1988's Die Hard became the movie that catapulted Bruce Willis, who was previously known for playing the everyman, into a legitimate action star. A big reason for Willis' new image was the fact that audiences could see it was him doing most of his stunts. The film's cinematographer Jan de Bont revealed that the actor was initially reluctant to do the stunts on his own until he realized that doing so would actually make his job quicker and easier.
"In the beginning, Bruce didn't want to do [the stunts]. But then he started to realize, 'Wait a second, if I do it myself there will be three cameras on me instead of one, because they won't want to do that many takes.' Actors like that because it means they don't have to do [the scene] over and over. If you notice that all the attention is on you and on getting it right the first time, you're more willing to take risks. My experience has been that each time actors do stunts like that, they're so happy and proud of themselves afterwards that they actually did it."
While Die Hard is generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest action movies of all time, in recent years, it has also earned another, much more surprising title, of being one of the best Christmas movies of all time. Fans are still divided over whether Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie. For de Bont, the answer about this Bruce Willis classic is clear.
"I'm not sure if the spirit of Christmas is fully embraced by that movie, to be honest. To really call that a Christmas movie - it's a little far-fetched."
Whether or not you consider Die Hard a Christmas classic, one fact that cannot be denied is the film's impact on the action movie genre. At that time, action films were filled to bursting with uber-macho men, turning opponents to mush with the merest flex of a bulging bicep in exotic locations. Die Hard took a much more gritty, visceral approach to the action scenes, which Jan de Bont credits for the film's long shelf-life.
"At that time, action had become so generic, and there was nothing fresh about it anymore. By doing everything on location, and using that building as a real set and a real character, it added to the tension and increased the reality in a huge way... A lot of [the action] is shot handheld, and the camera goes along with the actors. That wasn't just to show off our style - it was about making the camera a participating element in the movie. I think that's why audiences like the movie so much: They always feel like they're a part of the action."
The rest of the movies in the Die Hard franchise were never able to reach the heights set by the first one. But Die Hard's influence continues to be felt to this day, giving rise to a new generation of everyman heroes and gritty action, from Matt Damon's take on Jason Bourne to Liam Neeson's second wind as an action star in the Taken franchise.