut as soon as you can when they get off the truck so we don’t see there’s no ambulance.’ Now without ‘Synchronize your watches’ all of these moments where Bruce looks at these guys’ watches makes no sense.”
In Die Hard 2, viewers are introduced to main antagonist, Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) in memorable circumstances. When Sadler arrived on set, he tried on a series of costumes before director Renny Harlin hit on the idea of having him do naked tai chi in the scene. Harlin felt it was “an effective, but unusual way to introduce a character”. He wasn’t wrong.
Carlito’s Way and John Wick star John Leguizamo has previously claimed his character, Burke, was supposed to have a bigger role in Die Hard 2. According to his autobiography, the filmmakers opted to reduce his role after realising how short he was. He ended up with one line, which was dubbed, and a stunt double featured in his death scene.
Prior to the release of Die Hard 2, 20th Century Fox and Black & Decker struck a $20,000 deal for the latter’s cordless power drill the Univolt to feature in a scene where McClane removes an air-duct grill in an airport tunnel.
Black & Decker even arranged a marketing campaign around it in the midst of Father’s day gift buying season. However, the scene ended up being cut from the film, prompting. Black & Decker to file a civil lawsuit demanding $150,000 in damages for its “loss of credibility”. The case was eventually settled out of court.
Screenwriter Steve E. de Souza took inspiration from the Iran-Contra affair when crafting the script for Die Hard 2 with General Esperanza standing in for the real-life Manuel Noriega.
He wasn’t allowed to say Esperanza was from Panama so created the fictional South American country of Val Verde. Val Verde actually features in a few de Souza films meaning Die Hard technically exists in the same fictional shared universe as Predator and Commando.
Long before Jeremy Irons landed the role of Simon Gruber, brother of Alan Rickman’s Hans, Sean Connery was approached to play the part. Connery turned down the part, however, stating that the role was a little too dark for his liking.
The controversial white sandwich board McClane wears during the scene in Harlem where he meets Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver didn’t have any words written on it during filming. The board’s controversial statement was added in post-production and actually changed for the film’s television broadcast.
Both Jackson and McTiernan have acknowledged a fatal flaw in the central heist at the heart of Die Hard With A Vengeance. In the film, Gruber and his gang use dump trucks to steal $140 billion of gold bullion. Keeping in mind that a standard gold bar from the Federal Reserve weighs around 25 pounds, that means the gang would have needed 480 dump trucks to steal all of it.
The studio rejected the original ending to Die Hard With A Vengeance, for being too cruel and heartless which is a shame because it’s awesome. In that version of the film, Gruber and his crew escaped America with the gold. McClane tracks Simon down to a smoky gentlemen’s club in Europe. By now he’s been kicked off the police force and is at the end of his tether. He decides to play a game with Simon involving riddles and a rocket launcher. Things climax with McClane, at gunpoint, forcing Gruber to fire the rocket launcher into his own chest.
Justin Timberlake was in line to star alongside Bruce Willis in Live Free Or Die Hard. Willis was reportedly keen on bringing the NSYNC star onboard after working with him on the drama Alpha Dog.
The plan was originally to have Timberlake play Jack McClane, John’s computer hacker son. The story would have seen McClane en route to delivering his son over to the FBI when disaster strikes. Ultimately the plans were scrapped in favour of a story involving his daughter Lucy. The interest in Timberlake never became something more substantial and the character of Jack was rewritten as the Matt Farrell with Justin Long cast.
Live Free Or Die Hard is best remembered for the stunt in which McClane launches a car at a low-flying helicopter. The stunt took three weeks to rehearse. It was put together by first suspending a helicopter in the air with cables before combining shots of a stuntman jumping out of the helicopter and the car colliding with it. CGI effects were then used to remove the cables and rotor blades.
Bruce Willis’s stunt double Larry Rippenkroeger was left badly injured following a stunt gone wrong that saw him fall 25 feet to the pavement. Rippenkroeger suffered fractures in both his wrists and broke several bones in his face with production shut down as a result.
Laid up in the hospital while production temporarily shut down, Rippenkroeger was regularly visited by Willis and his parents, who stayed in hotels nearby that were paid for by Willis.
Bruce Willis picked up a pretty severe injury during the scene where Mai Lihn swings on a wife into a truck being driven by McClane and hits him in the face. Lihn’s stunt double accidentally cut Willis on the eyebrow during filming with her spiked heel. The cut was so deep that when medics examined the injury they noticed Willis’ brow bone was exposed.
A Good Day To Die Hard holds the distinction of being the first Die Hard movie to be based on an entirely original story. Die Hard is actually based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever. The screenplay for Die Hard 2 was adapted from the Walter Wager book 58 minutes.
Die Hard With A Vengeance actually started life as a script called Simon Says which was first rewritten as a Lethal Weapon sequel before being retooled as a Die Hard movie. Live Free Or Die Hard, meanwhile, is based on a script from Enemy of the State writer David. Marconi, title WW3.com.
At one point, Fox was rumoured to be entertaining the idea of making Die Hard 5 a crossover movie with its biggest TV property of the time, 24.
Die Hard 24/7 would have potentially seen John McClane and Jack Bauer team up to tackle an unknown terrorist force. Alas, Kiefer Sutherland reportedly pulled the plug on the idea, having decided it would be better to explore a standalone 24 movie.
A glut of familiar names were in contention for the part of John McClane Jr in A Good Day to Die Hard. Liam Hemsworth, Aaron Paul, James Badge Dale, and D.J. Cotrona were said to be the four finalists in contention for the role. Then, all of a sudden, Jai Courtney bagged the role after impressing in Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
Joe Cornish and Nicolas Winding Refn were both said to be on a shortlist of directors to take on A Good Day To Die Hard before Irish filmmaker John Moore landed the gig.
Though Refn has insisted he had no idea of the link and would probably have said no to the project, his comments to IndieWire suggest the presence of Willis and the producers behind on the project would have been the biggest stumbling block.
“There are certain [franchises] that there’s no point to try and change them,” he said. “Because [the people involved] probably wouldn’t want it to be changed.” It would have been an interesting movie though.