Today, Bruce Willis is most known for his portrayal as John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. The Die Hard franchise has sold out movie theatres for nearly three decades, beginning with 1988’s Die Hard and ending with 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard.
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Following Die Hard, Willis established himself as a true action star, starring in numerous crime, adventure, and high-octane films such as Unbreakable, Looper, The Fifth Element, Death Wish, and others. Conversely, Willis is fortunate to have found his way into the Die Hard franchise, as he was not the studio’s first choice for the stubborn and outwardly cocksure protagonist.
Why Bruce Willis was not on the studio’s radar for John McClane…at first
According to MentalFloss, the studio desired a known star to play the leading male, anticipating that such a role would be required to carry a film of this caliber. These large blockbuster-type action films generally feature A-listers with a reputation for playing such hypermasculine characters, but Bruce Willis was almost unknown at the time.
Before Die Hard, Willis participated in the TV movie The Return of Bruno, an episode of Miami Vice, a pair of video shorts, and the 1987 film Blind Date. In short, he wasn’t a well-known leading man, nor was he known for his work in the action genre.
Who did the studio want for ‘Die Hard?’
According to history, the studio started hunting for a starring male, offering the job to every significant figure at the time. The studio kept its options open, from Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro to Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Richard Gere, and Burt Reynolds. They desired a recognizable name and face on promotional materials. They all turned down the part.
According to folklore, Frank Sinatra earned the job first since he had appeared in the blockbuster motion picture adaptation of The Detective. He turned it down, knowing he was a little too old to play an action hero fighting bad guys and jumping around the set.
Clint Eastwood originally optioned the rights to a film version of Nothing Lasts Forever, in which he was scheduled to feature. Nonetheless, the film, which was supposed to be released in the early 1980s, never materialized.
After numerous A-listers passed up the opportunity and/or turned down the role, Bruce Willis snagged it, resulting in a career-launching performance for the now-established action hero.