Few people pull off the jaded, sarcastic hero like Willis, and this was our first taste of that persona from him. Joel Silver’s excessive use of explosions could make Michael Bay blush, but we all know audiences love a good boom in action flicks. It was also our introduction to Alan Rickman, who had only done stage work up until that point. All these factors made “Die Hard” a massive hit that forever redefined the action hero.
Before the hostage situation in Nakatomi Plaza, action stars rippled with steroid-aided muscles as they sauntered toward extinction-level danger with no regard for their own personal safety. Think Arnold in “Predator” or Stallone in “Rambo.” If you’re ever in need of saving, that’s the type of guy you want to see rounding the corner. Not the guy known for dancing around a porch, singing to a dog about how much he loves wine coolers.
Netflix revealed that a lot of famous stars were offered the McClane role: Clint Eastwood, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Richard Gere, the list goes on and on. Co-writer Steven E. de Souza said they all passed on the role because they thought the character was “a wimp … [because all he] does is try to hide and get help.” What kind of hero is that?
A relatable one.
John McClane was very different from the larger-than-life heroes audiences had become accustomed to. He was just a regular guy trying to make up with his wife, who stumbled into a hostage situation. He bleeds, he loses his temper, he gets scared, he even gets fooled by the villain. He isn’t invincible or above calling for help.
Personally, I’d still prefer Schwarzenegger or Stallone to come to my rescue, but it would probably be fun to hurl sarcastic remarks at the bad guys with Willis as we both scurry away. The wise-cracking, know-it-all personality is what audiences loved about “Die Hard” and John McClane, and it’s why the character and franchise became so successful.
“Die Hard” changed a couple of things for Bruce Willis. He became an accepted and celebrated action star and went from embarrassing Seagrams commercials to the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, but the after-effects weren’t all good. The film also left Willis nearly deaf in his left ear.