It has been exactly 30 years since "Die Hard" first appeared in theaters and turned TV star Bruce Willis, who plays an off-duty cop battling bad guys on Christmas Eve, into a big-screen action hero. Click though for 20 things that may surprise you about this seminal 1988 blockbuster.
It's Based on a Book
"Die Hard" is an adaptation of a 1979 crime novel, "Nothing Lasts Forever," by Roderick Thorp. And that book is a sequel to Thorp's earlier novel "The Detective," which was turned into a 1968 movie starring Frank Sinatra. According to the author, the idea for sequel was sparked by a dream he had after seeing the 1974 disaster film "The Towering Inferno."
Sinatra Had a Right of First Refusal
Frank Sinatra's contract for "The Detective" gave him the right to star in a sequel should one ever get made. Since Sinatra, then 73, was too old to play an action hero, he bowed out. Still, it would have been fun to hear Ol' Blue Eyes vocalize the classic catchphrase "Yippee-ki-yay, mother—."
Bruce Willis Was Far From the Producers' First Choice
During the casting, 20th Century Fox offered the part of New York police officer John McClane to quite a number of A-list stars, including Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Don Johnson, Richard Gere and Burt Reynolds. All declined. Only then did they turn to Bruce Willis, best know at the time for his comedic role on TV's "Moonlighting."
The Studio Hedged Its Bets
Fox paid Bruce Willis $5 million—a stunning amount at the time—for his role in "Die Hard." Yet the studio's marketing team wasn't confident in his box office appeal. For that reason, the actor wasn't the focal point of early "Die Hard" posters and billboards, which emphasized the movie's action instead of its star. Once the marketers realized they had a hit, this quickly changed.
Alan Rickman Balked at Playing Hans Gruber
The classically trained British stage actor, who made his big-screen debut in "Die Hard," almost turned down the part of the German bad guy. What put him off was the script. "I read it, and I said, 'What the hell is this? I'm not doing an action movie.," said Rickman (who died in 2016). Good thing he changed his mind.. Rickman's performance earned him a spot on the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes & Villains list, which ranked Hans Gruber the 46th best villain in film history.
Willis Ad-Libbed His Most Famous Line
"Yippee-ki-yay, mother—" wasn't in the script. "It was a throwaway," Willis later said. "I was just trying to crack up the crew, and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."
That's Not the Only Line That Was Ad-Libbed
"Hans, bubby, I'm your white night," says coked-up Nakatomi executive Harry Ellis to Hans Gruber in an attempt to negotiate—Hollywood agent style—an end to the hostage situation. That line, too, was ad-libbed, though director John McTiernan initially wanted to reign in Hart Bochner, who played Ellis. McTiernan bluntly told Bochner that he hated his hyper performance. But the next day the director saw producers Joel Silver and Larry Gordon laughing as they viewed footage of a scene featuring Bochner, McTiernan changed his mind and gave the actor carte blanche.
The Gang Leader Was Uncomfortable With Guns
Whenever Alan Rickman was required to fire a gun for a scene, he winced as he pulled the trigger, which hardly fit the character of an uber-bad guy. Director John McTiernan got around the problem by editing out Rickman's flinches in post-production.
Willis Attributes His Hearing Loss to This Scene
Guns were loaded with extra-loud blanks to achieve the effect that director McTiernan was aiming for. During the filming of the scene in which John McClane shoots a gang member through the bottom of a table, the noise caused permanent damage to Bruce Willis' hearing. "I suffered two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and now have a tendency to say, 'Whaaa?'" said the actor years later.
The Movie Set Still Stands
The "Nakatomi Tower" overtaken by Hans Gruber's gang is actually 20th Century Fox's Los Angeles headquarters, then under construction. The design of the 30th floor, where the hostages were held, was modeled after the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house Fallingwater.
Willis Wore Rubber Booties
When bare-foot John McClane is engaged in a shoot-out that shatters windows all around him, he gets out of harm's way by running over the broken shards. During the filming of this scene, Willis wore flesh-colored rubber foot covers to prevent real injury.
The Fall Through Ventilation Shaft Was Real
The scene where John McClane tumbles down a ventilation shaft didn't go as planned—it went better than planned. McClane was supposed to save himself by grabbing onto a nearby vent as he started to fall, but Willis' stunt double missed and continued falling. Fortunately there was no serious injury, and the botched stunt ended up in the movie, edited together with Willis grabbing the next vent down.
The "Germans" Aren't Speaking German
The language that Hans Gruber and his crew speak in the original theatrical release of "Die Hard" is virtual gibberish intended to mimic the sound of German. In fact, there are no German actors in the film. (Alexander Godunov, seen here, is Russian-American.) Authentic German dialogue was added later for home releases of the movie. But Alan Rickman's voice remained—German moviegoers found his accent impeccable.
Rickman Performed With a Handicap
On his first day of shooting, Alan Rickman injured his knee and was advised by a doctor not to put weight on it for several weeks. The scene in which Has Gruber and John McClane finally meet face-to-face—with Gruber initially pretending to be a hostage—was shot with Rickman balanced on one leg. (Fun fact: That scene wasn't in the original script. It was added after the filmmakers discovered Rickman's ability to mimic an American accent.)
He Wasn't Acting at This Moment
For his death scene, Rickman agreed to plummet between 20 and 40 feet (the accounts vary) onto an air bag. Crew members were supposed to drop him on the count of three, but they intentionally jumped the gun.. Thus, the genuine look of shock on Rickman's face as he starts to fall.
The Biggest Action Sequence Was Filmed in Just Two Hours
The climactic helicopter scene took six months of planning, but the production was allowed only two hours to film it. To accomplish this, director McTiernan used nine camera crews, capturing all the footage he needed in three takes atop the Fox building.
The Script Was Influenced by Shakespeare
In the original "Die Hard" screenplay, the action takes place over three days. But McTiernan changed that to a single night. What gave him the idea was William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The Director Also Looked to Beethoven
"Ode to Joy," the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is featured prominently in the score for "Die Hard"—much to the displeasure of the film's composer, Michael Kamen, who told McTiernan: "I will make mincemeat out of Wagner or Strauss for you, but not Beethoven." The director prevailed, pointing out that "Ode to Joy" was also on the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's 1971 classic "A Clockwork Orange."
Foreign Distributors Played With the Title
The various titles of the movie in foreign markets don't have the same ring. In Germany, "Die Hard" became "Die Slowly." Other variations include "Very Hard to Die" (Greece), "Action Skyscraper" (Norway), "The Glass Trap" (France and Poland), "Big Building Fight" (Thailand), "Give Your Life Expensive" (Hungary) and "The Glass Jungle" (Spanish).
A Piece of Willis' Wardrobe Is in the Smithsonian
In 2007, Bruce Willis donated his sweat-soaked and blood-stained "Die Hard" undershirt to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, where it went on display alongside the boxing gloves from "Rocky" and the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz."
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