Five Film Facts: One for each ‘Die Hard’

Adam Pockross
Movie Talk

After 25 years of narrowly averting bullets, broken glass, falling roofs, flying cars, and idiotic authority figures, John McClane is lucky to be alive. And that makes all of us action fans lucky too.

Now Bruce Willis brings McClane back for the fifth installment of the venerable “Die Hard” franchise with “A Good Day to Die Hard,” perhaps the most concussive film of the bunch. To honor one of the most determined, identifiable, and sarcastic action heroes ever to leap off the big screen, we present these Five Film Facts about the franchise, one for each film. Because like most days, today is indeed a good day to celebrate John McClane.

Feature Film Debut

1. The year was 1987, and the timing couldn’t have been better for 20th Century Fox to open the Fox Plaza at the studio’s Los Angeles headquarters. Or rather, the timing couldn’t have been better for the first “Die Hard,” as director John McTiernan’s film really needed a skyscraper in which to shoot. Since it was a Fox production, the studio allowed McTiernan to showcase the new building. Which he certainly did, so much so that the original poster only featured the building, leaving Willis out of the picture all together (Fox was also reportedly worried about marketing Willis, who was only known as a television actor). After “Die Hard” (1988) blew up, the tower would forever become known as Nakatomi Plaza, even though it’s been featured in a number of big name productions, including the opening sequence of “Speed” (1994), one of the buildings that falls in “Fight Club” (1999), and Mr. Zalinski’s (Dan Aykroyd) Auto Parts building in “Tommy Boy” (1995).

Don’t Move to Val Verde

2. In “Die Hard 2” (1990), often known as "Die Harder," the action hinges around a group of terrorists who take over Washington Dulles International Airport in an attempt to rescue imprisoned General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero). Esperanza hails from Val Verde, which is the same fictional South American country that Arnold Schwarzenegger had already invaded twice, once in “Commando” (1985) and once in “Predator” (1987). The use of Val Verde in “Die Hard 2” made sense for ticket sales -- so the film’s villain wasn’t from a real country -- and also because the first “Die Hard” was originally intended to be a sequel to “Commando.” However no one cleared that idea with Schwarzenegger, who wasn’t interested in reprising the role of John Matrix.

[Related: Actors who turned down 'Die Hard ']

Good Development

3. Numero tres, “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” (1995), is actually the first film of the franchise to be created from an original script, as the first was based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorpe and the second sprung from Walter Wager’s novel “58 Minutes”. However, “Simon Says,” the original spec script that Jonathan Hensleigh wrote in just 11 days (first draft), wasn’t actually intended to be a “Die Hard” movie. It was initially conceived to be a vehicle for Brandon Lee, but was later retrofitted to make room for John McClane.

The Reason We Love Action Flicks

4. Live Free or Die Hard” (2007), the fourth installment, officially titled “Die Hard 4.0” in Europe, was the first and only PG-13 film in the franchise, as the rest have been rated R. It was also the first and only film to be directed by the man behind the “Underworld” franchise (and Kate Beckinsale’s husband), Len Wiseman. Wiseman wanted to set his “Die Hard” apart from some of the CG heavy films of the day (we’re talking about you “Transformers”) so he insisted on doing as many practical VFX stunts as possible, including remarkably sending a car flying through the air into a helicopter, as seen in the trailer above.

[Related: 'Die Hard' 25th Anniversary Blu-ray clip']

Shooting From the Hip

5. Two weeks into shooting the fifth installment, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the filmmakers decided to completely rework the ending of the movie. “The big twist wasn't locked. I don't think you can have a Die Hard without a giant twist. That's one of the slightly overlooked staples. Don't forget Gruber saying ‘You wanted a miracle, I give you the FBI.’ That didn't happen for us until two weeks into shooting,” director John Moore told Empire. You can hear plenty more about the new film, including Bruce Willis’s thoughts on 25 years of the franchise, in our Insider Access above.

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