Die Hard Writer’s Near-Death Experience on the Freeway Landed Him With the Perfect Bruce Willis Movie Idea

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Die Hard is one of the most celebrated and unconventional Christmas movies ever made, despite it being an action film set around Christmas. The film catapulted actor Bruce Willis into global stardom and made him an action star, changing his image from being a TV romantic hero. The film was also one of the highest-grossing films of 1988.

While the success of the film seems a no-brainer when seen in hindsight, the film was a huge struggle to get into production. The film was rejected by many of the top stars and directors before being offered to Willis and John McTiernan. The writer of the film, Jeb Stuart was struggling to write the script before a near-death experience inspired him.

Also read: Bruce Willis’ First Blockbuster Die Hard is a Christmas Movie and These 5 Reasons Will Convince You

Die Hard’s Long Development Stage

A still from Die HardA still from Die Hard

The legendary action film Die Hard has now become a staple in pop culture and is often regarded as one of the best action films ever made. Many of the characters and one-liners in the film have made it into pop culture history. It is known for being the first commercial success for actor Bruce Willis, who at the time was known for his TV show Moonlighting.

The film was loosely based on the detective novel Nothing Lasts Forever, written by Roderick Thorp. The book was a sequel to his previous best-seller The Detective, which was made into a film starring Frank Sinatra. While the film was a hit and Sinatra asked Thorpe to write a sequel, the author took over ten years to finally write the novel.

Also read: “I could have been dead by now!”: Die Hard Star Revealed His Final Meeting With Bruce Willis Before Actor’s Dementia Forced Action Legend Into Retirement

Bruce WillisBruce Willis

The film was then reportedly put on the back burner for a few years by Fox Studios before being attached to screenwriter Jeb Stuart. Stuart worked on a draft of the script, updating the 60-something-year-old protagonist to a younger one but retaining the Christmas and one-building setting. It was reportedly being pitched to producers as ‘Rambo in a building’.

The script went to multiple action stars a the time such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds, and Jimmy Caan, but all of them rejected it before Bruce Willis was selected. He was paid a huge sum of $5 million, making him one of the highest-paid actors in the world. It was only his third film as a leading man.

Also read: Best Christmas Movie Of All Time List: Bruce Willis’ Die Hard And Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands Are Not Even In The Top 10

Screenwriter Jeb Stuart Had a Near-Death Experience Which Inspired Die Hard

Bruce Willis and Bonny Bedelia in Die HardBruce Willis and Bonny Bedelia in Die Hard

As mentioned, the film had a long development stage where the initial story written by Roderick Thorpe in the novel Nothing Lasts Forever was changed to a storyline that was more of an action film. Screenwriter Jeb Stuart was tasked with adapting the novel to make it a more fun film. He said on the documentary series The Movies That Made Us: Die Hard,

“They gave the project to me because I think there was no huge expectation level. They didn’t know what they wanted. When I finished the book and closed it up, I realized I had no idea how to make this into a movie.”

However, an epiphany soon struck the writer after he had a huge fight with his wife one evening, leading him to leave the house and go on a drive. Stuart reportedly realized that he was in the wrong during his argument when he saw the cars in front of him leaving the lane. He said,

“Suddenly, there is a refrigerator box and there is nowhere for me to go. So, the only thing I could do was go right through the box at 65 miles an hour, thinking that was the end of my life. And it was empty…I know what Nothing Lasts Forever is…It’s about a thirty-year-old guy who should have said sorry to his wife because bad stuff happens.”

Hence, the story of an aging detective in Nothing Lasts Forever was changed to a younger NYPD detective who comes to LA to apologize and reconcile with his wife, who is estranged. The film earned $140 million at the box office and spawned a franchise with four more sequels. Bruce Willis became a global star and the film became one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made.

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