Monday, 19 October 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1254: Let Die Hard Die Out.

20th Century Fox has announced that they're developing a 6th Die Hard movie, but this one will be different. Franchise star Bruce Willis will only bookend an "origin story" about a rookie John McLain in 1970s New York and most of the heavy lifting, running, jumping, and shooting will be done by a younger, cheaper actor in the hope that they might get the budget within a range that'll someday make a profit.

There are a two conundrums with this idea.

1. The original Die Hard is the origin story. It's about how an average joe police detective becomes a butt-kicking terrorist killer, not because of mad ninja skills, or superpowers, but solely through ingenuity, toughness, and a refusal to ever give up.

2. There already is a prequel to Die Hard in existence, and it's this:

You see the Die Hard franchise has a complicated history. Back in the 1960s the novelist Roderick Thorp wrote the original novel The Detective and sold the movie rights to 20th Century Fox. They made a movie starring Frank Sinatra and it was a big hit. Naturally, Fox wanted a sequel, and so did Thorp, so he wrote a new novel called Nothing Lasts Forever.

But there was a complication, Frank Sinatra wasn't available to make the sequel movie when the time came. The project languished in development hell until the mid-1980s. 

Producer Joel Silver, who was on a major hot-streak at the time, wanted an action thriller property that he could do with Fox, and found Nothing Lasts Forever in their archives. They offered the part to Sinatra, who said he was too old for all the running and shooting, so they offered it to Robert Mitchum, who declined for the same reasons.

It was then they decided on a rewrite.

Retired NYPD detective Joe Leland was transformed into active-duty NYPD detective John McLain, and instead of a rescuing an estranged daughter and grandchildren, he was rescuing an estranged ex-wife. They also tweaked the novel's ambiguous ending where Joe Leland succumbs to blood loss, collapses, and possibly dies.

They cast Bruce Willis, who was also on a burgeoning hot streak from his hit TV show Moonlighting, and movie history was made spawning thousands of imitators and movie pitch shorthand  with "It's Die Hard on a---".

Sadly, Fox has decided that repeating history is a good business model. They took what was a neat, tight, trilogy that ended on a high with Die Hard With A Vengeance, and enforced the laws of diminishing returns. 

There is only one reason to keep making Die Hard movies, and that's because they can still pull in about $200+ in the foreign box-office even though domestic grosses are decidedly lacklustre.

However, there's a catch.

The post-Vengeance Die Hards cost between $90-$115 million to make, and about that amount again to distribute and market internationally. That's an overhead of about $200+ million per picture.

Domestically, the studio gets roughly 50¢ on the box-office dollar as the "rental" the rest goes to the theatre. Internationally, it depends on the individual country or territory, but averages out to about 25¢ to 30¢ on the box office dollar.

That means that at best the more recent movies broke even at most. I also don't see folks clamouring to get them on home video or on television airings. I got the first trilogy on Blu-Ray and I just try to ignore the others.

But I see where Fox is going with this plan.

They know how beloved the first Die Hard is, and how many watch it every Christmas as a sort of antidote to the more saccharine holiday fare. They also know that announcing a remake with a new star would be received with screams of "blasphemy" and a lot of bad press. That's why I suspect they start a new series with the proposed Die Hard: Year One, and hopefully segue it into a full on Die Hard remake with lots of CGI explosions as a hundred buildings are seized by ten thousand terrorists and only superhuman John McLain can stop them. They hope that audiences will be so used to this new franchise, they'll somehow accept it over the original.

Which brings me to the point of all my rambling.

What made the first Die Hard such a classic was not the quantity of the action, even though it did deliver quantity, it was the quality. Each set-piece was carefully constructed to deliver the maximum emotional impact on the audience without having to resort to size. Die Hard 2 slipped into the "just make it bigger" trap, and was the comparative low point for the original trilogy. Die Hard With A Vengeance found the right mix of size and dramatic impact, which was why that original trilogy ended on a high.

The latter two sequels, I haven't been able to sit through one to completion, seem to be just after quantity and not quality. There's no tension, no dramatic impact, no reason to give a shit.

My suggestion to Fox is to look at what made the original so beloved. The mechanics of suspense, action, and story are all out there to be carefully studied, and use that as a template to develop new original action properties that could find an audience all their own.

Of course, that would take work, and I doubt they're interested in that when they can just throw money at the problem.


  1. Rainforest Giant22/10/15 11:44 am

    New Ideas? Go to the back of the class. We need tried and true. Don't rock the boat. Better yet don't get in the boat at all. Stay on shore and just recycle old and well polished ideas.

    Do you have anything with generic European Nazis or perhaps Republican trailer park residents as the villains? Too risky you say? How about rich Manhattanites who commit murder or sexually motivated crimes (all white of course).

  2. I thought "Nothing Last Forever" was also pitched as a Commando sequel with Arnold in the lead?