On this day in 1988, Die Hard, an action film starring Bruce Willis as wisecracking New York City cop John McClane, opens in theaters across the United States. A huge box-office hit, the film established Willis as a movie star and spawned three sequels. Die Hard also became Hollywood shorthand for describing the plot of other actions films, as in “Speed is Die Hard on a bus.”
Based on Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Die Hard follows McClane as he goes to meet his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at her company’s holiday party in a Los Angeles office building. When the building is taken over by a band of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), McClane must single-handedly fight off the bad guys. As played by Willis, McClane was notable as a new type of action hero–funny and flawed. The film, which was directed by John McTiernan (The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero), received four Oscar nominations, for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Effects Editing.
Willis, who was born March 19, 1955, and grew up in New Jersey, first rose to fame with the romantic comedy/detective drama TV series Moonlighting (1985-1989), in which he played smart-aleck private eye David Addison, who ran a detective agency with ex-model Maddie Hayes, played by Cybill Shepherd. After the success of Die Hard, Willis, emerged as one of Hollywood’s top leading men. In addition to starring in three Die Hard sequels: Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) and Live Free or Die Hard (2007), Willis racked up a long list of movie credits, including roles in Pulp Fiction (1994), Twelve Monkeys (1995) and Armageddon (1998). In 1999, he co-starred in The Sixth Sense (1999), an Oscar-nominated horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film was a huge commercial and critical success and became famous for the line “I see dead people.” Willis also starred in Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable.
From 1987 to 2000, Willis was married to Demi Moore, who also emerged as an A-list star in the 1980s and 1990s, appearing in high-profile films such as St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Ghost (1990), A Few Good Men (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), Striptease (1996) and G.I. Jane (1997). Willis and Moore have three daughters together and remain friends after their divorce, frequently making public appearances together with Moore’s second husband, actor Ashton Kutcher.