Here’s How the Die Hard Prequel Has to Go Down

By  · Published on October 15th, 2015

Twentieth Century Fox

There’s little use in us telling 20th Century Fox how to make a Die Hard prequel, which they’re already planning. Not that they’d listen to us anyway, but the studio has a story in mind. As had been the case with most of the previous Die Hard installments, the sixth movie will be adapted from an idea not initially pitched as a sequel for this particular series. In fact, this new installment will be produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers), who hasn’t been involved with the franchise before, just because he’s the one bringing that idea to the project. He has a slew of things in development listed on IMDb, but none seem suited for a prequel to this series, as is the direction they’re going in. So we can at least use our imagination and dream of what the next Die Hard should look like.

According to Deadline, di Bonaventura is teaming up with Len Wiseman, who helmed part four, Live Free or Die Hard, and will now direct this, too. The title is reportedly, for the time being at least, Die Hard Year One, and it shall only be partly a prequel. Bruce Willis isn’t yet attached, but he’s wanted to reprise his role of John McClane in a bookending sequence where he flashes back to his early days as a New York cop in 1979. Presumably from the title, that’s his rookie year (though in Die Hard he’s said to have been on the force since 1977). Also presumably they hope the flashback idea makes us think of The Godfather Part II rather than the many awful prequels out there.

Even if the goal is to be as good as the Best Picture-winning Godfather sequel, it’s hard to see how di Bonaventura and Wiseman expect to sell us on a prequel to a movie that most accept as an origin story in its own right. McClane goes into the first Die Hard an everyman who has seen a good deal of action on the job yet is still out of his element against a team of terrorists who’ve taken over a skyscraper. The plot of Die Hard Year One would have to be small, maybe just a gritty ‘70s-style thriller, but that scale isn’t going to please the expectations of audiences going into a Die Hard movie. Still, I’d be down for something like Assault on Precinct 13 or a remake of Fort Apache the Bronx tailored to young McClane.

That latter 1981 movie stars Paul Newman as a cynical member of the NYPD working out of one of the toughest precincts in New York during one of the city’s worst eras. A central story line involves a couple of corrupt cops flat-out murdering an unarmed suspect, which is certainly a timely idea for today, and obviously from the original title we’re meant to see the movie as a modern day Western, which is certainly appropriate for the Roy Rogers-quoting McClane. The climax centers around a hostage situation, though nothing like what he’d face at Nakatami Plaza nine years later.

Here’s the twist, though: McClane should be one of the guys who throws the unarmed kid off the roof rather than Newman’s role. He should be corrupt and nasty and maybe even the villain of this movie. Why? Because in prequels focused on villain origin stories, the character is shown to be initially good before falling to the dark side. Therefore Hollywood needs to be consistent and go the opposite direction with a prequel focused on a hero’s origin story. McClane should be seen as evil before turning around and going straight. Maybe it will come in the form of his falling for young Holly.

Would seeing a young corrupt, asshole version of McClane tarnish the character as far as our enjoyment of the other movies, especially the first one? Of course it would. Same as how prequels that watered down villains like Darth Vader and Captain Hook have hurt those characters and the original works they first appear in. I’m not saying this is an idea I want, just one I think is necessary. And it wouldn’t have to be a bad thing. McClane doesn’t have to be a genocidal tyrant or a child-murdering rapist or anything so extreme. He can simply be an antihero who makes some immoral decisions early in his career, when that wasn’t uncommon, and then redeem himself.

It’s not like McClane is an angel at the start of or throughout the Die Hard series anyway. He’s known for undermining authority, doing his own thing, and he was inspired by antiheroes like Harry Callahan of the Dirty Harry series and cowboys like John Wayne, who had his share of ethically imperfect roles. McClane in the 1970s would most definitely be among the impure. Die Hard Year One needs to show us the man who was trying to mellow in order to save his marriage but whose inherent vigilante spirit is able to burst out as soon as really bad guys start to mess with his world.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.