In 1988 a movie opened starring Bruce Willis as a hard-nosed New York City police detective going out to California to visit his wife. She’d taken a job out there. It was almost Christmas and “John McClane” wanted to see his wife and children.
His wife “Holly” (Bonnie Bedelia) was at a Christmas party at her offices in the plush Nakatomi Tower. Shortly after McClane arrives a group of “terrorists” led by “Hans Gruber” (Alan Rickman) take all of the party-goers hostage and go about their business: Stealing nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in bearer bonds in the Nakatomi safe.
But John McClane has other plans, and as a result, the Die Hard franchise was born. The fourth sequel to the original, A Good Day to Die Hard is about to open which makes this the perfect moment to look back on the franchise’s films thus far.
Most people forget, Die Hard was actually based on a novel that was a sequel to one that was turned into a Frank Sinatra film in 1968.
The Detective was based on a book by Roderick Thorp, and it was his “Nothing Lasts Forever” that became the source material for Die Hard. Because Sinatra had the rights of first refusal to play the role in any sequel to the 1968 movie, he had to be offered the role, even though he was in his 70s and too old for the part. Eventually the decision was made to have John McTiernan direct and to cast Bruce Willis in the role of John McClane.
The terrorists are well-armed, have a good plan. Gruber is a strong leader. They have hostages. They have control of the entire building. But one cowboy-like NYPD detective is going to stop them, aided by a LAPD sergeant giving him moral support on a radio. It was gripping, exciting filmmaking and the $28 million budget was rewarded by well over $100 million in box office.
There is an unwritten rule in Hollywood. Films that gross over $100 million spawn sequels. Die Hard’s first sequel, Die Hard 2 (at one point it was called Die Hard 2: Die Harder) arrived in theaters just two years later. Renny Harlin replaced McTiernan as the director. With Willis and Bedelia reprising their roles, and Reginald VelJohnson making a brief reappearance as LAPD Sergeant Al Powell, the story is set in an airport. Based on a different author’s novel (Walter Wager’s “58 Minutes”), this time it’s a different group of terrorists have taken the entire airport hostage. McLane’s wife Holly is aboard an airplane circling the airport, waiting to land. Fuel will eventually run out. It’s winter and there’s a bitter storm going on.
Die Hard 2 featured an all-star cast that included Dennis Franz, Franco Nero, William Atherton, Fred Thompson, Colm Meaney, William Sadler, and John Leguizamo. A bigger budget had some people nervous but Die Hard 2 took in nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in worldwide box office. It was a smash hit and there would definitely be a second sequel.
Five years would pass before Die Hard With a Vengeance would be released. John McTiernan returned to direct. This time McClane is forced to team up with a Harlem store owner named “Zeus” (Samuel L. Jackson). A terrorist named “Simon” (Jeremy Irons) calls the NYPD claiming to be responsible for a bomb that blew up a department store. He issues orders that will put McLane in a very dangerous spot and threatens to set off more bombs if those orders aren’t followed. Zeus rescues McClane and from that moment forward they are forced to team up to play a version of ‘Simon Says’ to avoid more explosions.
This is meant to distract the cops from Simon’s real mission, to steal a bunch of gold bars and haul them out of town. Simon has another agenda as well. He is Simon Gruber, brother of Hans Gruber, the terroist thug who McClane killed in Los Angeles in the original film. He wants payback and he is going to do whatever it takes to get it.
The third installment in the Die Hard series was not, like the prior two films, based on a novel. A spec script written by Jonathan Hensleigh titled “Simon Says” became this movie, although in its original form it was considered as the 4th Lethal Weapon film. Once again, a Die Hard sequel outperformed its predecessors, grossing $366 million.
That meant there would a fourth installment in the series, although it would be 12 long years before it made it to the screen. Live Free or Die Hard was directed by Len Wiseman. The story was developed from an article that was featred in WIRED entitled “A Farewell to Arms,” written by John Carlin and adapted for the screen by Mark Bomback.
There will be no Die Hard films without Bruce Willis, who portrays John McClane for the fourth time. Timothy Olyphant is the main villain, “Thomas Gabriel”, aided in his plans by his love interest “Mai” (Maggie Q). Mary Elizabeth-Winstead plays McClane’s daughter “Lucy”, while Justin Long and Kevin Smith are computer hackers named “Matt” and “Warlock” respectively.
Gabriel’s plan is to hack into and crash all of the major computer systems in the U.S. and to steal money and priceless information. McClane gets involved when the investigation into the first major hacking incident uncovers the murders of several of the hackers who might have done the deed. McClane is sent to pick up Matt and take him into protective custody. Killers working for Mai try to take Matt out but McClane is there.
Once again, a Die Hard film did very well at the box office, grossing nearly $400 million.
Now, six years later, A Good Day to Die Hard will open on February 14th. Set in Russia, McClane is there to try to help his estranged son “Jack” (Jai Courtney). Can John McLane and his son stop those plotting to steal a lot of money and use a great deal of weapons-grade uranium for their nefarious purposes?
Find out on Valentine’s Day.