Bruce Willis as John McClane in the air vent in Die Hard 1988

20th Century Fox

Unquestionably one of the greatest action movies ever made, Die Hard exploded onto the big screen in 1988, and launched TV actor (and singer) Bruce Willis as a Hollywood star with his performance as no-nonsense New York cop John McClane!

Here are 11 surprising facts about the film… 

1) Nakatomi Plaza was actually the 20th Century Fox HQ

The Nakatomi Plaza – the towering skyscraper the film is based in – is almost as iconic as John McClane himself. But the production team didn’t have to scout very far to find the perfect building to shoot for the movie, as the one you see in the film was actually the headquarters for 20th Century Fox! 

2) Die Hard was Alan Rickman’s first film 

Whilst Alan Rickman had appeared many times on stage and on British TV by 1988, Die Hard was his first ever feature film. He was 41 when he made the film, and he was anxious to see how his performance would go down. Fortunately, he was much-loved in the role, and went on to star in dozens of great movies. 

3) Moonlighting gave more focus to other characters 

The film was initially going to give McClane more screentime. However, Willis was exhausted from filming Die Hard at the same time as the TV show Moonlighting, which he’d been starring in for 3 years by that point. Therefore, the roles of characters such as cop Al Powell, limo driver Argyle, coke-head slicker Elliot and reporter Richard Thornburg were giving more character and time onscreen. 

Hans, Bubby, I’m your white knight!

Harry Ellis

4) The costume department had 17 undershirts

At the start of the film, McClane starts off in a nice, clean, white vest. But as the film progresses and as he crawls through air vents, wrestles with villains, and throws pc-monitor-explosive-office-chair bundles into elevator shafts, it gradually becomes blacker and blacker. To achieve this, the costume department actually had 17 vests, starting from clean and ranging to filthy. Willis would change between them as the movie progressed. 

5) The stuntman accidentally missed the first vent

In one tense scene where McClane has to leap from one wall of the shaft to another, he was meant to latch on to the first vent. However, the stuntman totally missed it, and slid down the shaft. In editing, they had McClane latch on to the next vent down.  

20th Century Fox

6) Hans and McClane’s first meeting was unrehearsed

One of the most memorable moments in the film comes when Hans and McClane come face to face whilst Hans is looking for the detonators. Gruber then pretends to be a party guest. To keep the scene feeling spontaneous, the actors were told not to rehearse it. This clearly worked well, because it created a tense uncertainty where you couldn’t tell what was going to happen. 

7) Rickman was standing on one leg for that entire scene

Shortly before running into McClane, Gruber was searching for detonators overhead. When he jumped down from a ledge, Rickman damaged his knee. He was told by his doctor not to put any weight on it. Thus, for the scenes where he and McClane are standing and talking, he was standing on one leg. 

8) The director discovered Alan Rickman in a play 

In 1987, director John McTiernan went to watch the play Dangerous Liasons, and was struck by the actor playing the villain. It was none other than Alan Rickman. Tiernan was so impressed, he realised there and then that Rickman had to play Gruber in the film. 

Shoot the glass!

Hans Gruber

9) Willis wore rubber feet during the ‘shoot the glass’ scene

If you think McClane’s feet look a little ‘hobbit-ish’ during some of the scenes where he’s running through the shot-up glass, there’s a reason for that. Willis wore rubber feet for the scene, to stop his soles getting damaged by the stunt glass. 

10) Shakespeare inspired the director to set the film over one night

The original novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, was set over three days. Therefore, when it came to writing the script, that too was set over three days. However, the movie’s director McTiernan, took inspiration from the Shakespeare play A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and decided to adapt the screenplay so that the events would take place in a single night. 

20th Century Fox

11) The actor who plays Al Powell was harassed with Twinkies after the film

Reginald VelJohnson, who plays lovable cop Al Powell in the film, has said that he was harassed with Twinkies for a long time after its release. His friends, as well as members of the public, would often buy him Twinkies, or make jokes or comments about Twinkies whenever they see him. He’s even had them thrown at his car whilst driving it. 

There you have it – 11 surprising facts about Die Hard! 

Die Hard trailer

Die Hard low-down

Running time: 2h 12m

Release date: July 15 1988

Director: John McTiernan

Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

What’s Die Hard about?

The film follows John McClane, a no-nonsense New York cop, as he arrives in California on Christmas Eve to attend the work party of his wife, Holly, who has been living apart from him, in an attempt to reconcile the relationship. The party is in the Nakatomi Plaza; a skyscraper that towers over LA. However, a group of dangerous criminals, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), hijacks the party, and holds everyone hostage as they attempt to crack into the building’s vault. McClane manages to slip away, and must pick off the bad guys one by one in order to save his wife. 

Also starring Bruce Willis: Pulp Fiction: 9 Things You Didn’t Know