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15 Albums That Cost a Fortune to Make

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The economics of music albums have always been and likely always will be buried deep in not-for-public-consumption quarterly reports of major labels/conglomerates, but that hasn't stopped news reports proclaiming a record to be among the most expensive albums ever created. These proclamations are based on researched information, forthright and/or publicity-desiring musicians, and in the deadest of giveaways, whenever a record label files for bankruptcy soon after the album's release. Here are fifteen of the most egregious examples of spending a lot of money to get the sounds just right.

1. GUNS N' ROSES // CHINESE DEMOCRACY

In the 2005 New York Times article "The Most Expensive Album Never Made," a "recording expert" who was present for some of the recording of Chinese Democracy said that Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose wanted to make "the best record that had ever been made. It’s an impossible task. You could go on infinitely, which is what they’ve done.”

Infinitely, in this case, was 14 years. In the seemingly neverending quest for perfection, certain eccentric methods of music production were allowed to happen, such as guitarist Buckethead playing in a makeshift chicken coop, scented with authentic dog poop (Buckethead likes the smell of dog poop). There was a vigorous vetting process to be involved in the project, which included a necessary approval by Axl's spiritual therapist Sharon "Yoda" Maynard, and re-recording every song off of Guns N' Roses' debut album Appetite For Destruction. Geffen documents claimed that over $13 million was spent in production costs; the label actually saved money after promising Rose $1 million if he delivered Chinese Democracy at a certain time, a deadline Rose would miss by almost 10 years. The $13 million price tag accumulated from the monthly payrolls: Each bandmember received $11,000, guitar technicians $6000, the chief engineer $14,000, the recording software engineer $25,000. Rental of the studio itself cost $50,000 a month. Expensive guitars would be rented for "many thousand dollars" every month without being used, to the point where it would have been cheaper to buy axes like the '59 Les Paul outright. Rose wouldn't bother going into the studio for long stretches of time, long enough that some of the musicians formed another band, A Perfect Circle, during his absence.

Finally, on November 23, 2008, the album was released. Dr Pepper gave away a soda to every thirsty person to celebrate. The reviews were mixed, and album sales were lower than expected—a fact that Rose blamed on the label not caring enough about the album to heavily promote it.

2. THE BEACH BOYS/BRIAN WILSON // SMILE

Forty years before Axl released what he hoped to be the greatest album ever made, the story of Smile's arduous recording process effectively began with the reported mission statement Brian Wilson made to dinner guests on an October 1966 night: "I'm writing a teenage symphony to God." Some songs from the album's aborted sessions would appear on official Beach Boys albums, but it wasn't until 2004 that a Wilson-approved Brian Wilson Presents Smile was released.

The long delay can be blamed on Wilson's drug intake and depression in the late '60s and 1970s, which began with the public's tepid reaction to the single release of "Heroes and Villains," a song Wilson believed would be as welcomed as The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." While there isn't an official or reported figure revealing exactly how much money was spent on the entire album, Wilson's demands included an Arabian-style tent built in his house for the consumption of sandwiches, weed, and LSD, which ran $30,000 (about $220,000 now with inflation factored in). The placement of his piano in a sandbox filled with eight tons of premium beach sand could not have been cheap either. The economics behind "Good Vibrations," the song produced first and placed last on the track listing, was made public, approaching $75,000 ($550,000 today), including use of the Electro-Theremin itself (responsible for $15,000). Even though Capitol Records knew it was the most expensive single that had ever been produced, the results led them to approve of the conception of the rest of the "symphony," to their financial detriment.

3. QUEEN // A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

After fighting to be released from a management deal gone sour, Queen decided to go for broke on A Night At The Opera, which in 1975 was considered to be the most expensive rock album ever made. Spending over £40,000 (equivalent to $500,000 in today's money), the group worked to create their own Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Particular meticulousness was showcased with "Bohemian Rhapsody," containing a 180-voice "chorus"—just Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and Roger Taylor's vocals stacked on top of one another—created over a week's worth of 12-hour days. Producer Roy Thomas Baker referred to the song as "totally insane. We never stopped laughing. It was basically a joke, but a successful joke." It wouldn't be the last time Baker was accused of humor.

4. THE DARKNESS // ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL...AND BACK

After the success of their debut album Permission To Land, anchored by the hit single "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," The Darkness began to further indulge their 1970s hard rock/glam sound and image for their follow-up record—and found themselves quagmired in personal tumult and escalating money issues. The band even hired Roy Thomas Baker, who besides working with Queen was also behind albums from Journey, Foreigner, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Motley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, and yes, for a time, Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy. Approaching £1 million in costs (about 1.8 million in 2005 U.S. dollars), One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back was made up of songs that included 120 to 160 guitar parts each. Baker claimed that in some cases 100 guitars made it to the final track for "just two seconds." After one year, Baker cut down 37 songs, 400 reels of tape (he insisted on recording in analog) and almost 10,000 tracks to just 10 songs and 35 minutes, but not before bassist Frankie Poullain was fired and a "great amount of angst and paranoia" set in. The album didn't nearly sell as well as its five-times-platinum predecessor, and the reviews were mixed, with one critic writing that One Way was the "world's most expensive penis joke."

5. FLEETWOOD MAC // TUSK

Four years after A Night at the Opera, Fleetwood Mac's 1979 LP Tusk took over the "most expensive rock album ever made" designation by the media, thanks to its $1 million price tag—a number that in later years would change to $1.4 million (if only the 1979 media knew).

Twenty-three million copies of the group's previous album Rumours would eventually be sold, yet Warner Brothers denied band manager Mick Fleetwood his request for the group to buy its own studio with a company advance. Instead, $1.4 million went to "custom-fitting" Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles. In Rob Trucks' 33 1/3 book Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, it's said that on the very first night of recording, the whole group celebrated Mick's new purchase of a $70,000 sports car with cocaine, before Mick received a phone call saying that the uninsured car was broadsided and demolished while being towed to his home. When the session ended at 6am, the night/early morning officially ended without any actual audio put to tape.

The 20-song, double album Tusk would sell four million records, thereby making it a profitable failure to the label. The number of copies of Rumours sold compared to Tusk's is the all-time biggest decrease by any recording artist from one major-label album to the next. Excuses for its "disappointing sales" include RKO radio networks playing the entire album to its cassette tape recording capable audiences prior to its release, and the high retail price of $15.98 (over $50 in 2014 dollars).

6. STEELY DAN // GAUCHO

Gaucho's expensive delays can be blamed on drugs and musicians given as much time as possible to develop their new, possibly more profitable set of songs—but it was the terrible luck of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker that made the Gaucho story unique. During the sessions, Becker was severely injured after getting hit by a car. While possibly saving the life of the woman he pushed out of the way, he sustained multiple fractures in one leg, a sprain in the other leg, and secondary infections during his six month hospital stay. Becker and Donald Fagen continued their musical collaborations over the phone, but then Becker's girlfriend died of a drug overdose. Her family later sued him for introducing her to drugs, with the court eventually ruling in Becker's favor.

Bad luck wasn't all to blame for the two year gestation period—Becker had his own drug problem, complicating matters. At least 42 different musicians contributed to the recording. MCA, Warner Brothers, and the band had a three-way legal battle over the rights to even release the record. Jazz composer Keith Jarrett received $1 million in an out of court settlement after suing Steely Dan for copyright infringement, claiming that the title track was too similar to his "Long As You Know You're Living Yours." The final mix to the 50-second fade out of the song "Babylon Sisters" was completed on the 55th attempt. About three-fourths of the song "The Final Arrangement" was accidentally erased by an assistant engineer, and despite liking the tune and attempting to re-create it, the band eventually dropped it. In perhaps the best example of star-musician hedonism, engineer Roger Nichols spent six weeks and $150,000 creating a drum machine for Fagen and Becker—its name was WENDEL.

Gaucho won the 1981 Grammy for Best Non-Classical Engineered Recording, and was certified platinum (over one million albums sold), but despite its success, the band broke up. Fagen and Becker would reunite 12 years later.

7. DEF LEPPARD // HYSTERIA

It started with the most money-conscious of intentions, when all four members of the recently wealthy Def Leppard moved to Dublin to get away from their native England's punitive tax rates—but years of delays would lead to $4.5 million spent on Hysteria. The biggest blow was the December 31, 1984 car accident that took the left arm of drummer Rick Allen, who understandably needed some time to figure out how to do his job. The early departure of trusted producer "Mutt" Lange due to exhaustion was almost as responsible for the band requiring three years to finish its work. Meatloaf songwriter Jim Steinman was not an adequate replacement, and when Lange eventually returned one year later, he insisted all of the work done while he was away be scrapped. Lange would later be hospitalized from a car accident of his own, and singer Joe Elliott got the mumps. In an example of Lange's perfectionism, the final song to be recorded, "Armageddon It," was mixed for three months until a suitable rendition was chosen.

Def Leppard has given varying accounts as to how many records of Hysteria they had to sell just to break even. In 1988, they told People magazine they needed two million copies sold. In 2012, guitarist Phil Collen upped the number to three million. On their Behind The Music episode, the magic number to avoid debt was five million. Fortunately for them, while the album "only" sold three million copies initially, the hit single "Pour Some Sugar On Me" bumped album sales to over 20 million, making it one of the best-selling LPs in rock history.

8. TEARS FOR FEARS // SEEDS OF LOVE

It was four years between Tears For Fears' 1985 album Songs from the Big Chair—featuring "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"—and the follow-up Seeds of Love. At a cost of $1.5 million, the band started the album sessions writing and playing music with machines and sequencers as they always had done. But ten months into the recording process, they decided to go for a more human approach and produce the album themselves. Co-founders Curt Smith and Roland Orzabel flew to the U.S. to convince hotel lounge piano player and singer Oleta Adams to work with them on the record, remembering how enraptured they were seeing her perform in a Kansas City hotel bar two years earlier. Two years after that sojourn, the album still wasn't completed; two members had quit, principal songwriter Orzabel had become an "intricate perfectionist," and Smith had divorced and was accused of living a "jetset lifestyle" instead of working on the music. The album was a worldwide success and sold millions of copies, but an extensive world tour was necessary to get out of the debt incurred. Orzabel and Smith would part ways after the tour before reuniting in 2000.

9. MY BLOODY VALENTINE // LOVELESS

Creation Records believed that My Bloody Valentine's second album Loveless would be recorded in a fast five days. Instead, it required 20 studios, multiple engineers, and 2.5 years for the critically loved album to be completed. By the time of its 1991 release, the record label was allegedly out $500,000, the excuse it used for dropping the band. But My Bloody Valentine's guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields claimed the album never cost anything near that amount; Creation Records co-founder Alan McGee thought it would be "cool" to say the record got financially out of control. Shields would admit to feeling dissatisfied with all of those studios, a perfectionism that contributed to My Bloody Valentine's follow-up album not being released until 2012.

10. THE HAPPY MONDAYS // YES PLEASE!

Concerned about The Happy Mondays' use of drugs like ecstasy and heroin, Factory Records head Tony Wilson had the group record Yes Please! at reggae star Eddy Grant's studio in Barbados. The project got off to a terrible start, when singer/songwriter Shaun Ryder's case containing a four-week Methadone supply was accidentally smashed at Manchester Airport. When Wilson eventually heard that the recording was being ruined by crack cocaine, he flew to Barbados. Wilson later claimed that as his plane was landing, he saw Ryder and bandmate Bez wheeling one of Grant's sofas down the road to trade for drugs. After the album's recording was supposedly completed, Ryder got hold of the master tapes for the album, threatening to destroy them if Wilson did not come up with £50 ($95). Once the tapes were in Wilson's possession, he discovered that the recordings contained no vocals. Yes Please! was eventually released—with lyrics—on September 22, 1992, to a two-word review from Melody Maker that read "No thanks." Factory Records declared bankruptcy that November.

11. CHRIS GAINES // GREATEST HITS/GARTH BROOKS IN...THE LIFE OF CHRIS GAINES

Garth Brooks' 1999 experiment to perform as a dark-wigged, soul-patched "alter ego" named Chris Gaines was considered such a commercial flop that it cost Pat Quigley, the president of Capitol Records Nashville, his job. The New York Post reported that over 50 musicians were used in the recording (19 of them included in the credits), and that the $5 million production cost was trumped only by the label's $15 million in promotion, Sadly, the recording "only" sold 2 million units, a disappointing number by Garth Brooks standards (but pretty good for a debut album!). Brooks blamed the paltry sales on a lack of support from Capitol and specifically Quigley; the musician later allegedly apologized to other artists on the label for what they believed to be too much attention paid to Gaines, and informed them that Quigley was "out the door." Quigley resigned from his position soon after.

The album was supposed to serve as the soundtrack for a movie called The Lamb that would appear in theaters one year later, but the film was canceled—along with the existence of Chris Gaines.

12. MICHAEL JACKSON // INVINCIBLE

When Invincible was released on October 30, 2001, is was already being touted as the most expensive album ever made, with reports of Sony's price tag reaching $30 million. The large bill had something to do with the five years spent recording anywhere from 50 to 87 songs, incorporating several producers and co-writers, and, according to one report, booking three studios simultaneously because Jackson "didn’t know which one he’d feel like recording at when he woke up that day.”

Sony also earmarked $25 million for promoting their large investment. At first, two singles and a music video featuring Marlon Brando were released, but soon the advertising was non-existent. The cancellation was attributed to Jackson refusing to tour, and informing Sony that he would not be renewing his contract with them after it expired in 2002. Jackson responded to the end of the album's promotion in part by accusing then Sony music chairman Tommy Mottola of racism. Invincible sold an estimated 6 million copies worldwide and went double platinum in the U.S., but was not considered profitable.

13. MARIAH CAREY // GLITTER

Years before Tommy Mottola worked at Sony, he was Mariah Carey's husband and the head of Columbia Records. When Mottola and Carey divorced, the two no longer had a working or personal relationship to speak of—a problem considering that Mariah was a Columbia artist. Virgin Records paid Columbia $20 million to release her from her contract, then signed Carey to a five-album, $80 million deal. Glitter was her first album for Virgin, a 2001 soundtrack album to the film of the same name. Both the album and the movie were commercial and critical failures. It was so rough that Virgin Records invoked a clause in its contract with Carey that allowed Virgin to get out of the $80 million deal for approximately $28 million.

14. KORN // UNTOUCHABLES

Following the group's 1999 album Issues, which would go on to sell 13 million copies, Korn spent around $4 million on 2002's Untouchables. The bandmembers—specifically singer Jonathan Davis and bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu—were more than willing to admit to the monetary figures in Kerrang! magazine before the CD was released. "We moved to Phoenix and rented five houses for $10,000 apiece for four months. We came to LA, rented five more houses for $10,000 apiece for four more months. We went to Canada and rented a house for $8000. That's a week, not a month," Fieldy said. Davis added that the recording itself "only" cost $700,000, and the rest went to the crew... and the housing.

15. KANYE WEST // MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY

In 2010, Kanye West spent over $3 million recording a majority of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at the seaside Avex Honolulu Studios. As relaxing as "seaside" and "Honolulu" may sound, during the five days that Complex magazine visited, West never slept a full night at the "glass-enclosed mansion" house he had rented, opting instead to take "power-naps" in a studio chair or couch 90 minutes at a time. Engineers worked around the clock, as Kanye bounced from room to room to work on one song once he got stuck on another—the luxury he gave himself after renting three session rooms simultaneously for 24 hours a day. Because his guests and producers had to eat sometime, West employed two private chefs, one for hot food, and one for cold food.

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
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Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


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Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


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De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
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In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard
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What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending Christmas action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie.

1. IT’S GOT A LITERARY BACKGROUND.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE TOWERING INFERNO.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. FRANK SINATRA GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING THE ROLE OF JOHN MCCLANE.


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Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. BRUCE WILLIS’S BIG-SCREEN DEBUT WAS WITH FRANK SINATRA.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. CLINT EASTWOOD PLANNED TO TAKE A STAB AT THE PART.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL TO COMMANDO.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. BRUCE WILLIS WASN’T EVEN THE STUDIO’S THIRD CHOICE FOR THE ROLE.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. BRUCE WILLIS WAS CONSIDERED A COMEDIC ACTOR AT THE TIME.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’s bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. BRUCE WILLIS WAS BARELY EVEN SEEN ON THE MOVIE’S POSTERS.

Bruce Willis stars as John McClane in 'Die Hard.'
Twentieth Century Fox

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’s mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. WILLIS WAS PAID $5 MILLION TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. WILLIS SUGGESTED THAT BONNIE BEDELIA PLAY HIS WIFE.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12. BRUCE WILLIS WAS ABLE TO SAY YES THANKS TO A WELL-TIMED PREGNANCY.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. SAM NEILL WAS ORIGINALLY APPROACHED FOR THE PART OF HANS GRUBER.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. DIE HARD WAS ALAN RICKMAN’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. JOHN MCTIERNAN TURNED THE MOVIE DOWN, TOO.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. MCTIERNAN SEES IT AS A SHAKESPEAREAN TALE.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. NAKATOMI PLAZA IS ACTUALLY FOX PLAZA.


Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. THE ROOM WHERE THE HOSTAGES ARE BEING HELD IS LITERALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S FALLINGWATER.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Fallingwater, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. THAT PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE CITY BELOW? IT’S NOT REAL.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. THE FILM’S SUCCESS SPAWNED A BONA FIDE FRANCHISE.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. JOHN MCCLANE’S TUMBLE DOWN A VENTILATION SHAFT WAS AN ACCIDENT.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. ALAN RICKMAN’S DEATH SCENE WAS ALSO PRETTY SCARY.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. BRUCE WILLIS SUFFERED PERMANENT HEARING LOSS.


Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. ALAN RICKMAN WASN’T FOND OF THE NOISE EITHER.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. GRUBER’S AMERICAN ACCENT POSED NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. HANS GRUBER’S GERMAN IS MOSTLY GIBBERISH.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. BRUCE WILLIS HAS FOUR FEET.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. YOU CAN SEE—BUT NOT TOUCH—JOHN MCCLANE’S SWEATY TANK TOP.


Getty Images

In 2007, Willis donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. “YIPPEE-KI-YAY” STOLE THE MOVIE.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. CREDIT FOR THE LINE IS OWED TO WILLIS.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."

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