I can’t think of any other action movie that is as influential as John McTiernan’s masterpiece from 1988. Originally it was meant to be a sequel to Commando but after Arnold turned it down; it was rejigged and became Die Hard. It was an adaptation of Roderick Thorpe’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever but the title character had a name change and the ending would end up being a bit cheerier.
Bruce Willis wasn’t even the first choice as John McClane; Frank Sinatra was originally offered it as a sequel to his movie The Detective but also turned it down. Other actors who declined the role were a who’s who of the action genre including Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Burt Reynolds, Don Johnson and Richard Gere to name but a few.
So what is it about Die Hard that people love so much? I think that’s pretty simple: the characters and the story. As the 80’s were winding down, audiences were getting tired of the One Man Army movies and John McClane turned out to be exactly what people were looking for.
He wasn’t a musclebound, invincible warrior; he was a family man who was separated from his wife and 100% vulnerable. He bled, he cried, was afraid of flying and was very much an ordinary man forced into an extraordinary situation.
Bruce Willis played the role of John McClane to perfection; he’s a smart ass with a one-liner for every occasion and he loves to piss the bad guys off. He’s a little cocky and despite facing overwhelming odds, he manages to overcome them.
We also had one of the greatest villains of all time in Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. He’s not a soldier or over the top, but an educated and sophisticated man who likes a nice suit, doesn’t shoot his own men and dare I say it, is almost likeable.
The script was filled with humour but never too much where the tension would be ruined; the FBI guys both named Johnson, the SWAT team pricking their fingers on rose bushes and other little details would provide plenty of tongue n’ cheek laughs.
The story as straightforward too; one man trapped in a confined location against a group of terrorists who are holding his wife hostage. This concept would practically define the action genre in the 90’s with every movie being called “Die Hard on a…”
There are almost too many clones to mention but some of the best were Cliffhanger (Die Hard on a mountain), Sudden Death (Die Hard in a hockey stadium), Under Siege (Die Hard on a boat), Passenger 57 (Die Hard on a plane) and Speed (Die Hard on a bus). Even now movies like The Raid and Dredd would provide a different spin on essentially the same story.
Olympus Has Fallen (Die Hard in the White House) was the best Die Hard sequel that never happened and that came out just last year showing that the film’s influence is still being felt over 26 years later.
The fact that sequels (of varying quality) are still being churned out and there are even rumours of a Part 6, with McClane going to Japan demonstrates that audiences still love John McClane and that no one other than Bruce Willis could fulfil the role in such a perfect fashion.