With the recent sad news that Bruce Willis has unfortunately had to retire from acting due to ill health, there is no doubting that John McLane will always be considered one of his most iconic roles. However, when the Die Hard producers were casting for the part, Willis was not an obvious choice, and things could have turned out very differently.
Willis was primarily known for the romantic-comedy television series Moonlighting before making Die Hard, and therefore wasn’t the first call to make when looking for an action star. But it turns out that things could have gone in an even weirder direction, because the producers had to first offer the role to Frank Sinatra.
Yes, that Frank Sinatra – the crooner and star of musicals such as On the Town and Guys and Dolls during Hollywood’s Golden Age – was offered the role of John McLane when he was over 70. The reason behind it was complicated contractual entanglements. Rather improbably, in 1968 Sinatra had headed the cast in a loose prequel to Die Hard, called The Detective (both films are adapted from thriller novels by Roderick Thorp). And Sinatra still had first dibs on the follow-up.
After Sinatra sensibly passed, the producers called the next logical person on the list – Arnold Schwarzenegger. He declined, as he was making a break into comedy at the time (Twins came out in the same year as Die Hard). Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte, Don Johnson, Clint Eastwood, and Mel Gibson were all contacted before Willis. Thankfully, things eventually worked out, and the rest (as they say) is history.
Die Hard is of course now considered a classic (Christmas or otherwise), and spawned many sequels. It helped launch the Hollywood careers of both Willis and Alan Rickman, who would go onto deliver his terrific Sheriff of Nottingham just a few years later.
If you’re a fan of cops and their buddies, as well as hammy European villains, check out our guide to the best detective movies.