The promotional campaign, at least, was promising. The early trailers for A Good Day To Die Hard brought back key pieces of music, and seemed to hit that Bruce Willis was back to playing the character of John McClane, as opposed to being Bruce Willis in another generic action movie. Scheduled for a Valentine’s Day 2013 release date, it seemed 20th Century Fox had confidence in a franchise that had enjoyed its best ever box office performance with 2007’s Die Hard 4.0/Live Free Or Die Hard (depending on where you live in the world).
The first warning sign that all was not well came with the invitation to the UK press screening for the film. Appreciating that Fox could have decided not to screen A Good Day To Die Hard at all, it pressed ahead with a preview, but scheduled it to start at 9.30pm, the evening before release. Reviewers could attend on the proviso that they didn’t run reviews until midnight. Even in the land of fast clickbait, that’s quick turnaround for a review.
But then the verdict was right damning. A Good Day To Die Hard, as I wrote in the Den Of Geek review, is a film “that should be ashamed to wear the Die Hard name”. Not just an insult to Die Hard, but also a dreadful action movie in its own right. Some have convincingly argued that Willis retired the character of John McClane after the third film – Die Hard With A Vengeance – and that Die Hard 4.0 was more akin to a decent action movie (I quite liked it anyway). That theory surely became fact by the end of Die Hard 5. The ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation idea was long gone, as a man who originally scraped passed Hans Gruber and his team to save a building and the people in it was now apparently trying to save the entire world.
Whilst there are cotton wool threads to previous Die Hards, mainly by the inclusion of McClane’s children, the actual character of John McClane and what he stood for is nowhere to be seen in Die Hard 5, with plausibility taking a trip out the door as quickly as the McClanes manage to scoot across Russia.
I really don’t like the film at all.
And yet it hit bigger than it’s often given credit for. It struggled in the US, but its worldwide gross crept to just north of $300m. Furthermore, it was a notable hit in the UK, where Fox had trimmed the movie to get a 12A certificate. Bottom line: there was enough here to get a Die Hard 6 made, should all concerned want to do it.
My problem, though, is I never get the sense that Bruce Willis cares anymore about Die Hard even half as much as those of us who watch the films on semi-regular rotation. He seems to sleepwalk through A Good Day To Die Hard, and I don’t believe that the man who chooses to back projects such as Looper and Unbreakable couldn’t see the problems. It’s easy to take potshots at Willis, and his recent career choices hardly help. But I do think he’s got a better ability to sniff out a decent script than he’s given credit for. The problem is that he just doesn’t seem that interested in using it.
He was, incidentally, on fine form at the junket for Die Hard 5. One woman before me came back to the press room and reported that Willis had given her an extra question, and specifically said that she should ask her toughest question. I gather she failed to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and ask: “Bruce, I’ve just seen the film, what the fuck?”
If the commercial performance of the film opened the door to more Die Hard, though, then 20th Century Fox are nobody’s fools, and could see the damage that the critical backlash caused. Fox, you may recall, pulled its first attempt to fully reboot the Planet Of The Apes series back in 2001. In spite of Tim Burton’s film being a solid hit, feedback was so poor that sequels were abandoned, and ultimately, a fresh reboot was ordered.
That said, Fox did seem interested in exploring a further Die Hard, and the suggestion was that this would be the final chapter in the saga. Certainly, people have been keen to help. Eric D Wilkinson took out a full page advert in The Hollywood Reporter to pitch his take on a Die Hard sequel at the end of 2015, that you can read about in more detail here.
It’s believed that this pitch did get to Bruce Willis’ eyes, but didn’t seem to progress from there.
Instead, the more likely project for a final Die Hard movie is the Die Hard: Year One project, that director Len Wiseman put forward. Wiseman directed the fourth Die Hard feature, and he wanted to pick up on the John McClane origin story that was explored in the comic book series of the same name. The film would partly be set in the present, and partly in McClane’s early years as beat cop in the 1970s, meeting Holly for the first time. Accepting that many of us – me included – don’t think that John McClane’s deep origin story needs to be explored, it did appear that that longer play here was to bring a younger McClane to the screen, who could perhaps take on the franchise going forward. There’s an overlap there with what’s happening in the Star Wars world, and the young Han Solo story.
However, Wiseman’s last words on Die Hard: Year One came back at the start of 2016, and there’s been no sign of progress since then. Bruce Willis has been busy shooting the remake of Death Wish in that time, whilst churning out a few more bit parts in films whose fate lies away from cinema screens.
Chatting to a source of ours, there’s not much else that I could gleam. Every indication that we got was that Die Hard: Year One was in stasis, and 20th Century Fox doesn’t appear to have the project listed as an open writing assignment. That could mean a few things, but it usually tends to suggest a project not in active development. That it’s still under option at the studio, but not being actively worked on or in development in an official Fox capacity. That doesn’t mean Wiseman and his team aren’t doing things on the film, but if they’ve done anything new recently on it, it’s not been directly approved by the studio. To be clear: this isn’t Fox saying no to the idea, or shutting it dowqn. Rather that, right now, it doesn’t appear to be putting any resources into exploring it.
One hunch is that Fox is waiting for Bruce Willis to enjoy some box office rehabilitation. As well as Death Wish, which will put him at the front of a relatively major movie again, he’s also set to film Unbreakable 2 with M Night Shyamalan later this year. Willis’ two collaborations with Shyamalan to date have given him two of his most notable and acclaimed hits, and it’s hoped that the reunion will provide rocket fuel for both of them.
It might also be the catalyst to open up Die Hard 6. Because, as I understand it right now, for all the chatter about the project just over a year ago, a new Die Hard film remains in limbo. That could all change tomorrow, and I suspect we will eventually get that one final John McClane adventure. But also, it seems clear that people in power are aware of the damage that A Good Day To Die Hard did. And they’re not looking to make that same mistake again.