“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs." Die Hard is one of, if not the only film that is universally lauded as the greatest action movie of all time. Even more unique is that it’s sequels, from great films to subpar ones, don’t take the luster of the first adventure. The movie simply changed so much about the action genre. Instead of ginormous, hulking action stars, John McClane was an Everyman. Bruce Willis made the choice to play him as a guy who doesn’t like himself very much but will always do his best to do the right thing.
It launched a dearth of lookalike films. Instead of one Everyman cop, how about two (Lethal Weapon)? Die-Hard on a bus (Speed)? On a plane (Air Force One)? Trains (Under Siege 2: Dark Territory)? The White House, a hockey arena, and even most recently in a skyscraper again. You name it, we probably have a Die Hard On A...for it. Bruce Willis was madman after this flick. Hollywood was introduced to the great thespian, Alan Rickman. It even became the go-to Christmas movie for people who have no interest in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
What are some of the reasons that Die Hard became a masterpiece? How about some of the more fun and interesting tidbits about director John McTiernan’s masterpiece. Grab some eggnog, gather around the digital hearth and check out this article.
Here are 20 Little Details Behind The Making Of Die Hard.
20 “A Tough Nut To Crack”
Someone in marketing must have thought that “Morir Duro” didn’t have enough cache to it, since the Spanish name for Die Hard was changed into The Crystal Jungle. The phrase Die Hard doesn’t translate well in any language apparently. Other fun names for the film are Poland’s The Glass Trap, the Finnish version translates to Over My Dead Body.
However, it is the Russian version that probably gives us the best, or at least, the funniest translation with, A Hard Nut To Crack. While the translations are misconstrued in all of the translations, they at least make for pretty funny titles.
19 Sequel To A Sinatra Flick
While it’s not considered part of the John McClane series canon, die-hard Die Hard fans might want to check out Frank Sinatra’s The Detective. From 1963, Sinatra stars as Joe Leland investigating a homicide that may or not have a lot more to it.
Because of the Chairman Of The Board’s contract status in ‘63, he was legally entitled to any sequel rights. At 73-year-old, Sinatra gracefully bowed out of Die Hard. Coincidentally, Bruce Willis’ first film role was as an extra in Sinatra’s The First Deadly Sin.
18 Rickman Originally Said No
Rest his soul, Alan Rickman was one of the greatest actors of the past forty years. Scene-stealing performances in Harry Potter and Dogma were just the tip of the iceberg on an amazing career. Robin Hood and Galaxy Quest showed off just how versatile the thespian really was.
Shockingly enough, Die Hard was actually Alan Rickman’s first film role. Director John McTiernan caught him in a stage performance and thought Rickman would be great as Hans, but the stage actor said no. Thankfully after some cajoling from his agent, Rickman changed his tune and gave us an iconic performance for an iconic film.
17 Bruce Willis Was The Last Choice
Similar to Rickman, this was also Bruce Willis’ first big starring role in a major motion picture. However, unlike Alan Rickman, nobody was knocking down Willis’ door. At the time he was a TV star on the series, Moonlighting. At this time as well, TV and movie stars seldom intermingled.
Just about every action star of the day was considered and offered the role. From being a possible vehicle for action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, to Robert DeNiro; basically, name the star and they were offered the role. Bruce Willis was nowhere near being offered this role.
16 Another Famous Ad-Libbed Line
In the pantheon of memorable and quotable lines in movies, there are so many that happened on the fly. Lines like “You can’t handle the truth,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “I’m walking here,” “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” and many other classic film lines weren’t in the original script - they were just a product of an actor at that moment.
So it goes with what became Die Hard’s and the entire series’ tagline. While “yippee-ki-yay” was in the original script, Willis added the colorful button on the line to add some flair and the rest is history.
15 Based On A Book
Writer Roderick Thorp should be thanked for his contributions to Die Hard. After all, he wrote the original novel, a sequel to his earlier work, The Detective. Originally titled, Nothing Lasts Forever, it told the story of NYPD Joe Leland visiting his daughter at the Klaxon Oil building in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.
Another possible version of this film had a gravelly voice and gravely face Clint Eastwood starring in the role, as he owned the rights to the original novel, which was inspired by The Towering Inferno.
14 A Midsummer Night’s Dream
While the movie does take a heap of inspiration from the novel, including many or its memorable action sequences. The air ducts, heaving a bomb right down the elevator shaft, even the climactic strapping a gun to McClane’s back; it all canine right from the pages of Nothing Lasts Forever.
Die Hard does follow its source material closely, but one aspect that John McTiernan changed for the better was the timing of the movie. The novel took place over three days. However, thanks to another literally classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the events unfold over the course one night instead of three.
13 Commando 2: Goin’ Full Commando
After annihilating approximately an entire army to save his daughter in the first Commando feature, certainly a small group of fancy-schmancy crooks would be an easy task for John Matrix. Had it not been for Arnold Schwarzenegger gearing up to resurrect a different franchise, Die Hard might have looked like an entirely different film.
The Austrian Oak was getting ready to again play the Terminator and declined Commando 2. That of course, paved the way for Willis to get the role. Depending on who you speak with, however like the screenwriter of both films, the only similarity between the two films was that they took place in buildings.
12 Hans Gruber’s Real Reaction
While it does seem to go on for a few seconds longer than it has to, the slow-motion end to Hans Gruber is a fitting end to a vile villain set to blow up all of his hostages just for a ton of money. He would’ve gotten away with it too if not for those meddling kids and their pesky dog...whoops wrong movie.
However, if you ever wondered the last ride of Hans Gruber looks legit isn’t because of how great Alan Rickman is, it’s because when he performed the stunt, the director informed him they’d drop him on the count of three. When they filmed the scene though, the surprise was on Rickman; they dropped him on two.
11 Meeting Bill Clay Was Not In Script
Having two fairly new actors in starring roles just going for it in every scene. Once the creative team realized Alan Rickman could pull off a convincing American accent, they just knew that Hans Gruber and John McClane would have to meet up before the big finale.
So, they devised the scene where McClane stumbles across Hans, who has been searching for the detonators and introduces himself as Bill Clay; which leads to the moment that McClane being barefoot pays off when Hans and Karl take out a ton of glass.
10 Nakatomi Plaza Is Real
The film was once billed as 40 stories of sheer adventure. The Nakatomi Tower was being built at the time that criminals took it over in the heart of Los Angeles. If it looks familiar to fans, that’s because it’s a very real location.
It’s also not the last time the building is was overtaken by terrorists. It was taken over by the Lone Rangers in Airheads, and a mad bomber in Speed. The real-life building is Fox headquarters, and it definitely makes for a pretty shot for a tv or movie to shoot at.
9 Thank Cybill Sheperd
Sure, everyone from Harrison Ford to Burt Reynolds was offered the role of John McClane. However, once Bruce Willis was apparently the only male actor left in Hollywood, even HE had to turn down the role, originally, but thanks to his Moonlighting costar, Cybill Shepherd, he was able to pull off the role.
According to an interview with Willis, “I think I’d already read the script for Die Hard once but had to pass because of the show. As it turns out, a miracle happened – Cybil Shepherd got pregnant and they shut down the show for 11 weeks – just the right amount of time for me to run around over at Nakatomi Tower.”
8 McClane’s Tumble Was Real
Several of the key scenes in the film took place within the elevator shafts and air ducts of Nakatomi Plaza. These are pretty harrowing scenes that can make a viewer’s hair stand up and feel a little claustrophobic. Perhaps, because the sequence where McClane missed the first vent was real.
The stuntman who was performing the death-defying fete tumbled a decent height before grabbing onto another vent. Once John McTiernan realized the stuntman was ok, he decided to put this scene into the final cut.
7 Really Loud Gunfire
There are a ton of action scenes in Die Hard, and most of them all have guns. A lot of guns. All of those guns needed to sound like real guns. So, John McTiernan asked for and received special blanks for the film’s artillery.
That artillery was loud, and with Bruce Willis having to fire rounds in close quarters, particularly the sequence where Willis blasts one of the henchmen from underneath a table, he blasted some of his hearing away too. Willis received partial hearing loss from his trouble.
6 The Most Famous Tank Top Ever
One of the coolest parts about Die Hard is that John McClane is just an ordinary guy. When he comes to visit his wife, he’s wearing ordinary clothes. He’s cleaning himself up and just wearing a tank top when the criminals attack and he has to quickly swing into action.
By the end of McClane’s ordeal, his undershirt had seen far better days. But Willis (or the prop master) kept the shirt for nearly twenty years. During the promotion for Live Free Or Die Hard, Willis stopped by the Smithsonian Museum to donate the shirt and a poster for the original film. It now resides nearby Dorothy’s red slippers and President Lincoln’s epic top hat.
5 Gruber Winces
Perhaps because it was the first movie, or maybe because Alan Rickman didn’t like guns, but Rickman flinches every time Hans Gruber fires his gun. However, rather than write in a specific why Hans doesn’t fire any guns, McTiernan just cut around the flinching.
The careful editing made for some pretty cool imagery, most notable when Gruber takes out Takagi, the camera just moves to the window where you can see his remains. However, you can catch Rickman blink right before the shoot the glass scene.
4 Fake German Accents Vs. Real German Actor
There has been much hullaballoo made over the years about the villainous German terrorists of Die Hard and how over the top their accents were and the German gibberish they were spewing, minus a few real words here and there.
While everyone is acting, it’s kind of funny that All-American John McClane was played by an actor who was more German than the actors playing the Germans. Willis was born to a military father and a German mother living on a base in West Germany.
3 Willis’ Speech Got Him 12 Monkeys
Another classic Bruce Willis movie is the Terry Gilliam time traveling flick, 12 Monkeys. Gilliam, if you’re not in the know, is not your conventional film director. He even gave Willis a list of Bruce Willis acting tropes not to use, such as the “steely-eyed blue-eyed stare.”
Willis was actually cast for his role based on an ad-libbed speech that Willis gave in Die Hard. During the scene, while Willis is pulling the glass out of his feet, he improvs a story while talking to Powell. Terry Gilliam was impressed by the guy's sensitivity he displayed in the scene.
2 Gruber Is The Protagonist and McClane Is The Antagonist
Barney spoke about it on How I Met Your Mother. Hans Gruber is the real star of the film, because he’s the one that “dies hard.” However, Barney was onto something, even though he didn’t know it. As anyone who knows writing could espouse to you for hours. The protagonist is 99.9% of the time the hero of the piece, because he or she drives the plot of the story.
Basically, if Hans and friends don’t try to rob the building, John reconciles with his wife. Essentially, the film is a tragic story of a guy trying to get rich and failing because of being antagonized by a flat-foot cop just visiting his estranged wife.
1 Climactic Scene Was Filmed Real Quick
Anyone who makes a movie or has made a movie knows about the hours of preparation that goes into making a scene. For the climactic helicopter sequence in Die Hard, like a lot of intense action sequences could take months to map out and plan all for a few minutes of a movie.
For whatever the reason though, John McTiernan and his crew were only given several hours to actually film it. In order to pull off this amazing scene, he culled together nine camera crews to capture everything he needed in three takes on top of Nakatomi Plaza.
Do you know of any other details behind the making of Die Hard? Let us know in the comments!