Long considered to be the greatest action movie ever made, Die Hard has inspired a slew of sequels and copycats, none of which have ever lived up to its legend. The story of John McClane taking on a building full of terrorists who have intruded on his estranged wife’s office Christmas party is one that has connected with millions of moviegoers across several generations.
It’s one of those movies that never gets old – you can watch it over and over again (usually around the holiday season) and it never becomes boring. So, here are 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Die Hard.
10 Alan Rickman wasn’t expecting to be dropped so soon
In the climactic scene of Die Hard, John McClane reveals the hidden gun strapped to his back and sends Hans Gruber flying out the window, but he grabs onto Holly’s hair. The iconic death scene comes when Hans is dropped from the building and falls in slow-motion. In that shot, Alan Rickman looks surprised, and that’s because the actor was dropped (only a few feet, not the dozens of stories as depicted in the film – that’s movie magic for you) a few seconds before the crew told him he would be. This was done to get an authentic reaction of fear out of Rickman, and it’s fair to say that it worked.
9 Bruce Willis wore rubber feet to run across the broken glass
One of the most pivotal scenes in Die Hard is when Hans Gruber’s men are in a shootout with John McClane. McClane has good cover, so they’re not hitting him. Gruber instead tells them to shoot the window panes, because he’s barefoot, so they do and shards of broken glass are sprinkled all around McClane.
This is followed by a gruesome scene in which McClane runs across the broken glass and then pulls shards out of his bloodied feet. In order to get this shot, Bruce Willis was fitted with rubber shoes that would resemble his feet. If you look closely at his feet when he’s running across the glass, you’ll notice that they look abnormally large.
8 A near-death experience inspired the movie’s central conflict
Screenwriter Jeb Stuart was having a hard time turning Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever into the Hollywood action thriller that 20th Century Fox wanted, because he was struggling to connect with the characters. Then, late one night, he was driving in Los Angeles following a big argument with his wife. He was driving behind a refrigerator truck and one of the boxes fell off the truck. The box turned out to be empty, but Stuart realized that if there had been a fridge in there and he’d been killed, he wouldn’t have been able to apologize to his wife for the fight. From this, he figured out the conflict of Die Hard: John and Holly want to reunite following a heated argument that they both regret.
7 Nakatomi Plaza is Fox’s headquarters
The real name of Nakatomi Plaza is Fox Plaza, and at the time, it was the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox, the studio that was mounting Die Hard in the first place. For budgetary reasons, the company ended up having to charge itself to rent the building. It’s not easy to make a building iconic, especially a fictional one, but now, anyone who sees that building in the Los Angeles skyline is going to instantly recognize it as the skyscraper that John McClane ejected a band of terrorists from. Since Fox owned the building, they could set off actual explosions inside, so a lot of the film’s explosions are real.
6 Bruce Willis’ hectic schedule allowed the supporting characters a chance to shine
Since Bruce Willis was also shooting episodes of Moonlighting at the same time that he was shooting Die Hard, he was constantly exhausted. Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza was asked to lighten his workload and shuffle some scenes around. So, he decided to do so by giving supporting characters like Argyle, Powell, and Ellis more scenes, and as a result, more characterization and personality, which gave the actors a chance to shine. It’s hard to imagine the Bruce Willis of today relinquishing some of his screen time to allow the supporting players to have more, but then, that’s the nature of fame.
5 Alan Rickman almost passed on playing Hans Gruber
Alan Rickman had never been in a movie before Die Hard, let alone a Hollywood movie. He’d only ever appeared in British TV shows and theatrical productions. Two days after arriving in Hollywood, he was offered the role of Hans Gruber, and he almost turned it down. He was skeptical about his first film role being a villain in an action movie.
In a way, it’s both good and bad that he took the role. It’s good, because he elevated the typically generic role of the action movie villain to a screen legend. But it’s also bad, because Rickman’s fears came to fruition – he was so great as Hans that he was typecast as a villain for years afterwards.
4 Hardly any of the terrorists are actually German
The terrorists that take over Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard are all supposed to be German, but only a couple of them actually are, and a couple more than that could speak a few phrases of broken German. The casting team was more interested in finding actors who would look scary (nine out of the 12 actors playing the terrorists towered over Bruce Willis at more than six feet tall) than actors who were actually from Germany. Funnily enough, Bruce Willis, whose character is mocked by the bad guys for being an all-American hero, is more German than most of the German terrorists, having been born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.
3 The wardrobe department had 17 vests with varying grubbiness
Shooting a movie that takes place in one day is monumentally difficult, especially if it’s being shot out of order. It might seem easy for the wardrobe department to work on one of these movies, because they only need one outfit for each character, but over the course of the story, those outfits get dirtied up to various degrees, particularly in the case of John McClane, who spends Die Hard crawling around dusty vents and bleeding all over his undershirt. As a result, the wardrobe department for Die Hard had 17 different undershirts with varying degrees of grubbiness, depending on where across the film’s timeline each day’s scenes were set.
2 Alan Rickman flinched every time he fired a gun
In post-production on Die Hard, director John McTiernan found that he had to cut away from Hans Gruber whenever he fired a gun, because Alan Rickman would unconsciously flinch every time the prop gun went off. The flinching detracted from the cold menace that Rickman had expertly built around the character. In the famously brutal scene where he shoots Takagi point blank, you can see Rickman flinch if you watch his face closely. The good thing about employing such shocking violence is that it distracts the audience’s eyes from things like that (until they read about this, that is, and then they can’t unsee it).
1 Bruce Willis was the absolute last resort for the role of John McClane
No one is more perfect for the role of John McClane than Bruce Willis. But originally, the producers were looking to cast anyone besides Willis. At the time, he was known as a TV actor for the dramedy series Moonlighting, so it didn’t seem wise to cast him as the lead in a Hollywood action movie. Frank Sinatra was the first choice, due to a contractual obligation to the studio, but since the iconic crooner was then in his late 70s, he turned it down. The script was offered to pretty much every action star (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds) and every non-action star (Nick Nolte, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Richard Dean Anderson) in Hollywood before the producers finally settled on Willis.