Fact File – No.2 – Die Hard (1988)

In the second of a new Film ‘89 feature we put a classic film or TV show under the microscope to unveil some juicy trivia. Some of these facts you may already know but hopefully you’ll find something new to enrich your experience and understanding of an important work of popular culture. Next up we have anoher ‘80s classic that is regarded by many as one of the greatest action movies ever made:

Die Hard (1988)

Director: John McTiernan

1. A literary beginning:

The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired by John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick, The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

2. McClane could have been a very different character:

Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down. Bizarrely In 1980, Bruce Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. If you blink you’ll miss him however as the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it.

3. The ideal shooting location:

The Nakatomi tower is actually the headquarters of 20th Century Fox. The company charged itself rent for the use of the then-unfinished building. The addresses and phone numbers depicted on the LAPD dispatch’s computer for Nakatomi Plaza are the actual numbers for management of Fox Plaza where the film was shot. Due to the tourist interest in Fox Plaza in L.A., people are now forbidden from taking photos outside the building.

4. A hefty ransom:

Bruce Willis received a then unheard of $5 million dollars for the role, a fee that was approved by Fox President Rupert Murdoch.

5. Looks can be deceiving:

Only a couple of the actors who played the German terrorists were actually German and only a couple more could speak broken German. The actors were cast for their menacing appearances rather than their nationality. 9 of the 12 actors playing the terrorists were over 6 feet tall.

6. “Mr Cowboy….”

The scene in which Hans Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Alan Rickman was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet prior to the climax and capitalized on Rickman’s talent.

7. Improvisation was encouraged:

Hart Bochner’s line “Hans… Bubby!” was ad-libbed. Alan Rickman’s quizzical reaction was genuine. The scene where Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman meet up was also unrehearsed to create a greater feeling of spontaneity between the two characters.

8. Don’t blink!

Director John McTiernan found it necessary to smash-cut away from Hans Gruber’s face whenever he fired a gun because of Alan Rickman’s uncontrollable habit of flinching from the noise and muzzle flash. If you look at Rickman’s face when he shoots Takagi you can see him wincing.

9. Not really barefoot:

When John McClane runs through the glass shards in his bare feet after Hans has his men shoot out the glass partitions in the computer room, Bruce Willis is in fact wearing special rubber shoes designed to look like his own bare feet. One can in fact see this if looking closely as his feet appear unnaturally large in some of these barefoot scenes.

10. Out on a limb:

On Alan Rickman’s first day of shooting he filmed the scene where Hans Gruber first runs into John McClane. He made a jump off the ledge about three feet high and damaged some of the cartilage in his knee. He was told by his doctor not to put any weight on the leg and had to use crutches for a week. For the rest of the scene where Gruber is standing, talking to McClane, Alan Rickman is standing on one leg for the entire time and has a leg brace on under his pants.

11. Don’t believe every rumour you hear:

One of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard is that it was originally intended as a sequel to Commando but according to Steven E. de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, whilst there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea.

12. Bruce was way down on the list:

Apparently a considerable roster of A-listers were offered the role of McClane prior to Willis landing it. Rumour has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane and all declined it. Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis of course, but he wasn’t an immediate choice for the role as up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star.

13. Alan Rickman’s casting as Hans Gruber wasn’t their first choice either:

Sam Neill was the original choice but ended up turning the film down. Then in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. What a debut!

Although Alan Rickman is now synonymous with the part of Hans. It was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. Say what?

Whilst it seems like guns are firing almost non-stop in Die Hard, a full 18 minutes elapses before the first gunshot is fired. ​To add to the realism of the film, McTiernan had special, extra-loud blanks made. In the scene where McClane kills a terrorist by shooting him through the bottom of a table, the special blanks ended up causing Bruce Willis a degree of permanent hearing loss.

16. Destination unknown:

In the version of Die Hard released in Germany, the terrorists are not specified as being German but are said to be ‘European’.

17. A distant relative?

Hans Gruber was also the name of an adversary in 1966’s Our Man Flint, starring James Coburn.

18. The Playboy connection:

In the movie the centerfold that John McClane uses as a point of reference is that of Playboy Playmate Pamela Stein. Another Playboy Playmate, May 1982’s Kym Malin, has a small role in the movie as the hostage who is discovered by the terrorists having sex with another partygoer.

19. A piece of history:

The Smithsonian hosts the most historically important American artifacts for the world to see, so it’s really not a surprise that the museum is home to the dirty, bloody vest Bruce Willis wore throughout Die Hard. In 2007 Willis donated the shirt to the museum along with a poster for the film. Both are on display with Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz in the museum’s “Treasures of American History” exhibition.

20. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!”

Willis recently explained that McClane’s famous catchphrase originated as a joke: “It was a throwaway. I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film.”

Sources; Mental Floss, IMDB, MovieFone, Ranker.