Actors who turned down ‘Die Hard’

Bruce Willis as John McClane in 1988's 'Die Hard'

Believe it or not, Bruce Willis' transformation from television star into bona fide big screen action hero almost didn't happen. Heck, it wasn't supposed to happen.

Up until the film's release in 1988, "Die Hard" had a long and somewhat sordid Hollywood history. (And it continues to have a long Hollywood history 25 years later with the release of its fifth installment this weekend -- "A Good Day To Die Hard.")

The first film in the famed action franchise is based on a book -- the second in a series, to be specific. And its first installment --"The Detective," published in 1966 -- was also made into a film. The crime drama "The Detective" (1968) starred none other than the Chairman of the Board himself -- Frank Sinatra. It was not only a box office success, but was also considered one of Sinatra's most intense acting performances to date.

[Related: 'A Good Day to Die Hard' live London premiere]

So it makes sense that when author Roderick Thorp wrote his followup, "Nothing Lasts Forever," more than a decade later, Sinatra had dibs on its planned adaptation to the big screen. In fact, the studio was reportedly contractually obligated to offer Sinatra the part in spite of him being 73-years-old at the time.

Sinatra turned down the role. The story was then altered to bear no connection to its predecessor and was actually shopped around as a sequel to "Commando." But Arnold Schwarzenegger had no interest in reprising his role.

Ironically, the film's producers are said to have then started pitching the film as a who's who of action heroes -- attempting to attach multiple names including Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford to the project. Sound familiar? (*Cough* "The Expendables" series!) "Die Hard" was offered to virtually every big name action star of the era. Burt Reynolds, Don Johnson and Richard Gere are said to have turned it down and Stallone verified years later that he, in fact, turned it down, too.

[Related: Willis vs. Stallone: Action stars talk gun control]

'Die Hard,' 1988

Enter Bruce Willis.

The studio had their leading man. But up until that point, Willis was only known for his television role -- as the rather un-serious detective David Addison on ABC's "Moonlighting" (opposite Cybill Shepherd). They didn't have faith in his action star appeal -- and the film's initial marketing campaign reflected such. Willis' face was decidedly not the focal point of the film's billboards and posters.

"Die Hard" went on to be a box office smash, presumably leading Willis and studio execs alike to do their own version of the film's famed line "Yippee-ki-yay, mother------."

Watch 'Die Hard' 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Clip:

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