First of all, what a title. Die Hard. It's everything you want an action movie title to be: memorable, repeatable, and completely renegade. Directed by legend John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and written by Jeb Stuart based on the novel by Roderick Thorp (yeah, man, Die Hard was a book first), the movie was released in July of 1988. Ever since, lesser mortals have tried to duplicate it. But you can't just duplicate Bruce Willis.
Movie magic is mostly luck. It's the result of the right people being in the right place at the right moment. We should consider ourselves lucky Willis and McTiernan found one another. It's been 30 years since they told the story of a Christmastime terrorist plot in L.A., and the off-duty New York City cop who saved everyone's ass.
Here's a look back at Die Hard from behind the scenes. On its birthday, these are 20 things you never knew about the production:
1. Die Hard is based on the novel, Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. The original rights to the story were purchased by Clint Eastwood, who planned on starring in his own version during the early '80s.
2. The role of John McClane was originally offered to Robert De Niro, who turned it down to star in another 1988 film, Midnight Run. Coincidentally, Willis had just been turned down for that movie, so he could accept the McClane role instead.
3. Willis loved Bonnie Bedelia's performance in Heart Like a Wheel (1983), and lobbied for her to play his estranged wife, Holly Gennaro McClane.
4. McTiernan and producer Joel Silver were convinced the late, great Alan Rickman was their villain, Hans Gruber, after seeing him as the dastardly Vicomte de Valmont in a performance of Dangerous Liaisons.
5. More stage influences: McTiernan changed the timeline of the story from three days to one after being inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
6. The sequence in which Hans finally meets McClane wasn't in the book. It was added to the script after British actor Rickman proved steady handling an American accent. The filmmakers wanted the hero and villain to meet, but were stuck until they heard Rickman's linguistic talent.
7. The first meeting scene was Rickman's first day of shooting and he injured his knee badly after jumping off a ledge. If you watch closely, Rickman's standing on one leg the entire time and wearing a brace under his pants.
8. Die Hard was actually Rickman's first feature film ever having built a stage and British television career. He was apprehensive about playing a bad guy, but the movie made his career.
9. The 20th Century Fox headquarters doubled as the Nakatomi Tower in the movie. You'd think the studio would've saved money, but it charged itself rent.
10. To pull off the scene where McClane runs over glass shards in bare feet, special skin-colored shoes were made for him. If his feet look strangely huge in that scene, now you know why.
11. Willis was in the middle of shooting his TV show, Moonlighting, during the production of Die Hard. He pulled double duty, shooting the show during the day, and the movie at night. This is not rare for stars working in Hollywood.
12. While Breakfast Club fans may have a soft spot for Paul Gleason (who played "Dick" Vernon) legendary critic Roger Ebert was not a fan of his Die Hard character, Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson. "The character is so willfully useless, so dumb, so much a product of the Idiot Plot Syndrome, that all by himself he successfully undermines the last half of the movie."
13. The German terrorists were cast more for their burly looks than their nationalities. Only a couple of them were actually German, and none were fluent in the language. Willis, in fact, is more German than most of the villains. He was born in the town of Idar-Oberstein in 1955, located in West Germany at the time.
14. Harry's (Hart Bochner) line, "Hans... Bubby!" was improved, and it surprised Rickman. His look of confusion is genuine. Actually, much of the dialogue was improvised or rewritten on set as the actors enhanced what was on the page.
15. Every time Rickman fires a gun in the film, he flinches terribly. McTiernan had to cut away from him most of the time, but there are still a few shots where you can see it happening.
16. When Rickman speaks German, he's doing it very badly. Little attention was paid to these kinds of details.
17. McTiernan chose Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as the terrorists' theme to pay homage to the old ultra-violence in A Clockwork Orange, and its director Stanley Kubrick. Composer Michael Kamen didn't agree with the choice until he heard the reasoning behind it.
18. The password "akagi" means "red castle" in English. It's also the name of the Japanese aircraft carrier that led the strike on Pearl Harbor in 1941, starting World War II.
19. Playboy Playmates in Die Hard: three. Kym Malin (May 1982) is the woman discovered having sex when the terrorists arrive. Terri Lynn Doss (July 1988) is the woman who hugs someone at the airport. And Pamela Stein's (November 1987) actual centerfold is seen by McClane during the shaft sequence.
20. The office interiors were designed to resemble Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house. The bridge shown in Takagi's office is also the work of Wright.
h/t to IMDb, Wikipedia, and the Die Hard special edition DVDs
[Editor's note: This article originally stated Roger Ebert wasn't a fan of Sgt. Al Powell. We updated the mistake.]