Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ultimate Christmas Movie

Since it's coming up to Christmas Day, I thought it was time to get all nostalgic and remember what is, for many, the ultimate Christmas movie.

And no, I'm not talking about A Christmas Story, or It's a Wonderful Life or Santa Claus: The Movie. I'm talking, of course, about...

Die Hard - the ultimate Christmas movie


Yes, the 1988 action classic that sums up everything bright and beautiful about the Christmas Season.

The original War on Christmas

Nothing says 'Noel' like a taut, hostage situation in a snow-less Los Angeles skyscraper.

No shirt, no service...

No line of dialogue quite sums up the festive message like: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho."

Merry Christmas to you too!

And, of course, the best moment of this great Christmas flick is when gun-fearing cop Al Powell rediscovers the magic of Christmas when he is forced to pick up his revolver and blow away some German terrorist scum.

Just a family man regaining the strength to kill again...

But while many family will gather around the television to watch this Christmas classic in 2010, very few know the true story of our favorite festive flick. For example, did you know the original role of super-cop John McClaine was going to go to...

Frank Sinatra?

The Chairman of the Board himself

Yes, Ol' Blue Eyes himself was lined up to play the hero of Die Hard. Sounds implausible? Well it's true.

The script of Die Hard is actually based on a 1979 thriller called Nothing Lasts Forever, written by Robert Thorp. You might know him as the guy who wrote The Detective in 1966 - which was turned into a 1968 thriller starring Frank Sinatra as tough-talking cop Joe Leland. Nothing Lasts Forever was the sequel, in which an aging Leland is trapped inside a Los Angeles skyscraper when it's taken over by a German terrorist group.

Skyscrapers! Helicopters! Awesome!

What would eventually become the script for Die Hard remains astonishingly loyal to the original novel - that's really remarkable given how Hollywood generally hold nothing sacred these days.

Not realizing that it would later go one to become one of the seminal action movies of its generation - and a much loved Christmas favorite - the aging Sinatra decided to pass on his chance to fill Joe Leland's gumshoes one last time. Instead, studio execs decided to cut the links to The Detective and turn their adaptation into a different kind of sequel.

So instead of Frank Sinatra, who did they think of to take the role of their heroic cop? No - not Bruce Willis - that comes later. In Die Hard's second incarnation, the script was adapted for non-other than the world's greatest superstar...

Arnold Schwarzenegger!

He'll be back...

Scorching hot from the breakout success of 1985's Commando, Arnold Schwarzenegger was shaping up to be the greatest action hero of his time. Execs saw the potential of Die Hard and figured it would make the perfect sequel to Commando - even more so because it featured the father/daughter subplot that worked so well in the first movie.

Yet again, not realizing how influential Die Hard would later become, Arnold turned the role down - his only sequel to date (1984's Conan the Destroyer) was such a flop, he was only interested in turning out original work.

So that left the studio execs with a red-hot action thriller script - but no star! So in the end, they took a risk almost as daring as the ones John McClaine takes in the movie.

They decided to hire a handsome, charming kid from popular romantic TV show Moonlighting and cast him against type in the role of a tough New York Cop trying to win his wife back. That TV star was Bruce Willis - and the film made his career.

Die Hard took Willis from this... this. You're welcome.

In 1988 Die Hard debuted to thunderous applause, and has remained enormously popular ever since. It spawned four sequels, a gazillion rip offs and even it's own pitch-line in the movie business (films are characterized as "Die Hard on a... something" in the pitch meetings.)

What's more, it's one Christmas movie even Dads and little brothers are happy to sit through year after year (which is not true of Frosty the Snowman.)

So this year, as you curl up on the sofa to watch your festive favorites, remember to make space in your schedule for the one true Christmas movie: Die Hard.

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