The development of Die Hard With A Vengeance led to it using a story that had been earmarked for Rapid Fire 2.
For the last few years Die Hard: Year One has been in development and in various stages of production. Len Wiseman, who helmed the fourth film, had been developing it. But now, following the Disney acquisition of Fox, it’s one of the projects that’s apparently been culled.
That said, few would still bet against Bruce Willis’ John McClane making another appearance at some point. And the fact that you can’t keep him down was never more apparent than in the subway train climbing, truck surfing Die Hard With A Vengeancea a film whose production was never quite as straightforward as just writing a script for a new Die Hard film.
It’s well known that the first and second Die Hard films have their own strange roots as it is, the first being based on Roderick Thorpe’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever which itself was a sequel to the book The Detective. The Detective was also turned into a film starring Frank Sinatra, who consequently had first refusal on Die Hard (that’s a whole other story). Then came Die Hard 2: Die Harder, based on a completely separate book entitled 58 Minutes written by Walter Wagner.
Die Hard 2 was actually a bigger hit than expected and 20th Century Fox wanted to get a sequel out as fast as humanly possible after its release in 1990. Unfortunately Bruce Willis was now at the height of his fame and wasn’t going to be free from other projects for quite some time.
Still, a Die Hard 3 screenplay was nonetheless ordered whilst waiting for Willis to be free. The first screenplay was to be based on an existing one entitled Troubleshooter, which revolved around terrorists this time taking over a cruise ship. This was scrapped as soon as the Warner Bros hit film Under Siege – starring Steven Seagal – was released, as it had almost the same plot. The director attached to helm that version of Die Hard 3 was to be Richard Rush, who had just helmed Willis in the infamous erotic thriller, Color Of Night.
With those initial plans quashed the original writer of Die Hard 2 (Doug Richardson) was brought back and he presented the studio with a plot involving the New York subway system. It was an idea which in a small way would work itself into the final movie, and another involving John McClane’s daughter, who was set to be kidnapped. This idea would turn in up Die Hard 4.0.
Meanwhile Fox had been courting director John McTiernan trying to get him to come back to the franchise that he’d started (Renny Harlin helmed the sequel as McTiernan opted to make The Hunt For Red October instead). And McTiernan said yes.
What McTiernan brought with him was a script he’d been trying to get made with the writer Jonathan Hensleigh called Simon Says. The original plot of Simon Says is about a cop who teams up with a black activist who is trying to stop a bomber. A bomber who leaves clues all over town marked with ‘Simon Says’.
Fox was already aware of this script, though. In fact, a year before, it was looking to rework the story into a sequel to the hit Rapid Fire, starring Brandon Lee and Angela Bassett. Tragically, that idea would come to an end when Lee lost his life on the set of The Crow.
The studio liked the idea of reworking what was to be Rapid Fire 2 into Die Hard 3, and Hensleigh was given just one month to rewrite the script into a Die Hard film. When the script was finished, it was full steam ahead. The casting began and Angela Bassett was still on board as the second lead. But this also changed as the character was rewritten as male. There’s no information as to why, as it’s a gender change that didn’t really affect the plot.
The co-star role was initially offered to Laurence Fishburne. He’s apparently turned down Samuel L Jackson’s role in Pulp Fiction, not seeing it as a lead role. But the idea of starring in a guaranteed hit with a huge star at the time in Die Hard 3? That was a little different.
Yet he ponded. And ironically, Fishburne spent so much time deliberating about the role that execs at Fox who had just seen Jackson in Pulp Fiction at the Cannes Film Festival offered it him instead. Jackson accepted immediately. You’ll even find a reference to Pulp Fiction in Die Hard With A Vengeance as Willis quotes a piece of one of the songs from it.
The film still needed a villain. After seeing his powerhouse performance in Mike Leigh’s 1993 film Naked, 20th Century Fox went straight to David Thewlis to offer him the chance to play Simon Gruber, the brother of the maniacal protagonist from the first film. Thewlis found himself in a bit of a bidding war as other big studios wanted to work with him at the time, and eventually passed on Die Hard With A Vengeance for the fantasy talking dragon film Dragonheart.
Second choice then was recent Oscar winner Jeremy Irons who happily accepted and looked forward to changing Hollywood’s perception of him.
Filming finally began on August 3rd 1994 mostly in completely authentic locations and ended in December of the same year. Production later resumed in the spring of the next year to film some difficult stunt sequences and even a new ending (and there’s a separate article to be written about that).
It opened May 1995 in the US and August in the UK (in a cut version to secure a 15 certificate, much like Die Hard 2) and was one of the biggest hits of the year. McClane was back, but he wouldn’t return again for another 12 years in the PG-13/12A-rated Die Hard 4.0.
We don’t even speak of the one that happened after that…
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