All Stories Have a Backstory
Literature is probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Die Hard. But literature it is. The storyline started as a novel called Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp. Nothing Lasts Forever was actually a sequel to his better-known novel The Detective, which was adapted into a successful movie starring Frank Sinatra in 1968. That certainly helped get the ball rolling when it came to green-lighting what eventually became Die Hard, but we think it was really the top-notch talent of screenwriters Steven de Souza and Jeb Stuart that helped propel the movie to the iconic status it enjoys today.
De Souza and Stuart both have plenty of action movie credits to their names. De Souza was responsible for smash hits like Commando and The Running Man, while Stuart's name can be seen in the credits of The Fugitive. As a team on Die Hard, they didn't so much co-write as they did sub in. Stuart penned the original script, and de Souza was responsible for the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants revisions as the movie was shot.
A Script in Progress
That's right: much of Die Hard was scripted as the movie was already filming. As Bruce Willis puts it:
I remember that the script was in flux. It would change and they would rewrite scenes and we would come in and there'd be new scenes. I'll give you an example. The second biggest line in Die Hard was 'Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs…' That line was written while I was in this mock-up of a ventilator shaft, trapped in there, I couldn't come out. In those days, a cell phone looked like a shoe box, they were enormous. And someone had to hand me a phone with Steven de Souza, the writer for the rewrites on Die Hard, and he'd tell me a line, they'd turn the camera on, we'd shoot it. (Source)
In fact, one of the film's most iconic scenes, in which ultra-villain Hans Gruber pretends to be a hostage, was only added after Alan Rickman demonstrated the fact that he could swing an American accent (we must say we beg to differ). John McClane's character didn't get sussed out until Bruce Willis was about halfway through filming, and they went back and reshot details to play up his idea of John McClane as someone who's doing the best he can, despite the fact that he's not exactly proud of his life decisions. And the movie's ending? Yeah, that didn't get figured out until late in the game.
Moonlighting, but not on Moonlighting
Director John McTiernan also stepped out of the director's chair to play a big role in some scripting decisions. He was the one who decided to make the movie take place over the course of one night, rather than three days, which was the original plan. His inspiration? A Midsummer Night's Dream, of course. And he pushed the screenwriters away from making Hans Gruber and his cronies terrorists, thinking that having them turn out to be common thieves would make for better summer blockbuster fare.
While Willis admits that there wasn't a lot of ad-libbing going on on set, he did improvise McClane's hilarious "Hi, honey," when he enters the movie's final showdown, bloody, bruised, shirtless, and limping to find his estranged wife captured by the seemingly invincible Hans. We'll give you that one, Bruce. It was pretty brilliant.