Die Hard is a movie that wears many hats. For some, it’s their favorite movie from the ‘80s. For others, it’s the best action movie of all time, and for many, Christmas simply isn’t the same without popping the classic Bruce Willis flick in for a watch.
Made in 1988 for a mere $28 million – a small figure compared to action blockbusters today – Die Hard went on to earn more than $140 million. Despite the fact that critics were divided over the film, the money spoke for itself.
With its endearing protagonist John McClane, the scene-stealing villain Hans Gruber, and memorable wise cracks, Die Hard represents the ultimate combination of jaw-dropping action and entertaining drama.
The original film inspired four sequels, and Die Hard soon became an enormous blockbuster franchise. There’s even a reboot on the way about a young John McClane before the events of the Nakatomi Christmas party. But for most fans, nothing can top the original 1988 film.
No matter how much you love Die Hard, these insane behind-the-scenes facts are bound to surprise fans. From casting trivia to happy on-set mistakes to surprising ad-libs, this list breaks down the most interesting Die Hard secrets.
Here are the 15 Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About Die Hard.
15 It Was Alan Rickman’s Feature Movie Debut
There simply is no Die Hard without its villain, Hans Gruber. Sure, John McClane is important – but Alan Rickman’s slick and performance as the film’s intimidating antagonist really steals the show.
His undeniable screen presence in Die Hard is doubly impressive considering it was his first role in a feature film. The British actor already had an impressive theater career under his belt and was 41 when he took the role.
But his performance as Gruber almost didn’t happen. When the actor was thinking about entering Hollywood, he was picky about what role he would choose as his first.
The actor nearly passed on Die Hard because he wasn’t sure if he wanted an action film to be his big film debut. It’s a good thing he changed his mind.
Rickman’s Hans Gruber has gone down in history as one of the best on-screen villains of all time.
14 Bruce Willis Received a Huge Salary
When it comes to actors’ salaries, $5 million doesn’t seem like much in today’s film industry. But back in 1988, the figure was virtually unimaginable.
Multi-million dollar paychecks were typically reserved for only the biggest names at that point in the business, and even then, the figures only numbered in the $2 or $3 million range.
But when Bruce Willis signed on to play John McClane in Die Hard, producers were willing to go all out for the actor. Willis was hired for a pay of $5 million. His salary was so high, it caused a wave of panic across Hollywood.
Producers worried that such high payouts would become the norm, causing film budgets to grow unprecedented amounts. Of course, that’s exactly what happened.
13 It Has Surprising Connections to Literature (and Sinatra)
Of all the movies that have been adapted from novels, Die Hard is probably the last you’d suspect to be on the list. But it’s true: Die Hard is an adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever, one of the books in a series of novels by author Roderick Thorp.
The first book of the series was actually adapted into a movie by Hollywood filmmakers too. In 1968, Frank Sinatra starred as the lead in the film version of the first book, The Detective.
Funnily enough, because Sinatra starred in the first film adaptation of Thorpe’s series, producers were obligated per Sinatra’s contract to offer him the role of McClane in 1988.
Considering Sinatra was in his 70s at the time, it’s not hard to see why he turned it down.
12 Alan Rickman Wasn’t a Fan of All the Gunfire
Alan Rickman’s extensive experience in theater might have trained him well for his scenes with Bruce Willis, but there are some things that a stage career simply can’t prepare you for.
As if adjusting to acting on a film set in front of a camera and crew wasn’t a big enough switch, Die Hard presented another challenge for Rickman: dealing with stunts and gunfire.
Whenever blanks were fired during a scene on set, Rickman would flinch from the noise. Even though he tried not to, the stage actor found it impossible to stop, having never acted in action sequences before.
This forced director John McTiernan to cut around the actor’s jumps while editing in post-production.
Rickman can be caught flinching for a split second during the scene where he fires his gun and kills Takagi for not giving up the Nakatomi vault code.
11 Bruce Willis Was the Last Choice for McClane
Today he’s one of Hollywood’s biggest names, but when he took on the role of Die Hard’s leading man, Bruce Willis was largely known as a television actor.
Willis appeared weekly on TV screens all across America with his role on Moonlighting, but he wasn’t necessarily a big enough name to draw in the box office numbers producers wanted with Die Hard. So when McTiernan floated Willis’ name as a possibility, producers shot him down.
Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood, and Harrison Ford were all offered the role, and they all turned it down. Producers were disappointed they didn't snag an actor that was more famous. Little did they know exactly how popular Willis would become after the film.
Willis dazzled fans with his performance in Die Hard, and the movie skyrocketed his name into A-list fame.
10 It Was Inspired By Shakespeare
Die Hard is renowned for its lean and effective storyline, which has proven to be a template for other action films to rip off of for some time now.
Die Hard’s plot unfolds in primarily one location over the span of one day. It’s a difficult feat for any film to pull off, but Die Hard did it with ease.
Maybe it’s because John McTiernan was taking lessons from a literary master. As it turns out, McTiernan turned to none other than Shakespeare for advice when making Die Hard. The original script had the events of Die Hard unfold over three days.
But McTiernan was struck with inspiration by the famous Shakespeare comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, whose storyline also takes place in one day.
He changed Die Hard to fit the play’s structure, making the storyline one of the most impressive and entertaining plots in action film history.
9 John McClane Was Supposed to be a Hot-Shot
One of the reasons Die Hard was so revolutionary as an action movie was its decision to have a protagonist that was just another “average Joe”.
In the wake of other action films that had characters like Rambo in First Blood who had near superhuman abilities, McClane’s down-to-earth character was a refreshing change of pace.
But McClane wasn’t always written as the relatable character he’s celebrated for being today. The original draft of Die Hard conceived of McClane as a sharp, hot-shot New York cop who always had the answers.
But Willis and McTiernan decided to bring the character in a different direction on set. As McTiernan says on the Die Hard director’s commentary track, McClane’s wit in the face of danger brought the character to a different level.
“That irreverence is what we seem to love about him,” the director said.
8 Sam Neill Was the First Choice for Hans Gruber
While producers worked to find a famous actor to headline Die Hard, they also tried to seek out an equally famous performer to take on the role of John McClane’s foe. Before the filmmakers found the perfect villain in Alan Rickman, they first tried a different route.
New Zealand actor Sam Neill was actually first approached to play Die Hard’s big bad, Gruber. Neill had an extensive onscreen career at this point and was exactly the type of established actor producers wanted for the film.
But Neill passed on the part, and filmmakers were forced to think outside the box to cast their movie’s villain.
Luckily, McTiernan found Rickman performing on the English stage shortly after Neill’s refusal. As they say, the rest is history.
7 That Fall Down the Ventilation Shaft Was Real
One of Die Hard’s most nerve-wracking sequences is when McClane uses the strap off of his gun to rappel down a ventilation shaft in order to escape from a pair of Gruber’s henchmen.
The scene is especially tense when the strap slips off the gun and causes McClane to fall a terrifying distance just as he’s about to grab a vent and climb to freedom.
Action sequences like this are usually ruined when you learn how they were filmed, but this scene might be an exception. The fall seen in the film is actually a genuine on-set mistake.
Originally, the stunt man was supposed to grab the first vent. No fall was planned, but he missed the vent and ended up falling a decent height before catching himself.
Once it was confirmed that the stuntman was okay, McTiernan knew that it had to make the final cut.
6 Gruber and His Men Speak Fake German
Alan Rickman’s German accent in Die Hard might fool viewers into forgetting that he’s actually British, but that’s where all the accuracy in the film’s relationship to Germany ends.
Rickman wasn’t the only actor who wasn't German – none of the actors who played Gruber’s henchmen were German either.
Don’t go looking to Die Hard for German language lessons either. Gruber and his men are actually speaking false German throughout the entire film. The filmmakers mocked up some lines by sprinkling one or two genuine words in so the characters had lines that would sound passably German to American audiences.
In fact, in the German version of the film, Gruber and his men aren’t even from Germany. They were changed to be generic European terrorists so that Die Hard could save face and not be caught with having fake dialogue.
5 The Film Gave Bruce Willis Permanent Hearing Damage
Bruce Willis took home more than a big paycheck and newfound fame with his role in Die Hard. The action sequences with gunfire had their own surprises for Willis.
While the prop guns used in the film were obviously firing blanks, director John McTiernan actually had a special type created just for his film. They were extra loud in order to add a more realistic atmosphere while filming and help the actors believe their scenes.
These special blanks caused some serious issues for Willis. After filming the scene where Willis shoots one of Gruber’s men while hiding underneath a table, the actor found that he had trouble hearing.
As it turns out, the scene gave Willis partial hearing loss in one ear. The actor still suffers hearing issues to this day.
4 Hans and McClane’s First Meeting Was Shot on the Fly
Gruber and McClane communicate by radio for a majority of Die Hard, and audience members can’t help but hope that the two will come face to face. At first, this wasn’t supposed to happen until the climax confrontation when Gruber is about to escape and kidnaps McClane’s wife.
But plans changed at the last minute on set. Producers were pushing for an earlier confrontation, and when they heard Rickman put on an American accent, it sparked an idea.
McTiernan outlined a new scene where Hans and McClane would run into each other earlier in the film and Gruber pretends to be Nakatomi employee Bill Clay.
The scene was shot with no rehearsals, and McTiernan encouraged his actors to play with the dialogue. The creative decision resulted in one of Die Hard’s most entertaining scenes.
3 Bruce Willis’ Rubber Feet
When Die Hard premiered in 1988, audiences around the world cringed when John McClane was caught in a shoot-out without shoes and is forced to work through broken glass. Later, he is forced pick the glass out of his bare feet in the bathroom. It’s one of Die Hard’s most famous scenes.
In order to film the sequence, Bruce Willis wore rubber, sock-like foot props to walk through the glass and make the scene look genuine. The same props were used to protect Willis’ feet in action sequences where McClane had to run around for long periods.
These rubber props can actually be seen in a shot that was mistakenly left in the film. Towards the end of Die Hard, McClane is caught on the roof by the FBI and is thought to be a terrorist.
As he tries to hide, viewers can catch Willis wearing the foot covers.
2 Alan Rickman’s Falling Reaction Was Genuine
For a villain as nefarious as Hans Gruber, Die Hard needed a special type of ending for its antagonist. Director John McTiernan had just the trick, planning a dramatic fall for Gruber. Alan Rickman volunteered to do the stunt himself.
If you’ve ever been impressed by the accuracy of Rickman’s acting during Hans Gruber’s death scene, there’s a reason for that.
When filming the stunt, McTiernan first told Rickman that he would be dropped onto a mat below at the count of three. But the director had a secret plan. In order to get the best result possible from his actor, McTiernan dropped Rickman at the count of two instead.
The surprised Rickman dropped nearly 70 feet for the stunt. The shot used in the film is the first take, and his look of shock is completely genuine.
1 Bruce Willis’ Iconic Ad-Lib
Ask fans to name Die Hard's most iconic line, and there will only be one response: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf--er."
The wisecrack immediately won fans over in 1988 and has become synonymous with the Die Hard franchise. But the line actually has an interesting history.
After McClane kills some of Hans’ men, he radios in and surprises the terrorist ringleader. Gruber plays along and jeers McClane for being a reckless cowboy, to which McClane responds using his classic “Yippee-ki-yay” line.
Since the premiere of Die Hard, Willis has revealed that the memorable phrase was a joking ad-lib meant to fool with everybody. “I was just trying to crack up the crew,” the actor said. “I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film.”
Who knew the line would become one of the most memorable lines in action film history?
What’s your favorite piece of crazy Die Hard trivia? Let us know in the comments!