When Die Hard was released in the summer of 1988 Bruce Willis was known primarily as a comedic television actor, and he only won the role of John McClane when it was turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger (it is often erroneously believed to have been developed as a sequel to Commando), Richard Gere and a slew of other stars. John McTiernan’s career was hardly noteworthy either, having only directed two films – one hit (Predator) and one flop (the Pierce Brosnan thriller Nomads).
However, there is much more to Die Hard than Willis’ star-making turn and McTiernan’s deft direction. The film’s script by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart (based on a novel by Roderick Thorp) sizzles, Jan DeBont’s cinematography is luscious and Michael Kamen’s score is pitch-perfect. The supporting cast is also a knock-out. It is hard to believe that this is the great Alan Rickman’s first film – his performance as the villainous Hans Gruber is flawless. Reginald VelJohnson grounds the film as Willis’ cop pal on the outside; Paul Gleason offers some comic relief as the bumbling Police Chief, while William Atherton and Hart Bochner add a touch of sleaze to the festive proceedings.
Budgeted around $30 million, Die Hard grossed $83.8 million at the US box office and more than $141.6 million globally following its release in 1988. The success of the film launched Bruce Willis’s action career and led to four sequels and an infinite number of imitations.