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Debates continue on whether Die Hard is really a Christmas movie, and the arguments usually win it is based on the setting being Christmastime. If others can argue it’s far too violent of a movie to be considered a holiday family film, there’s no denying Bruce Willis helped make it a classic thanks to his on-screen depiction of vigilante heroism.

What many movie fans have forgotten is that he took it after eight other actors rejected the part. Perhaps they thought it crazy an action movie about a high-rise building hijacked by terrorists on Christmas Eve would ever gain an audience.

When seeing those other actors who considered the part of John McClane, it’s worth pondering how the movie might have turned out with their own approaches. One iconic singer/actor was considered first since he owned rights to the script.

The usual action star suspects turned ‘Die Hard’ down

Those who thought Sylvester Stallone or Harrison Ford were considered for the role of McClane would be correct. Having Stallone in the role would have been too much like “Rambo in the City,” which is likely why Sly avoided it.

There may also be a thing where some of the actors found it inappropriate to combine the holidays with over-the-top violence.

For whatever reason, Arnold Schwarzenegger was never presented the script. Considering he was one of the hottest action stars in 1988, it’s strange he wasn’t considered. At the time, he was filming Twins with Danny DeVito, something he probably preferred to showcase his comedic abilities.

Bruce Willis attends the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis at Hollywood Palladium.
Bruce Willis | Rich Fury/Getty Images

As for Willis, he was still acting on Moonlighting at the time and just beginning to venture into feature films. He apparently saw something in the role the others didn’t.

After all, McClane is the ultimate hero in taking on terrorists with his own two hands and ingenuity. No doubt he thought that would likely equal legendary status, something proven right.

Outside of typical action stars turning it down, other actors who’d done fewer action movies were also wooed by the studio.

Robert De Niro was considered for ‘Die Hard’

Another round of other actors was sought after, including trying to convince Burt Reynolds and Mel Gibson to take on the role. Reynolds may have regretted not taking it since it could have revitalized his career earlier. At the time, his movie career was on the wane until having a renaissance years later on TV and in indie productions.

Gibson was hot in the Lethal Weapon franchise at the time and perhaps felt playing McClane was superfluous. Trying to woo Robert De Niro, though, must have involved some major strategies.

By 1988, De Niro had never done a violent action movie, other than his mafia-related films. It appears he turned down Die Hard in favor of doing Midnight Run releasing the same year.

For film history’s sake, he clearly made the smarter choice. Midnight Run was a chance for De Niro to reinvent himself into doing a little comedy while still being in a true-blue action/cop feature.

After Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, and Richard Gere also turned down the McClane role, Willis clearly found himself in the perfect place. Earlier in the year, he had a serious movie flop with Sunset, meaning Die Hard gave him the key to movie superstardom.

Frank Sinatra was considered for John McClane on ‘Die Hard’

Iconic singer Frank Sinatra owned the rights to the script after starring in The Detective 20 years earlier with the same lead character under a different name (Det. Sgt. Joe Leland). Being 72 by early 1988, he turned it down.

Nevertheless, Sinatra could have done it had he been just a little younger. Not that any type of movie like Die Hard could have been successfully made in the decade before.

Sinatra was certainly no stranger to controversial action movies if you include films like 1954’s Suddenly, or the original The Manchurian Candidate. Yet, none of these come close to the visceral power of Die Hard in setting a new bar for what an action star was willing to go through in being a one-man army.