Everybody has a favorite movie or two that they know like the back of their hand. Maybe you grew up watching it on HBO or VHS, maybe your dad showed it to you when you were a kid and it became a bonding experience, maybe your roommate had it on DVD and you just threw it on every other night until you had it memorized.
Die Hard is one of those movies for me, and probably for a lot of you too. The seminal, genre-defining action movie that launched a million imitators came out in 1988 and since then I’ve seen it almost 1,988 times. It’s like a member of my family, even if some years my wife only lets it visit around Christmas.
But even after all these years and all those viewings, it’s still possible to learn new things about a favorite movie, even one as well-known as Die Hard. We’ve put together a list of some of those things for our “Facts You Didn’t Know” series.
1. Die Hard is based on a book
The movie is based on a book called “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp, a sequel to his book The Detective, which was adapted into a movie starring Frank Sinatra. Thorp was hoping this new book would be Sinatra vehicle too – and the role was offered to him when he was 73-years-old. We dodged that rocket launcher!
2. There were numerous casting what-ifs
Nearly every leading man in Hollywood was considered for the lead role of John McClane, including Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, John Travolta, Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and more. Thank god they didn’t get it!
3. Bruce Willis was hardly featured in the marketing
Willis was primarily known as a charming smart-ass on “Moonlighting” and that guy from the Seagram’s Wine Cooler ads.
The studio was unsure of his action-movie chops, so he was barely featured in the movie’s promotional materials, particularly the posters, where Nakatomi Plaza got top billing.
4. Ol’ Blue Eyes gave Bruce his start
Okay, not really. But his first role, uncredited, natch, was in one of Frank’s movies: The First Deadly Sin.
Check out this clip where the future John McClane passes by the man who ended up passing up the role of John McClane:
5. Jurassic Hans?
Sam Neill got first shot at Hans Gruber but turned it down. In some alternate universe, an elderly Frank Sinatra and the scientist from Jurassic Park are squaring off in Nakatomi Plaza. Thankfully, not in ours.
6. It was Alan Rickman’s first movie role
Today, Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans Gruber is one of the most celebrated parts of the movie, and the exceptional thief is considered one of most iconic villains of all time. But despite being a well-known stage actor in England, this was actually Rickman’s first film role. Not a bad start!
7. Shakespeare inspired it
At least the structure. Director John McTiernan, one of the premiere action directors of all time (Predator, Hunt For Red October), suggested the script condense the action to a one-night time frame, just like Billy Shakes’ violent heist story, A MIDSOMMER’S NIGHT DREAM.
8. Willis requested Bedelia
Bruce must have seen HEART LIKE A WHEEL, (or at least this amazing trailer!) in which Bonnie starred as Shirley Muldowney, the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association because he suggested Bonnie Bedelia play Holly.
9. A key scene was improvised
That memorable scene when Gruber pretends to be “Clay, Bill Clay,” was written on set after Director John McTiernan heard Rickman doing an American accent. “You were saying?”
10. The home-field advantage
The iconic Nakatomi Plaza was actually Fox Plaza, the headquarters for Die Hard’s studio, 20th Century Fox. It was actually under construction at the time, so those weren’t sets McClane was walking around, it was actual work-in-progress!
11. “Who gives a shit about glass?”
Somebody must have, as $130,000 was spent on glass alone for the filming.
12. Terrorists were fluent in gibberish
None of the actors playing the terrorists – sorry, thieves. Sorry, exceptional thieves. – actually spoke German, so some of their dialogue wasn’t a language at all. It was just nonsense.
13. A Stuntman got shafted
You know when McClane jumps across the duct shaft only to miss the vent and plummet further down? That was an accident! Willis’s stuntman was supposed to grab the first vent but failed, plunging further down until he found purchase. If you look closely at the stuntman’s fall trajectory you’ll notice there’s no chance he would have been able to grab any opening. They left it in to make the scene even more exciting. Mission accomplished!
14. Nakatomi Plaza was Falling Water
And you thought the Shakespeare thing was pretentious! Falling Water was the iconic, uniquely designed home of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. DIE HARD’s production designed thought recreating it for the lobby of Nakatomi Plaza – because the Japanese were co-opting everything American – was nice and symbolic. So the lobby is meant to be Falling Water, purchased and reassembled in an L.A. office building.
15. McClane’s undershirt is in the Smithsonian
DIE HARD is one of most iconic, and action and Christmas movies of all time (it’s THE best, for my money), and it received the ultimate seal of approval when the disgustingly bloodied t-shirt McClane wears during the movie was put on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in 2007.
Check out our previous list of crazy Facts You Don’t Know About N64’s GoldenEye 007.