Die Hard is one of the definitive action flicks of its time, a quintessentially American work directed by the man behind other classics such as Predator. Starring Bruce Willis as the iconic John McClane, the film is an adaptation of the celebrated novel by Roderick Thorp. Willis’ performance as McClane propelled him to the very top of his field, transforming him into a household name overnight.
In an interview, the co-writer of Die Hard – Steven E. de Souza explained why the film is still appreciated by audiences even after the passage of so many years: “First of all, it ticks several genre boxes. I know people say it’s an action movie, but there’s a lot of suspense in it. It’s as much a thriller as it is an action movie.”
Adding, “When you think about it, the limited landscape almost fights the idea of it being an action movie, which usually has wide open spaces, a lot of running around, car chases, so on and so forth. There’s also a love story, there’s a lot of humour in it. In the Venn diagram of popular film genres, it covers several.”
The unprecedented success of Die Hard spawned several sequels as well as video games, making it one of the most commercially viable franchises in American cinematic history. It’s almost impossible to think of the character of John McClane without picturing Willis who reprised his role several times. However, initial plans had other Hollywood stars in mind for the iconic role.
Many notable celebrities like Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Richard Gere, Al Pacino and Mel Gibson had been shortlisted for the part of John McClane but the role ultimately went to Willis due to his ability to access his blue-collar upbringing. Before it was finalised, the studio had one obstacle to clear and it was a pretty amusing one.
Since Die Hard was based on a novel that was the sequel to a 1968 film titled The Detective which starred Frank Sinatra, the studio had to offer the role of John McClane to Sinatra as a contractual obligation. Sinatra, acknowledging that he was in his seventies and too old for such a demanding part, turned the part down.
While discussing his performance, Willis furnished further details about the process: “Die Hard is probably the closest I’ve come to showing what is in my heart on screen. David Addison is a character I play on Moonlighting. In Die Hard, even though I’m acting, a lot of what is in me came through. I really wanted to play a vulnerable guy.
“I didn’t want to be a superhero who’s a larger than life guy that nobody really knows,” continued Willis. “I don’t know any superheroes. I know guys who are afraid and have anxiety, and I think you know people like that, too. That’s what I wanted to play. I really wanted to be honest about the moment you go through when you think your life is about to end. I wanted to play somebody who was afraid to die.”