Either Wesley Snipes or Gene Hackman could have played the key role of Al Powell in action classic Die Hard. The original Die Hard set itself apart from other action movies in the 1980s by focusing on a grounded, relatable hero. Instead of the muscular heroics of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis' John McClane was a regular cop. He had a failing marriage and a receding hairline, and had to push through the pain of his injuries to save the day.
It was a refreshing break from tradition at the time, and McClane's relatability is part of the reason Die Hard has endured for so long. While the second and third movies are still well regarded, both Live Free Or Die Hard and A Good Day To Die Hard are considered low points in the series. Willis looked visibly bored in both, and McClane became another generic action hero who could withstand being thrown through windows with barely a scratch to show for it. The next movie Die Hard 6 is said to be a prequel/sequel, that will feature present-day McClane investigating a case from his past, with another actor playing the role during flashbacks.
A 30th anniversary screening for Die Hard was recently held with cast members Reginald VelJohnson, Bonnie Bedelia (Holly McClane) and writer Steven E. DeSouza in attendance. Slashfilm reported on the screening, with VelJohnson remembering some of the other names linked to the role of Powell before he got it.
I was living in New York at the time and I went in to audition. There was a lot of well-known actors that were there. I don’t want to name the people there, Wesley Snipes, but I was desperate.
The role of Powell was also earmarked for a veteran A-lister before VelJohnson came on.
The person they had before, they told me it was Gene Hackman. I heard he had the role but couldn’t do it, so they decided to cast an unknown for the part and I was right there.
VelJohnson did such a good job it's hard to imagine another actor in the role, and he shared great chemistry with Willis despite the two only physically appearing in one scene together. Hackman likely would have played Powell as a gruff, no-nonsense authority figure, and while he would have undoubtedly been great, it would have been a very different performance. Snipes was near the beginning of his career when Die Hard was made and would have been closer to the rookie version of Powell that appears in Nothing Lasts Forever, the novel Die Hard was adapted from.
While Die Hard remains a classic, it’s a little tough to be excited about the future of the series. Willis has had a habit of sleepwalking through his recent action movies, so it's hard to imagine he'll put in the hard work to redeem the series following the dismal last entry. That said, after a few years spent in straight to DVD movies, he's making something of a big screen comeback with Death Wish and the long-awaited Unbreakable sequel Glass, so there's a chance he could bring some of that old-fashioned charm back to the role - especially if he's being well-paid.
- Die Hard Year One / Die Hard 6 (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2018