7 Things You Probably Never Knew About Die Hard’s John McClane

A closer look at everyone's favourite wise-cracking action hero.

Die Hard
Die Hard The best Xmas movie ever made? Image 20th Century Fox

It may be almost 30 years old but Die Hard still represents the pinnacle of the action movie genre in Hollywood, helped in no small part by a breakthrough appearance from Bruce Willis.

Up until that point, Willis had been largely known as a high-profile television actor on the popular detective series Moonlighting alongside Cybil Shepherd, but Die Hard was the film and role that catapulted him to super stardom.

Despite the film’s enduring popularity there are still plenty of things Die Hard fans probably don’t know about Detective McClane – here are seven for starters.


1

The first John McClane

Bruce Willis may have made the role of  McClane his own but, technically speaking, he wasn’t the first actor to play the part. Die Hard is actually based on the Roderick Thorp Novel by the name of Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his book The Detective. 

Now here’s where things get a little murky, because The Detective had already been made into a film starring Frank Sinatra by the time Die Hard was made.

In that film, the central character is a Detective by the name of Joe Leland, Sinatra, who is estranged from his wife and must rescue his daughter from German terrorists.

2

The other John McClanes

Sinatra’s connection to Detective Joe Leland meant that the writers behind Die Hard had to first approach the crooner over reprising the role, as he had the rights to the sequel.

Fortunately, Sinatra, who was somewhat advanced in his years, opted against doing the movie and the writers renamed the character from Detective Joe Leland to John McClane. 

It was also decided that the movie would be named Die Hard, rather than Nothing Lasts Forever, as a rom-com bearing the same name had been released several years earlier. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Burt Reynolds, Don Johnson, Harrison Ford and Richard Gere all turned down the role amid concerns over the terrorist-focused script before the studio finally settled on Willis, who earned £5 million for his troubles.

3

All The Appearances

Technically speaking Willis has played the role of McClane in five movies, despite only four of the five being actual Die Hard movies.

His other appearance as McClane came in the early 90s buddy cop action spoof movie National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, starring Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson.

Willis appears briefly as McClane in a scene where the film’s main villain mistakenly destroys his home.

4

John McClane’s Catchphrase

McClane’s signature catchphrase came about as a result of discussions between Willis and the film’s co-writer Steven E. de Souza, who bonded during filming after realizing they grew up near to each other in Pennsylvania.

The pair also had a mutual appreciation of singer and actor Roy Rogers, prompting them to repurpose Rogers’ “yippie ki-yay” catchphrase into the more explicit version for the film.

McClane’s catchphrase “yippe-ki-yay, motherfucker” features in all but one of McClane’s Die Hard outings.

In Die Hard 4.0 or Live Free and Die Hard, McClane begins to say the words “yippee-ki-yay, motherfu…” only to stop halfway through the final line so he can kill the film’s principal villain by shooting through his own shoulder.

It was also a handy way of ensuring the film kept it’s 12A rating… TV versions got round the swearing by having him say “yippie-ki-yay Mr Falcon”.

5

Weapon of Choice

In the original Die Hard, McClane carries a Beretta 92F but by the time the second movie rolls around he’s upgraded to a Beretta 92FS even though it was never issued to police.

McClane eventually moved on to a Sig P22 for the fourth and fifth movies in the Die Hard franchise.

6

Die Hard and Commando

Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted that Die Hard’s John McClane actually exists in the same fictional movie universe as Commando’s Colonel John Matrix (Schwarzenegger).

It’s all to do with the fictional nation of Val Verde, a country that screenwriter De Souza created for use in Commando as a means of avoiding any controversy – Dan Hedaya’s Arius is the dictator of Val Verde and enlists Arnie’s help for a mission.

Using a real nation like El Salvador, for example, would have only generated controversy over the controversial use of a real-life nation. However, the nation of Val Verde pops up again in Die Hard 2, with the film’s bad-guy-in-chief General Ramon Esperanza hailing from the very same region. 

Interestingly, the nation of Val Verde also features in the novelisation of Predator, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

7

Lost In Translation

McClane’s exploits in Die Hard have been retitled with several strikingly different names abroad. In Poland, the first film was called The Glass Trap, in reference to the film’s skyscraper setting. However, they kept it for each of the sequels.

It was a similar story in Spain, where the films took on the title of The Glass Jungle in reference to the building from Die Hard. They did things a little differently in Russia though, where all of the movies go by the title “A Hard Nut To Crack.”

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.