The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber) was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet prior to the climax and capitalized on Rickman's talent.
The scene where McClane falls down a shaft was a mistake by the stuntman, who was supposed to grab the first vent, as it originally was planned. He slipped and continued to fall, but the shot was used anyway; it was edited together with one where McClane grabs the next vent down as he falls.
Only a couple of the actors who played the German terrorists were actually German and only a couple more could speak broken German. The actors were cast for their menacing appearances rather than their nationality. 9 of the 12 were over 6 feet tall.
In the spring of 1987, producer Joel Silver and director John McTiernan attended a performance of the play Dangerous Liaisons, in which Alan Rickman played the evil Vicomte de Valmont. Immediately, Silver and McTiernan realized they had found Hans Gruber.
Director John McTiernan found it necessary to smash cut away from Hans Gruber's face whenever he fired a gun, because of Alan Rickman's uncontrollable habit of flinching from the noise and muzzle flash. If you look at Rickman's face when he shoots Takagi, you can see him wincing.
On Alan Rickman's first day of shooting he filmed the scene where Hans Gruber first runs into John McClane. He made a jump off the ledge about three feet high. He injured his knee when he landed and damaged some cartilage in his knee. He was told by his doctor not to put any weight on that leg and he had to use crutches for a week. For the rest of the scene where Hans Gruber is standing and talking to John McClane, Alan Rickman is standing on one leg for the entire time and has a leg brace on under his pants.
When John McClane runs through the glass shards in his 'bare' feet after Hans has his men shoot out the glass partitions in the computer room, Bruce Willis is in fact wearing special 'rubber' shoes designed to look like his own bare feet. One can in fact see this if looking closely as his feet appear quite unnaturally large in some of these crucial 'barefoot' scenes.
The German that the terrorists speak is sometimes grammatically incorrect. In the German version of the film, the terrorists are not from Germany but from "Europe". This has been fixed for the Special Edition VHS and later home video releases. The only instances of incorrect use of German are Alan Rickman's (Hans Gruber) lines.
The character of John McClane had not been fully realized until almost half way through production when John McTiernan and Bruce Willis decided that he was a man who did not like himself very much, but was doing the best he could in a bad situation.
The line "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!" is used in all Five Die Hard movies (this one, Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Live Free or Die Hard (2007), (although a gunshot masks the 'fucker' part in the PG-13 cut, it is heard in the unrated version) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)). It also translates in Urdu to "here eat this." The line was voted as the #96 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
Bruce Willis' exhaustion from his schedule (he was also shooting Moonlighting (1985)) forced Steven E. de Souza to beef up the roles of the other characters, giving characters like Al Powell, Ellis, Argyle, and Richard Thornburg more personality and screen time.
In the original script, as in the original novel, the action took place over three days, but John McTiernan was inspired to have it take place over a single night by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
At the suggestion of director John McTiernan, Ludwig van Beethoven's Ode to Joy (Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement) is the musical theme of the terrorists. Hans Gruber, the terrorist leader, even hums it at one point in the movie (while he is on the elevator with Mr. Takagi). Film composer Michael Kamen at first thought it was a "sacrilege" to use Beethoven in an action movie, telling McTiernan: "I will make mincemeat out of Wagner or Strauss for you, but why Beethoven?" McTiernan replied that Ode to Joy had been the theme of the ultra-violence in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). Kamen, a Kubrick fan, then agreed.
In the making-of featurette, director John McTiernan revealed that a vast majority of the exterior shots of the building showing explosions were real, full-scale explosions set off in and around the actual building.
Ironically, Bruce Willis, sneered at for being an all-American hero by the head German terrorist, is actually more German than most of the villains; Alan Rickman was English and Alexander Godunov was Russian. Bruce Willis was born on March 19th 1955 in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.
In the German version the names and backgrounds of the German-born terrorists were changed into English forms (mostly into their British equivalents): Hans Gruber became Jack Gruber, Karl became Charlie, Heinrich turned into Henry etc... the new background depicted them as radical Irish activists having gone freelance and for profit rather than ideals. (This led to some odd plot holes in this movie and continuity problems with Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) where Gruber is remembered as having been German.) This was because German terrorism, especially by the Rote Armee Fraktion (the Red Army Faction), was still considered a sensitive issue by the German government in the 1980s.
When the bomb in the elevator shaft blows out the side of the building, the effect was accomplished by (a) collecting virtually every camera flashbulb of a particularly powerful type in the Los Angeles area and wiring them on the outside of the actual building to simulate the flash, and (b) by superimposing a shot of an actual explosive blowing a hole in the wall of an all-black miniature of the building at the appropriate location.
John McTiernan did not want the villains to be terrorists, considering them too mean. He chose to avoid the terrorists' politics in favor of making them thieves in pursuit of monetary gain, believing it would make the film more suitable for summer entertainment.
The film's ending had not been finalized by the time filming had begun. One result is that the truck depicted as transporting the terrorists to the building is too small to house the ambulance that was later revealed to be inside it. Other scenes also lacked context: the building's computer room was built before anyone knew what it would be used for.
It is often said that Bruce Willis's lines during the scene when he pulls the glass out of his feet were ad-libbed. Indeed, it is said that upon learning this, Terry Gilliam cast Willis as the lead in Twelve Monkeys (1995). However when comparing the original script, it appears that Willis only veered very slightly from the original written dialogue.
In the "Making of" Featurette for Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Reginald VelJohnson said that after his appearances in the first two Die Hard films, he would be frequently teased and joked at by friends and people on the street for his character's obsession of Twinkies, with some people even going so far as to buy twinkies and throwing them into his car while he was inside, and saying things like "Oh, we knew you wanted some of those".
The original release poster for the film did not feature Bruce Willis' likeness, just the building (pre-release promo posters did show Willis). The producers originally thought it might deter non-Willis fans from seeing the movie. Posters were later altered after the early box office success.
Roger Ebert was one the few critics to give this a negative review. The main reason he did was because he hated the character Chief Dwayne Robinson. He said the character was unnecessary, useless, dumb and he prevented the movie from working. He did like the sequels and later changed his opinion.
There are two references to the Japanese naval attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The first occurs when John McClane questions whether the Japanese celebrate Christmas. Takagi replies "We're flexible, Pearl Harbor didn't work out, so we got you with tape decks". The second is the breaking of the code key for the vault. The password "Akagi" (Red Castle, in English) is the name of one of the Japanese aircraft carriers which carried out the strike on Pearl Harbor.
The fireball in the elevator shaft was shot with real pyrotechnics using a miniature shaft; the camera speed had to vary over the length of the shot because otherwise the fireball would appear to change speed as it moved up the forced-perspective model. The effects people weren't sure exactly at what rate to vary the speed, so they rigged a manual variable-speed control and did several takes changing the speed at different rates and then picked the one that looked best.
Deputy Chief Robinson says that John McClane (Bruce Willis) "could be a fucking bartender for all we know" (because of McClane's claim to be able to "spot a phony ID"). Prior to becoming a well-known actor, Willis was a bartender.
When asked how he's doing while repairing his bleeding feet, John McClane responds with "All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." A famous quote of W.C. Fields misconstrued to be on his gravestone.
The firearms used in the film are, as in most action films, real firearms modified to function with blanks. Although modern small arms ammunition is intended to have minimum muzzle flash, director John McTiernan wanted vivid, "exaggerated realism" in the muzzle flashes. Weapons specialist Michael Papac hand fabricated some blanks that were so powerful that the standard firearms modifications weren't workable. Papac had to specially modify the firearms involved. Special effects coordinator Al Di Sarro said of these blanks that 'in the world of blanks, there are loads that are not so loud and loads that are deafening', and these were deafening. These blanks did cause some cast members, notably Alan Rickman, to flinch. Furthermore, normally most sound effects come from a studio library of sound effects. Sound designer Richard Shorr didn't want to use these clips as modern sound equipment would show their age, as some of them were recorded in the 1950s. To resolve this and further the "exaggerated realism", the sound crew took the appropriate firearms to a firing range in Texas and recorded them being fired with live ammunition.
In Spain, the title was translated into "Crystal Jungle." In French, it was "Piège de cristal". In Poland it became "The Glass Trap," which sounds and fits very well in that country. The original title, an English idiom, is hard to translate correctly, as it would sound like "It is hard to kill him" or "He dies slowly." The same titles are used for the sequels even though they do not relate well to the sequels.
The centerfold that John McClane sees and ultimately uses as a point of reference while navigating his way from the elevator shaft to the air vent is that of Playboy Playmate Pamela Stein (November 1987). Another Playboy Playmate, May 1982 star Kym Malin, has a small role in the picture as the hostage who is originally discovered by the terrorists having sex with another party goer, and a third, July 1988 Playmate of the Month Terri Lynn Doss, plays the woman at the airport who runs past McClane to hug another arriving passenger.
This was the feature film (and Hollywood) debut of Alan Rickman, who had previously only appeared onstage and on British television. Rickman was 41 at the time. As such, he was nervous about how his first Hollywood role would go over, but his outstanding success as Has Gruber secured a lucrative career in American film.
When they first meet Takagi tells John McClane, "Pearl Harbor didn't work out, so we got you with tape decks." James Shigeta who played Takagi also played Vice Admiral Chiuichi Nagumo, one of the architects of the attack on Pearl Harbor in the film The Battle of Midway (1976).
When Powell circles the Nakatomi parking lot, McClane looks on, saying "Who's driving this car, Stevie Wonder?" As Argyle waits in the limo parked in the garage, "Skeletons" by Stevie Wonder plays on the stereo.
Alan Rickman nearly passed up the role of Hans Gruber, which ended up being his first film role. He had only arrived in Hollywood two days earlier and was appalled by the idea of his first role being the villain in an action film. To a degree, Rickman was right to be concerned considering his performance as Hans Gruber was so hailed that the actor had to struggle being typecast as a player of villains for much of his career.
The entire Nakatomi building was supposed to be managed by a supercomputer and the scenes where McClane is trapped in an office and Gruber orders the windows to be shot out are supposed to be the computer room. The large dark object is the computer, modeled after an ETA-10 supercomputer. It is a model and a bit larger than the actual computer which was thought to look too small. The fiberglass model was later used by ETA as part of the marketing for the ETA range of supercomputers.
John McTiernan turned the script down several times. He felt it was a nasty piece of work. When he was finally persuaded to take on the assignment, he was able to lighten some of the film's darker edges.
EASTER EGG: On Disc 2 of the 2-Disc DVD (the Special Features Disc), from the first selection of the menu, push right on the remote control, and a dot on the top of the menu (which resembles the rooftop of the Nakatomi building) will light up. Select it, and the menu will "explode" and the words "THERE GOES FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT!" will appear when the explosion clears.
On the Blu-ray Disc commentary, Production Designer Jackson De Govia notes the company name on the truck in which the "raiders" (as he calls them) arrive. It says, "Pacific Courier" - a joke, since it means "Messenger of Peace". DeGovia used a similar name and graphic on the truck that gets blown up at the start of Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).
When talking to Powell on CB, McClane tells him, "They have missiles, automatic weapons and enough plastic explosives to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger." Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally considered for the role of McClane and had worked with John McTiernan and Joel Silver a year before on Predator (1987) also from 20th century fox. Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who are now both known as for making action movies with a dark humor, later became good friends and worked on the Expendables movies together with Sylvester Stallone, who was also considered to play John McClane along with Schwarzenegger.
Originally, the character of John McClane was supposed to be yet another 1980s "super action hero" which is why many action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, Tom Berenger, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, and Burt Reynolds, were all considered for the role. However, John Mctiernan was (in his words) bored with such characters and since Arnold Schwarzenegger worked with McTiernan a year before on Predator, and was considered for the role of John McClane, he and the script writers rewrote the script. So McClane was rewritten to be more of an "average guy" who really didn't want to be there in that situation but became a hero because he realized that he was the hostages' only hope. That was how Bruce Willis came to get the role of McClane. Because he was primarily known as comedic actor from Moonlighting (1985), McTiernan felt that Willis could be the average guy. Incidentally, in the sequel Live Free or Die Hard (2007), McClane talks about not wanting to be involved, but does so because he has no other choice.
Bruce Willis observed in an interview that many of the real police officers he met with to help prepare for the role and who served as technical advisers on the film all had a very dark, macabre sense of humor, which he tried to factor into his performance. Ironically, action hero characters are often criticized for joking around in films, even though, as Willis himself noted, telling jokes in such dire situations is not that uncommon.
The movie's iconic line: "Yippie-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!" almost came out differently. According to various interviews and commentaries, John McTiernan thought the line should be "Yippie-TY-Yay". Bruce Willis argued that it was "Yippie-KI-Yay". Apparently, they tried both versions to see which one sounded better and the now famous "Yippie-Ki-Yay" won.
Before reporter Richard Thornburg hears Sergeant Powell's call for backup over the radio, he is discussing dinner reservations with a woman, saying "of course I can get a table, Wolfgang is a close personal friend of mine". This refers to Wolfgang Puck and his Sunset Strip restaurant "Spago", which opened in 1982.
The scene where John McClane tries to smash the window with a chair in order to get the attention of Al Powell required multiple takes because the glass window was too strong to break from a single blow as depicted in the film. In fact the glass window was so strong that Bruce Willis actually ended up breaking the chair before he broke the window. Willis and the crew can be seen having a laugh over this in the vintage "Making-of" documentary.
The Nakatomi Plaza's vault is supposed to hold, among other pieces of art, the Edgar Degas painting "Ecole de dance" (1873) (as shown when the thieves finally break the last lock). In reality, this painting is owned by Corcoran Museum of Arts in Washington, D.C.
Near the end of the film, Hans Gruber mocks John McClane by saying that the conflict wouldn't end like an American Western with "Grace Kelly riding off into the sunset with John Wayne". McClane corrects him and says he means Gary Cooper. The film referenced is High Noon (1952), another action movie about a lone hero having to defeat a large group of enemies while being vastly outnumbered.
Each of the first three 'Die Hard' films has a connection and/or reference to at least one of the three countries at the Northern edge of Europe: Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Here, it is during the news broadcast when the psychologist mentions "Helsinki Syndrome" (which is actually "Stockholm Syndrome") and the subsequent mentions of Sweden (the capital of which is Stockholm) and Finland (the capital of which is Helsinki).
The Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian translation of the title is "Umri Muski" ("Die Like A True Man"; literary: "Die Manly" ). The pirated VHS translation back in 1988 was "Skupo Prodaj Svoju Kozu" ("Sell Your Skin At High Price").
Four of the actors who were considered to be John McClane later appeared in the Expendables films which happen to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. Sly and Arnold appeared with Bruce Willis in the first two, but Willis was supposed to appear in the third one and didn't due to money problems. The third one had Gibson as the villain and Ford replacing Willis as the new CIA contact for the expendables. So Willis missed the opportunity to work with fellow action stars Ford and Gibson.
Rick Ducommun, the actor that plays the worker in man hole that radios to shut the power down also played the man that has his pool set on fire and gets shot by Milo in The Last Boy Scout (1991), also starring Bruce Willis.
Hans's personal weapon is a German Heckler & Koch P7. Its strange shape is a result of its unique safety features. In weapons terminology, it's called a "squeeze-cocking" mechanism. The black strip sticking out under the trigger is the actual safety. Hans has to squeeze the safety strip with his shooting hand. This unlocks the firing pin and cocks the hammer. He cannot release it after the first shot to do follow-up shots. It has to be held down to repeatedly fire the gun. If Hans accidentally dropped it, the safety would snap back on, making it a very safe handgun to use. In addition, a red pin in the back of the slide sticks out when the safety is squeezed to the "off" position so Hans knows it will fire. The P7 is expensive, costing over $1,000 and is renowned by firearms experts for its small size. Many who have used it say its accuracy is better than many larger handguns despite its very short barrel. However, there is an error in the film. When Hans takes off the suppressor to threaten Takagi into giving up the combination, viewers will see that it has a standard length barrel. The P7 would need an extended treaded barrel that sticks about half an inch out of the gun to screw the suppressor on because it has to be airtight to work.
When McClane is speaking with Gruber, who is impersonating Bill Clay, there is an office directory behind Gruber. There are three names on it in order, "Degovia, De Souza, Debont" referring to the production designer, screenwriter and cinematographer.
This movie, set during Christmas time in Los Angeles, has the lead thief named Hans Gruber. The Christmas Carol "Silent Night" was composed in Salzburg, Austria by Franz Gruber, a school teacher and church organist. He wrote the melody for a guitar arrangement at the request of the 6-stanza poem's author Fr. Joseph Mohr, a Roman Catholic priest and assistant pastor at St. Nicholas Church, who wrote it in 1816. Mohr and Gruber first sang the song "Stille Nacht" at midnight mass on December 24, 1818, while Mohr played his guitar.
"Ode to Joy" is considered the leitmotif for Hans Gruber's team. The actual "joy" is the contents inside the safe. When Hans and Theo first enter the room with the safe and discuss how to break into it, there a cello performing a very quiet version of "Ode to Joy". Then, when the safe is finally opened, it is a full-blown rendition. The source of the thieves' joy was hidden behind the safe doors.
Jeb Stuart was having difficulty writing the screenplay until he had a near-death experience while driving at night in Los Angeles, after a fight with his wife. He was driving behind a truck carrying refrigerators, and one of the fridge boxes fell out of the truck. Luckily for him, the box was empty. He realized that if he had died, he wouldn't have been able to apologize to his wife. This inspired him to give clear motivations to John McClane and Holly's characters: They wanted to reunite with each other after having a fight.
In the Anthony Horowitz novel Russian Roulette, the author writes about two brothers, Josef and Karl. Josef gets killed by an assassin and Karl wants revenge because Russian blood ties are strong between brothers; this is similar to Karl trying to avenge his brother's death in this film, as well as the two brothers from Octopussy (1983).
Several people involved with this movie also have also worked on the Ghostbusters movies. William Atherton played Walter Peck and Reginald VelJohnson had a small part in the original Ghostbusters (1984). Richard Edlund also worked on the special effects on the first Ghostbusters as well. Wilhelm von Homburg (James) would go on to play Vigo The Carpathian in Ghostbusters II (1989).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
For the shot where Hans Gruber falls from the top of the building, Alan Rickman was actually falling from a 21-foot high model. He was holding on to a stunt man and falling on to an air bag. To get the right reaction, the stunt man dropped Rickman on the count of two, not three.
The original script called for terrorists to hijack the building, and for a super-hero cop to stop them. Director John McTiernan modified the script to change the bad guys into thieves pretending to be terrorists, so that the audience could enjoy their intention of grabbing a load of money. He felt having terrorists as the villains would make the movie less enjoyable and give it a political angle, which he wanted to avoid. McTiernan also changed the hero, John McClane, into an everyday, flawed man that rises to the occasion in dire circumstances. He felt the audience would identify more with him than with a "super-cop".
The scene in which John embraces Holly, (when Hans Gruber is killed), had to be re-shot four times, because Bruce Willis kept making Bonnie Bedelia crack up with laughter. The first take he made his co-star unintentionally laugh when he says "Didn't want to do this", and said "Ye!" in a funny voice. In the second take, Willis made Bedelia laugh again when he did an impression of a monkey, and in the third take, he broke into song by singing "Paris in Spring" by Mary Ellis, which the whole crew laughed.
On-screen body count: 21. These include (in order) both Nakatomi security guards, Takagi, Tony, Heinrich, Marco, James and Alexander (both blown up at the same time), Ellis, Fritz, Franco, Uli, both Agents Johnson and the four other men on the chopper, Eddie, Hans and Karl.
The Roderick Thorp book "Nothing Lasts Forever," which serves as the basis for this movie, was actually a sequel to the book and film The Detective (1968), with Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. Surprisingly, few of the book's details are changed. Originally, a much older Leland (changed to McClane) was visiting his daughter, Steffie Leland Gennaro, who worked for the Klaxxon oil company. Takagi was originally a VP of sales named Rivers. Harry Ellis, Al Powell, and Dwayne Robinson were essentially the same, but the FBI was not involved. Hans Gruber was originally Anton "Little Tony" Gruber, while Hans was the name of Karl's brother. The purpose of the terrorist takeover was to allow the West German radical group to uncover an illegal arms shipment Klaxxon was making to a Chilean dictatorship. Finally, in the end scene (which was Christmas morning at 10 AM), Anton Gruber is shot by Leland and falls out the window, also catching a finger on Gennaro's watch, but in this case he pulls her out the window to her death.
The music cue when Powell shoots Karl at the end of the film was actually an unused track from James Horner's Academy Award-nominated score for Aliens (1986). Specifically, the music was originally intended for a scene near the end of the film, in which Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) battles with the alien queen on board the Sulaco. Instead, an earlier music cue was reused, leaving the cue available for this film. A second music cue, scored by John Scott for the film Man on Fire (1987), was also used. The music can be heard when John and Holly meet Powell at the end of the movie.
Hans Gruber references Rambo's name when talking to McClane the first time on the radio and finding out who he is. John Rambo is Sylvester Stallone's action hero character from the 80s. Stallone had Rambo III (1988) made the same year as this movie and he was considered to play John McClane before Bruce Willis got the part. Stallone later became friends with Willis opening up a restaurant along with Arnold Schwarzenegger who also was considered for John McClane. Arnold, Sly and Bruce later worked together in the first two Expendables movies.