Did you know the first two Die Hard movies were based on pre-existing novels? Or that eight videogames based on the Die Hard franchise have been released? Or that Al Powell once showed up on an episode of Chuck?! If not, settle in, as we’re going to take you through the inspirations for and spinoffs of everyone’s favorite action franchise.
Here’s something you may not know. The first two Die Hard movies were both loosely based on two unrelated novels. Die Hard is an adaptation of Roderick Thorp’s 1979 book Nothing Lasts Forever. Like the film, the book depicts an NYPD detective (here retired) doing battle with terrorists inside an L.A. skyscraper during the Christmas season. From there, the differences start to pile up, most notably that the hero of the book is named Joseph Leyland instead of John McClane. Still, the novel’s got an Al Powell (only 22 years old), a Henry Ellis, a Karl and a German terrorist leader named Gruber, though his first name is Anton in the book. Here’s another fun fact: Nothing Lasts Forever is actually a sequel to an earlier Thorp book called The Detective, which was made into a 1968 movie start Frank Sinatra.
For Die Hard 2, FOX used a 1987 Walter Wager book called 58 Minutes as the basis. As with the movie, the book details a cop fighting bad guys who have commandeered the control tower at an airport and are threatening to crash planes unless their demands are met.
Die Hard With a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard were not adapted from novels, however, they were based on screenplays that were written not as Die Hard sequels, but as original stories. The Jonathan Hensleigh script that became With a Vengeance was originally titled Simon Says, and Live Free or Die Hard was drafted from a David Marconi script titled WW3.com, which itself was originally based on a Wired article.
There have been several videogames based on the franchise, starting with Activision’s Die Hard, a 1989 adaptation of the original movie developed by Dynamix for DOS-based PCs. This is how it started, people … with a short digitized John McClane shooting what sounds like a laser gun:
Two years later, Activision again released a game based on the first movie, this time for the NES and Commodore 64, as well as PC. Here’s what the NES version of Die Hard looked like:
That was followed in 1992 by Die Hard 2: Die Harder for C64, Amiga and Atari ST computers. This thing’s been mostly lost to time. Neither Wikipedia nor YouTube knows of its existence, but we offer these screenshots as proof:
Up next was Die Hard Arcade, a 1996 cabinet beat-’em-up that was ported over the following year to the Sega Saturn. The interesting thing about Arcade is it was originally programmed and published as a non-Die Hard related Japanese game called Dynamite Deka. It didn’t become a Die Hard game until the game was finished and ready for release outside of Japan. Also, uh, I’m pretty certain they never got a license for Bruce Willis’s likeness:
Also in 1996, FOX Interactive released Die Hard Trilogy for the PlayStation, Saturn and PC. Trilogy was billed as three games in one, as it featured a third-person section based on the first film, an on-rails FPS section based on Die Hard 2, and a driving section based on With a Vengeance. Reviews were solid, and a sequel called Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas — this time based on an original story — was released in 2000. Here’s a glimpse at the Die Hard section from the original game:
In 2002, Sierra released Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza for PCs. An adaptation of the original film, the game was the first full-fledged Die Hard FPS and starred Reginald VelJohnson, who reprised his role of Sgt. Al Powell, his character from the first two films. Some in-game footage:
Later that same year, a different FPS called Die Hard: Vendetta was released for the GameCube. Xbox and PS2 versions would follow soon after. It’s an original story taking place after the first three films, and VelJohnson is featured yet again. This thing is non-canon as hell, as Hans Gruber’s son and a pre-Live Free or Die Hard version of McClane’s daughter play a part in the story. Reviews were not kind, and no further Die Hard games have been released since.
In 2009-10, Boom! Studios released an eight-issue miniseries called Die Hard: Year One that served as a prequel to the original movies. McClane looks nothing like Bruce Willis, as, again, procuring the actor’s likeness must have proved tricky.
Lastly, in 2008 VelJohnson revived Al Powell for cameo on NBC’s spy comedy Chuck in an episode titled “Chuck Versus the Santa Claus,” where it was revealed that Powell is Buy More manager Big Mike’s cousin. So if there’s one thing to be learned from this post, it’s this: VelJohnson is not afraid to keep on collecting those Al Powell paychecks.