This year marks the 30th anniversary since the release of the one of the greatest action films ever, Die Hard. So all through 2018, I’m doing a few articles on the flick to celebrate, this is the second one following me covering a supposed ‘plot hole’ that never existed. This time I’m going to take a look at some behind the scenes tit-bits, slices of trivia that even die hard, Die Hard fans may not have known about.
Recently there was a special screening of Die Hard held as part of Laemmle’s Anniversary Classics series for the movie to mark its 30th anniversary (even though that’s not actually until July 15th). The film has been given a 4K clean up making the picture look stunning. A few of the stars from the movie along with some of the crew also attended the screening and they held a Q&A session where some interesting bits of info was let out of the bag, some of which I’m going to take a look at right here. But before I get to that stuff, there is one (in)famous piece of trivia I want to clear up.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Almost Played John McClane
Ask any Die Hard fan to mention a piece of trivia about the movie and most of the time you’ll be met with the comment that “Die Hard was originally planned to be a sequel to Commando starring Arnold Schwarzenegger”. It actually sounds pretty plausible for various reasons too. Arnie was a big name in action films in the mid-late 80s and Commando was a big hit for him in 85 – so a sequel seems like a reasonable thing to happen. Plus there is the fact that Commando was written by Steven E. de Souza who would go on to pen Die Hard a few years later. Then to finish of, de Souza was actually writing a sequel to Commando…and I think that this is where the rumor started with crossed wires. Yes de Souza was writing a sequel to Commando and yes he also wrote the screenplay for Die Hard but they were two different projects. The Commando sequel was never made for various reasons so people tend to assume that the sequel became Die Hard instead…it didn’t.
If you want further proof, how about hearing from the man himself? Steven E. de Souza held an interview a while back where he set the record straight when asked about Commando 2 becoming Die Hard.
“No, no, no and no. I don’t know how this story started on the Internet – it’s completely wrong. Die Hard is based on a novel called Nothing Lasts Forever by the author Roderick Thorpe, which is a sequel to his early book The Detective.”
While I’m here, I’ll also cover what de Souza said about he unmade Commando 2 story.
So for Commando 2, we figured that Arnold, after blowing up half of Los Angeles, achieves some notoriety, retires from the army and, by the time the sequel occurs, is running a security firm.
The plot would have seen him hired by a big corporation to oversee their security to protect their executives from being kidnapped, to stop people breaking into their building and to make sure their computers are secure.
So he sets it up and hires the most dangerous people to be guards in the building and then lo and behold – he discovers the people he’s working for are in the illegal arms business and the big corporation is simply a front.
So there you have it from the man who wrote both Commando (and its unmade sequel) as well as Die Hard. Commando 2 was a separate project and never was turned into Die Hard at all. So with that out of the way, onto the more interesting stuff.
Frank Sinatra Almost Played John McClane
Now this one holds a lot more water than the previous slice of trivia and it very nearly happened too. See, as Steven E. de Souza covered previously, Die Hard is based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by the writer Roderick Thorpe and that book was itself a sequel to his earlier book The Detective. Now The Detective was turned into a movie in 1968 starring…yes, Frank Sinatra. So when the sequel was in early development, Sinatra was offered the chance to reprise his role. 20th Century Fox who owned the movie rights to both The Detective and Nothing Lasts Forever were even contractually obliged to offer Sinatra the lead role in the sequel. But as the film was being made twenty years after the first film, Sinatra turned it down as he felt he was too old and so the script was tweaked to change it from a sequel into a separate movie altogether and the role was offered to then little known actor Bruce Willis instead.
Gene Hackman Could’ve Been In The Movie
When you think about Die Hard now, you remember it for its main star Bruce Willis. Yet before the movie, he was relativity unknown. He made a name for himself in TV with the show Moonlighting and featured in the comedy flick Blind Date previously – but he was hardly leading man material and many people laughed at the idea of Willis being an action star at the time too. So there was some uncertainty with the cast pretty much being filled with no-names, the idea came about to have at least one big name actor to get on the movie posters and that name was Gene Hackman. He was originally lined up to play the part of Sgt. Al Powell, a role that ultimately went to Reginald VelJohnson instead. And it seems like Hackman wasn’t the only actor up for the part either as VelJohnson remembers.
“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. Even before the casting call, an A-lister was supposed to play the role. His casting would have made Powell more of a gruff veteran than a haunted patrolman. The person they had before, they told me it was Gene Hackman. I heard he had the role but couldn’t do it.”
So there you go, Gene Hackman very nearly played Sgt. Al Powell. According to VelJohnson, Wesley Snipes was up for the part too.
Why Is Die Hard Is Set At Christmas?
The film was released in the summer of 1988, yet its widely considered a Christmas movie due to the fact its set on Christmas Eve. But there was a very good reason behind this idea and why it was released when it was. First, releasing it during the summer blockbuster season when people tend to go to the cinema more equates to higher ticket sales. It worked too as by the end of its theatrical run, Die Hard had brought in $83 million in North America alone. But why the Christmas setting, I mean, lets be honest – you could set Die Hard at any other time of the year and it would still work right? Again, there was a reason for this as producer Joel Silver was a big fan of Christmas movies and he felt that the film would stand a longer shelf-life if it was set at Christmas as people would be inclined to watch it over the festive period year after year…and he was right.
Though I feel I need to throw a little shade over this. See, Nothing Lasts Forever the novel that Die Hard was based on also takes place at Christmas, so it seems to me that the reason the flick takes place at Christmas is simply because the novel did too. But I can even counteract that shade too. Take a look at some other Joel Silver produced films over the years; Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2 (of course), The Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys to name a few…all set at Christmas. So yeah, it seems like Silver really does like his Christmas movies.
Hans Gruber Was Not Exactly Original
Lets be honest here. Hans Gruber is one of the finest bad guys ever caught on film – brilliantly portrayed by the late, great and very much missed Alan Rickman. He is charismatic as well as utterly ruthless, as cold in his executions (literally) as he is warm in is personality. Yet he was not the first bad Hans Gruber on film, the name is not from the novel either as he was called Anton “Little Tony The Red” Gruber in that. So where exactly did the name Hans Gruber come from? Well it came from a James Bond parody. Does anyone else remember the Flint films? They were a couple of spy comedy pictures from the 60s starring James Coburn as super secret agent Derek Flint (except for one TV movie). The films were called Our Man Flint (1966) and its sequel, In Like Flint (1967). As a quick aside, I recommend them, they’re cracking good fun.
Anyway, back to the point. The first film, Our Man Flint featured a German bad guy and his name was Hans Gruber played by Michael St. Clair. So hey, if you feel like annoying your friends with some movie trivia – ask them who first played the German bad guy Hans Gruber and correct them when they get it wrong. Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza has even since admitted that is where the name came from.
John And Holly’s Marital Argument Was Improvised
You know the scene right? John is just getting cleaned up after his long flight. He brings up how his wife is using her maiden name of Gennaro instead of her married name McClane. They then get into a petty and childish argument as they talk over each others points in a long uninterrupted debate. Well there was a very specific reason why that scene exists when it wasn’t even scripted. It was a bit of a reference to Willis’ trademark arguments he would get into with Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting which director John McTiernan was a fan of. McTiernan knew he wanted something similar in the film but couldn’t find anywhere to put it, so he just left it up to his actors. He gave them no direction and just told them to argue. None of it was scripted and he just let his actors do their thing as de Souza recalls.
“Bonnie and Bruce improvised the argument they have in her suite. Somehow they managed to bring an argument from who knows where, and I was the stenographer there incorporating all their improv into that scene.”
Seeing as they had no script, it just goes to show what amazing chemistry Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia had during filming. The whole argument is one of my favorite parts of the whole flick.
So there you have it, a few little bits of Die Hard trivia that I hope you may not have previously known about. Just goes to show that even with its 30th anniversary coming up in a few months, there’s still a few secrets hidden in this gem of a picture.