It's not unusual that a film will be adapted from a written source. In fact, it's not even a rarity that a movie is adapted from a written source with which most people are not familiar, or even something unpublished. That adapted film can even achieve a popularity that overshadows its written counterpart. You may love a film for years without ever having the slightest inkling that it is based on a book, a play, etc. What is slightly less commonplace is when four films within a franchise are each adapted from a different source, with practically no one being aware of any of those sources.
Die Hard, as a franchise up to part four, has the single strangest collective script DNA. Die Hard, and Die Hard 2 are based on two unrelated novels, Die Hard with a Vengeance is a spec script that had nothing to do with Die Hard, and Live Free or Die Hard is based on an article first published in Wired Magazine. This week will see the release of the fifth movie in the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, which will oddly be the first of these movies that is not adapted from anything whatsoever. Let's examine the piecemeal sources of the Die Hard movies thus far.
Die Hard was based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever, by . In the book, retired police detective Joe Leland goes to visit his daughter at Christmas time. She works in the skyscraper headquarters of an oil company in L.A., where terrorists led by Anton "Little Tony" Gruber take the Christmas party hostage. Nothing Lasts Forever, which was said to be based on a dream the author had while sleeping through a screening of The Towering Inferno, was actually a sequel to Thorp's The Detective, which had been adapted into a film in 1968 starring . It was for this reason that when Nothing Lasts Forever was being adapted into the film Die Hard, Sinatra was initially offered the role of John McClane.
Die Hard 2
As we all know, in Die Hard 2, John McClane is once again in the wrong place at the wrong time, and again his wife is caught in the middle of a terrorist plot. The second film in the series was based on the book 58 Minutes, by Walter Wager. In the novel, an NYPD captain arrives at JFK International Airport to pick up his daughter. A group of terrorists seize control of the landing lights and electronic equipment; they give authorities 58 minutes to meet their demands before the first circling plane runs out of fuel and crashes. Wager wrote several novels, but none that had anything to do with the characters in Thorp's catalog. Here again, the story takes place at Christmas, and centers on the hero's daughter and not his wife. In the movie, the airport was changed to Dulles International in Washington D.C.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
Our third cinematic outing with John McClane added a personal vendetta to our put-upon hero's bad luck, or so it seemed. Like most films, Die Hard with a Vengeance began with a script. However, it began life as a spec script called Simon Says, that was written with no intention of being part of the Die Hard universe. The script told the story of an average cop who gets a call out of the blue from a psychopath who demands that the cop follow his bizarre instructions exactly or else he would begin killing. Fox purchased the script, and eventually decided to have screenwriter retrofit his own original work to become the third Die Hard, ushering in the return of director .
Live Free or Die Hard
Possibly the most interesting adaptation story in the Die Hard legacy is unfortunately the one that yielded the worst film in the series. In 1997, John Carlin wrote an article for Wired Magazine entitled A Farewell to Arms. The article examined the very real threat of a cyber attack against American infrastructures. Originally the article was considered to be the basis of a 1999 film called WW3.com, but when that failed, it eventually earned a place in Die Hard canon.