Explosive Action Thriller ‘Die Hard’ Was Originally A Novel

“Happy trails, Hans!” —John McClane, Die Hard (1988)

In A Nutshell

Everyone has their ultimate Christmas movie. For us—and most people on the Internet—it’s Die Hard, a film so dedicated to exploding things with utter relish that it could only ever have been conceived for the cinema. At least, that’s what we thought. Turns out the adventures of John McClane were originally the adventures of Joe Leland; hero of Roderick Thorp’s 1978 novel Nothing Lasts Forever.

The Whole Bushel

February 2013 was a bleak time for fans of the Die Hard action series. The fifth installment was released to universally bad reviews and it seemed Bruce Willis was now committed to utterly destroying our fond memories of the original. However, that same month also threw up a curious surprise in the form of an old thriller novel being re-released. Written in 1978 and featuring a bunch of terrorists taking a skyscraper hostage, it bore uncanny similarities to a certain ’80s action movie. And with good reason: That novel—Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp—was the book the original Die Hard was based on.

If you’re a fan of the film, you’re probably wondering just how the heck something as visually punchy as Die Hard could originate in literature. Surely this is one of those instances where producers just take a concept and re-work it until it’s nearly unrecognizable? Well, in this case no. Seriously: Almost all the elements from the movie are already in place. The skyscraper. The terrorist cartel. The world-weary cop (retired in the novel) who manages to save the day despite his dysfunctions. Even the scene where the hero dangles down the side of the building, saved from death only by a fire hose is in there. We’re almost surprised the villain’s description doesn’t simply read “think Alan Rickman in 10 years.”

Yet there are differences. As others have noted, what sets Nothing Lasts Forever apart from its famous cousin is its tone. The deaths are brutal rather than entertaining. The one-liners now come cracked with despair. There’s no happy ending, only a bleak finale. Instead of shouting “Yippie ki-yay motherf—er” and blowing some European actors to hell, Thorp’s hero is more likely to just groan in misery.

The plot points are near-identical, sure, but Die Hard has one major advantage: It’s fun. It’s upbeat, entertaining, joyful. The novel’s just depressing—like an action movie written by Thom Yorke. It also doesn’t leave much room for later installments, unlike the sequel-riffic film. Though, judging by the latest atrocious installment, that was probably a blessing.

Show Me The Proof

NY Daily News: Before Bruce Willis’ ‘Die Hard’ there was the book ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’

  • Hillyard

    No surprise, most films are based on novels or short stories.

  • Marozia

    I was disappointed with ‘Die Hard 3’. ‘Die Hard’ was by far the best.

  • Bill S. Preston (esquire)

    I wrote and submitted a list (unpublished of course) of movies you probably didn’t know were based on books. Die Hard made the cut on my list as well.

  • Steven Radke

    The role was offered to Frank Sinatra…he said no. Also Die Hard was not the only (or even first) film made from said book.