Every Holidays it becomes a tradition for young men to gather together, perhaps over too many beers, and debate which is the best action film ever made. You know, the ones where Bruce Willis or Arnie pummels his way through hordes of anonymous henchmen with guns bigger than themselves while saving some poor civilian from certain doom.
It’s a classic genre that really came into its own in the 1980s, when heroes were square-jawed and infallible (read: no quipping) and villains were easily identifiable and expendable. Yet it was one film – John McTiernan’s 1988 actioner Die Hard – which gave birth to this entire subgenre, and is still regarded by many as the best of them all. So what is it about this film that makes it so good, and why did it become such a classic?
It’s hard to believe now just how much resistance Die Hard came up against in the run-up to its release. The film had been a success as a novel written by Roderick Thorp, but the then-relatively unknown screenwriter Steven E. de Souza was given the difficult task of turning it into a screenplay that would work onscreen. But when studio executives screened his first draft (which included many scenes which now frame the iconic moments of the finished film) they hated it, and tried to persuade him to write a new draft in which the hero was killed at the end, and Bruce Willis’ character John McClane was not even included. The rejection of de Souza’s script led to director McTiernan (who had made his name with movies like Predator ) also walking away from the project. Rumour has it that Willis himself then came in to script meetings with further changes to the hero and villain, as well as a lengthy rambling monologue about terrorism which was eventually thrown out.