Die Hard Would Never Become Holiday Classic If It Stayed Close To Source Book

Die Hard Would Never Become Holiday Classic If It Stayed Close To Source Book
Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox

If it did not deviate from the original, the story of John McClane would be more appropriate for a Halloween watch.


  • Die Hard is based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever.
  • The filmmakers have made a number of significant changes to the original novel that play very well into the Christmas spirit of the story.
  • The character of the protagonist and his family was altered to give the movie a much happier ending.

No matter what anyone says, John McTiernan's 1988 Die Hard remains a holiday classic for millions of viewers around the world.

As Christmas decorations create a cozy, festive atmosphere and an advent calendar opens its first windows, we can't help but tune in to the adventures of Bruce Willis' John McClane as he saves Nakatomi Plaza from Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber and his goons.

How often do you rewatch Die Hard?

Many viewers know that the iconic film was based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. But the adaptation went far beyond its source material.

In fact, if the movie had stayed close to the book, it would never have achieved the cult following and holiday classic status it did. A few key novel-to-adaptation changes ensured the film's undying audience love.

Family Dynamics

Thorp's protagonist, named Joe Leland, is an NYPD detective like John McClane, but older and retired. He comes to the LA skyscraper to reunite with his estranged daughter, Stephanie, who is spending Christmas there with her two children.

But before they can meet, Stephanie is taken hostage by Anton 'Little Tony' Gruber and his terrorists, who take over the skyscraper. Like his movie counterpart, Leland fights off the terrorists one by one.

As you will recall, in the movie, John McClane comes to LA to repair his relationship with his wife, and it is she who becomes the damsel in distress. The couple's two children are not present in the building.

While an extended family reunion seems like a fitting theme for a holiday story, the relationship between Leland and his daughter is far from ideal. Stephanie is using drugs and is having an affair with the CEO of the company she works for.

As a result, the classic tale of a princess who has to be rescued in order to marry the prince (or in this case, remarry) is a much better fit for the festive atmosphere. And it doesn't hurt that her name is Holly, either.

Depressing Ending

At the end of Die Hard, McClane pulls the iconic 'gun taped to his back' trick and pushes Gruber out of the window. While there is a bit of a scare when the terrorist grabs Holly before falling to his death, both the protagonist and his wife end up tattered, but alive and well.

In the book, the finale is far more depressing. In his fall, Gruber drags Stephanie with him, and she dies in front of her father's eyes. A devastated Leland is badly injured, and there are hints that he may succumb to his wounds after the story ends.

Add to that two traumatized kids whose father is not around, mother has just been killed and grandfather may soon follow her, and you have a story that is as unsuitable for a Christmas watch as toilet paper is for a Christmas present.

Thank goodness the filmmakers made changes to the source novel and gave us one of the best holiday stories ever made.