Die Hard With a Vengeance is a strange animal. The original Die Hard, directed by John McTiernan, sort of came out of nowhere at the time. At that point, Bruce Willis was “that guy from Moonlighting” and “that Kim Basinger movie” (Blind Date, to be specific). Die Hard turned him into a movie star. Well, that and Look Who’s Talking, anyway.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder was directed by Renny Harlin — who directed The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, so his other sins are forgiven — and was, in a sense, both “Die Hard in an airport” and sort of the template for crazy sequels from there on in.
Die Hard With a Vengeance had all the elements of something great. It was directed by McTiernan, costarred Samuel L. Jackson (who was just coming off Pulp Fiction the year before) and also featured Jeremy Irons as Hans Gruber’s brother. For whatever reason, it just didn’t resonate with the public the way the first two movies did (though it was still quite popular). Plus, there was that one scene where McClane had to do math. You’ll see.
Anyhoo, Die Hard With a Vengeance debuted 20 years ago today. Did we mention that Samuel L. Jackson in it? Because Samuel L. Jackson is in it. Which means it has a ton of great quotes. So, here’s a bunch of them:
John McClane: [hands Zeus a gun.] Here take this.
Zeus: How’s it work?
John McClane: You don’t know how to shoot a gun?
Zeus: Look, all brothers don’t know how to shoot guns, you racist motherf*cker.
John McClane: Sue me.
Samuel L. Jackson is a fine actor. Just one year after Pulp Fiction, he managed to convince an audience he didn’t know how to use a gun. Those are some chops, right there.
Zeus: Why you keep calling me Jésus? I look Puerto Rican to you?
John McClane: Guy back there called you Jésus.
Zeus: He didn’t say Jésus. He said, “Hey, Zeus!” My name is Zeus.
John McClane: Zeus?
Zeus: Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don’t f*ck with me, or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus! You got a problem with that?
John McClane: No, I don’t have a problem with that.
Interesting fact: Jackson and Willis appeared in Loaded Weapon 1 (the latter had a cameo) and Pulp Fiction. However, this was the first time they had actually been on screen together before.
[Zeus and McClane have just stolen a man’s car on the highway]
Zeus: [to man] Hey! Who was the 21st President?
Man: Go f*ck yourself!
Oh! In case you were wondering… it was Chester A. Arthur. He actually took the office of the president after James Garfield was assassinated. So… now you know.
Zeus: “Are you aiming for these people?”
McClane: “No! Well… maybe that mime.”
Let’s face it, it’s an easy joke. Mimes are about as easy a humor target as lawyers and politicians.
It’s still, funny, though.
[about to call Simon with the answer to another riddle]
Zeus: No, wait, wait! It’s a trick. It’s a trick.
John McClane: What d’you mean?
Zeus: I forgot about the man.
John McClane: What man? F*ck the man! We got ten seconds here!
Zeus: He said, “How many were going to St. Ives,” right? The riddle begins, “As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives!” The guy and his wives aren’t going anywhere.
John McClane: What are they doing?
Zeus: Sitting in the f*cking road! Waiting on the moor! How the hell should I know?
The tasks Simon Gruber has McClane and Zeus running through could be considered an allegory on Greek mythology, specifically the trials of Hercules. Also, it probably didn’t escape anyone’s attention that Zeus was an electrician.
[Zeus rushes into the Wall Street subway station and gets held at gunpoint by a transit cop who saw him jump the turnstiles]
Zeus: [slowly] I have to answer that phone.
Transit cop: Get ’em up!
Zeus: Look, if you have to shoot me, then you go ahead and you shoot me! But I have to answer this phone, all right?
Zeus: [picks up the receiver] I’m here.
Simon: [on the other line] And McClane?
Zeus: He’s on his way. Uh, you know, he’s a little slow. He’s kinda outta shape.
Simon: The rules applied to both of you. I’m afraid this is noncompliance. Goodbye.
[Simon hangs up]
Zeus: Trust me guys. Duck.
While his star had been on the ride, Jackson wasn’t the first choice to play Zeus. Laurence Fishburne had been approached to play the role, but had turned it down. Of course, upon realizing he had just turned down a role in a friggin’ Die Hard movie, he reconsidered. By that point, however, Jackson had already been cast. In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: “You snooze, you lose.”
John McClane: “You know this guy Simon we’re talking to?”
John McClane: “I threw his little brother off the thirty-second floor of Nakatomi Towers out in L.A. I guess he’s a little pissed off about it.”
Zeus: “Wait a minute. You mean to tell me I’m in this shit ’cause some white cop threw some white asshole’s brother off a roof?”
The first four Die Hard films all had scripts based on original stories as opposed to being written specifically as a Die Hard flick. Jonathan Hensleigh (who would go on to write and direct the 2004 Punisher movie starring Thomas Jane) had written a spec script entitled Simon Says that almost became a Lethal Weapon film. 20th Century Fox bought the rights to the script and hired Huntsleigh to rewrite it as a Die Hard sequel.
… and that’s pretty much how you know it’s a Die Hard movie.