It would be an understatement to say that John McTiernan’s career has fallen on hard times over the last two decades, and the 69 year-old hasn’t directed a feature since 2003’s box office bomb Basic. In the interim, the filmmaker faced criminal charges that saw him convicted of lying to the FBI, leading to a stint in prison and a declaration of bankruptcy, with nobody in the industry seemingly willing to take a chance on hiring him for anything.
However, McTiernan will always get a lifetime pass from fans of action cinema having helmed Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October and to a lesser extent, Last Action Hero and Die Hard with a Vengeance. The first three are stone cold classics of the genre, while the latter two are massively enjoyable summer blockbusters in their own right.
We’ve now reached that time of year where millions of people around the world enjoy their annual screening of Die Hard, even though the debate about whether or not it constitutes a Christmas movie started earlier than usual. By the definition of the subgenre, John McClane’s adventures in Nakatomi Plaza most definitely fit the bill, and McTiernan recently explained how one of the greatest action films ever made wound up incorporating some festive cheer into the story.
“I said, ‘Okay, if you want me to make this terrorist movie, I want to make it where the hero in the first scene when the limo driver apologizes that he’s never been in a limo before. The hero says it’s alright. I’ve never ridden in a limo before’. Okay, working class hero. And Joel understood what I meant. And he said, ‘Okay’. And so we started to work on it. And in fact, everybody, as they came to work on the movie began to get, as I said, this idea of this movie as an escape. And there was a joy in it. Because we were, we’ve had changed the content. And that is how Die Hard became, we hadn’t intended it to be a Christmas movie, but the joy that came from it is what turned it in to a Christmas movie. And that’s really the best I can tell you about it.”
McTiernan might never get the chance to step behind the camera on a major production again, or even a tiny independent drama for that matter, but he’ll be able to dine out on Die Hard for the rest of his days, because it’ll never be replaced as either an action classic or a staple of the Christmas schedule.