There are Christmas movies and then there’s Die Hard. It stands in a holiday cinema class all its own. As our own Kris Maske stated before, “…if Die Hard isn’t in someone’s top three Christmas movies then you shouldn’t be friends with them.”
While most holiday movies fail to escape the pitfalls of a cheesy original song, half-hearted Christmas message, and goofy guy in a Santa suit, Die Hard gives us broken glass and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. And the closest thing we get to Santa Clause is a dead terrorist in sweatshirt that reads, “Now I have a machine gun.”
Here are 20 facts behind the story of the one and only true Father Christmas, John McClane.
1. Die Hard just sounds like a bad-ass action movie. Give Your Life Expensive sounds like the title of a Hungarian career seminar. That’s just what Die Hard’s title is in Hungary though. The sequel is Your Life is More Expensive and of course the third title is The Life is Always Expensive. Naturally.
A Serbian bootleg version released in 1988 was titled Skupo Prodaj Svoju Kozu (Sell Your Skin At High Price). The Spanish version is The Glass Jungle.
2. The movie was originally supposed to be a sequel to the 1985 flick, Commando. The film never fleshed out with Arnold (terrorists can only kidnap Alyssa Milano so many times) and Bruce Willis took over.
3. The Nakatomi Tower that’s overtaken by terrorists is actually 20th Century Fox’s headquarters. One would think that filming in your own office would be a smart way to trim the budget. Then again, this is Hollywood we’re talking about — an industry that spent money to make Jack and Jill. The studio charged themselves rent to film there.
4. The Hans Gruber-Bill Clay scene was added to the script after shooting had already begun. Producers wanted a way for McClane and Gruber to meet prior to the climax and added it in after hearing Rickman’s American accent. Just who is this so-called Bill Clay person though…
5. Bruce Willis wasn’t on the original poster. The idea of a movie poster with a skyscraper exploding in a post 9-11 world would fly about as well as Alabama losing another Iron Bowl. Back in 1985 though, exploding buildings were all the rage and Bruce Willis was just another television actor. The studio had concerns that his image might prevent box office success, because he wasn’t a movie star.
6. As iconic as Bruce Willis screaming “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf**cker!” is, he wasn’t the first choice for the role. The role was passed from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, and Harrison Ford before Willis got it. Yea, Richard Gere could have been John McClane. Weird.
7. The movie’s concept dates back to the 1960s and has connections with Frank Sinatra. The story of Die Hard is based on the book “Nothing Last Forever” by Roderick Thorpe. The book serves as sequel to “The Detective” which was made into a movie in 1968 starring Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s contract for the film gave him the right to reprise his role should The Detective sequel ever get made.
Considering that Sinatra was 73-years-old at the time of Die Hard’s filming, he would have been a little old to be rolling around in broken glass.
8. Clint Eastwood owned the rights to “Nothing Last Forever” at the time. Eastwood had considered himself for the role in the early 1980s, but for whatever reason, nothing came of it. Personally, I think Clint could have done a great job in the part, but the movie would have probably lacked the sense of humor that Bruce Willis brought to John McClane.
9. McClane falling down that elevator shaft was actually a mistake. The stuntman was supposed to grab the first vent as written in the script, but slipped and continued to fall down the shaft. No point in wasting good footage though, right? The footage was kept and edited together with McClane grabbing the next vent down.
10. Alan Rickman couldn’t stop flinching during the shootouts. Rickman was a stage actor before joining the movie’s cast and one thing that Shakespearean actors don’t normally do is fire Uzis. Director John McTiernan was forced to cut away from Hans Gruber’s face almost every time he fired a gun because of Rickman’s constant wincing.
11. The crew had to constantly apologize to people working below them in the building for gunfire. During the time of filming, the building was only partially filled, but this still caused problems because of the loud gunfire. This meant John McTiernan would have to send somebody to explain the loud noises. “We’d have to periodically run downstairs and apologize to the lawyer beneath us saying, “We’re about to fire machine guns, will you excuse us?””
12. It’s not a Grade A action movie unless it causes permanent hearing loss. This is exactly what happened during the scene where McClane kills a terrorist by shooting him through the bottom of a table. Extra loud blanks were used in the film to achieve the “hyper-realism” that director John McTiernan wanted. The proximity of the gun to Willis’ ear caused permanent damage to his hearing.
13. The German the terrorists are speaking in the theatrical version is just gibberish. Most of the terrorists’ dialog is incoherent German gibberish that was later fixed for the VHS release. In the German version of the movie, the bad guys aren’t even German, just some random European terrorist outfit.
14. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” is a piece of movie history. The line has been used by John McClane in all five movies and was voted as #96 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007. Superlatives are great and all but what’s far more notable is that in Urdu it means, “Here, eat this.”
15. Bruce Willis landed his part in 12 Monkeys thanks to his broken glass scenes in Die Hard. 12 Monkeys director Terry Gilliam cast Willis for the part based on his improvised lines during the scene where he pulls broken glass shards out of his foot. Willis actually wore a pair of rubber feet while running through the broken glass. Look close enough and you’ll notice that his feet look unusually Hobbit-sized.
16. There are two FBI Agent Johnsons in the film as well as a Harvey Johnson. The character names were done as a gag on co-star Reginald VelJohnson. VelJohnson of course returned as LAPD Sgt. Al Powell for Die Hard 2 before getting tied-up with that Urkel kid in Family Matters.
17. The scene where McClane and Gruber finally meet was unrehearsed. Director John McTiernan wanted to create a greater feeling spontaneity between Willis and Rickman for the movie’s climax.
18. Fox was skeptical about destroying their new office building. That scene with the SWAT Greyhound barreling in and knocking over the plaza’s front stair railing took months of negotiating before getting the green light. The helicopter scene took six months to coordinate and Fox allowed the production crew only two hours to capture the mayhem on film.
19. The teddy bear that McClane plans to give to his kids actually belonged to director John McTiernan. The bear makes another cameo in McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October when Jack Ryan takes the bear home with him at the end of the movie.
20. That look of terror on Hans Gruber’s face as he falls to his death is genuine. Director John McTiernan chose to drop Alan Rickman 40 feet one second before the actor expected it to achieve a look of surprise. They used the first take for the film and managed to piss off Rickman in the process. “They were very careful to make it my last shot of the film.”