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Movie Legends Revealed | Die Hard 3 Started Out as Lethal Weapon 4?

diehard3MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Die Hard With a Vengeance was originally written as Lethal Weapon 4.

An interesting aspect about the recent release of A Good Day to Die Hard is that it’s the first film of the five-movie Die Hard franchise to be based on a story actually starring John McClane (played by Bruce Willis). The first four installments in the series were all based on novels or screenplays featuring other characters that were then adapted into Die Hard films (you can read about the convoluted origins of the Die Hard franchise in an old Movie Urban Legends Revealed here). A recurring legend along these lines is that the third Die Hard film, Die Hard With a Vengeance, was originally written as the fourth Lethal Weapon (the series starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as LAPD detectives).

Is it true? Close, but no cigar.

In case you’ve never seen the film, Die Hard With a Vengeance features a mysterious man named “Simon” terrorizing New York City with the threat of explosions unless suspended Lt. John McClane performs a series of tasks. The first involves going into a predominantly African-American neighborhood while wearing a sign with a racial slur on it. Local shop owner Zeus Carver (played by Samuel L. Jackson) saves McClane from being killed by a gang, and soon Carver is pulled into the series of challenges as well. McClane eventually learns that “Simon” is Simon “Peter” Gruber (played by Jeremy Irons), brother of Hans Gruber, the villain in the original Die Hard. “Simon” is seemingly seeking revenge against McClane for killing his brother, but McClane knows the Gruber modus operandi too well and realizes the series of games is just a distraction for his real plan, which is to rob $140 billion worth of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Wall Street. As you might expect, eventually McClane stops Gruber and kills him in a dramatic final battle.

So, was that written for a fourth Lethal Weapon film? Was the McClane role meant for Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs? Was the Carver role meant for Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh?

brandonleeNot really, no. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh sold a screenplay tentatively titled Simon Says to 20th Century Fox in 1992 or ‘93. The original screenplay was much like what we eventually saw in Die Hard With a Vengeance, except that Simon’s motives would be exactly as they seemed, just seeking revenge (so basically the entire second half of the movie was unique to the Die Hard script). Hensleigh noted on the commentary for Die Hard With a Vengeance that the idea for the story came to him when he thought about an incident in his childhood when he had injured one of his friends. What if that friend had never gotten over it and sought revenge years later? That was the basic concept behind the script. Fox purchased the script with the intention of turning it into a starring vehicle for burgeoning star Brandon Lee, who had just made the action film Rapid Fire. It was a hit, and studio executives thought he was going to be a big deal. So they began negotiations on sequels to Rapid Fire as well as developing other starring vehicles for Lee, including Simon Says. The original screenplay would star a New York cop named Alex Bradshaw (played by Lee) with the character that became Zeus Carver being an African-American woman.

Tragically, Lee was killed in 1993 during the filming of The Crow. The script went back into the pile of available projects owned by Fox. It was still a well-regarded script, however, which is important when it comes to sequels, as you have to try to convince some of these stars to come back for another film when they really are not particularly interested in doing another sequel (Willis notably turned down a number of scripts for a third Die Hard during the early 1990s). So when Warner Bros. and producer Joel Silver were looking to make a fourth Lethal Weapon, they contacted Fox and tried to buy the script. That’s undoubtedly where the legend originates. However, the sale never actually occurred (they didn’t end up finding a good enough script for Lethal Weapon 4 until 1998).

Eventually, director John McTiernan (the director of the first Die Hard film) discovered the script and adapted it into Die Hard With a Vengeance in 1995 (still at Fox).

The legend is …


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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!


  • 0bsessions

    So people were under the impression that the original plot for Lethal Weapon IV was that Hans Gruber’s family was seeking revenge against Riggs and Murtaugh?

  • Alex W

     Did you actually read the article?

  • Shortdawg

    If they deemed that crappy script for “Lethal Weapon IV” as “good enough” to film, I hesitate to think just how crappy the reject pile was. (Although script quality wouldn’t really matter for “Lethal Weapon V” as any opportunity nowadays to watch Mel on screen going nuts would be enough to make me race to the theater.)

  • Mel

    Under Siege 2 was originally going to be Die Hard 3.

  • Anthony

    Speaking of Lethal Weapon 4, I’ve read Warner Bros rushed the it into production after their two big releases for summer ’98, Superman Lives and I Am Legend starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, fell through. Any truth in that? 

  • 0bsessions

    Nope, not a word!

  • Adam Walker

    Interesting! The third, and for me final, Die Hard was the best or on par with the first of this series. I knew the fourth was based on a newspaper article which led me to swallow that sour pile of c*** that was regarded as follow up to a “beloved” movie series. 

  • John Mclane

    Both UNDER SEIGE films were also meant to be DIE HARD3……   theres been so many decent Die Hard type movies over the years…. too bad DH4 & 5  were not some of them…

  • chien_clean

    They are still looking for a good script for Lethal Weapon 4.

  • demoncat_4

    intersting always heard that  the script was suppose to be lethal weapon four instead became die hard with a vengence. glad that thing is now put to rest. plus interesting that fox was planning to use it for brandon lee.

  • ATK

    I always wanted to see a Die Hard / Lethal Weapon mash up movie. McClane heads back to LA. Gets partnered with Riggs under the now Cheif Murtaugh. Obviously we would work Reginald VelJohnson into it as well. Now while I’m dreaming lets have a Cowboy Beboy/Firefly team up movie.

  • Iron Jam

     You took the words right out of my mouth. They should have stopped with 3.

  • Iron Jam

     What does it mean when Steven Seagal is more Die Hard than Bruce Willis?

  • Mel House

    Interesting.  Never knew about the Brandon Lee connection.  

    Simon still managed to fold the revenge in there along the way, as evidenced by one of my favorite lines: “There’s a difference, you know, between not liking one’s brother and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him out of a window.”

  • Kwan Jang Nim

    Jackie Chan’s POLICE STORY 2 is a lot like Die Hard 3!! In fact it even repeats certain scenes (or homages from there if you like the director). Jacky Chan’s movie came out at least three years before Die Hard 3 and when you watch it – the similarities are “uncanny”.

  • Pidoha

    Join us to show your support to one of best US director (Predator, Die Hard, Die hard with a vengeance, Hunt For red october, Last Action Hero, The 13th Warrior….) who risk to go to jail in few days:

  • chien_clean

    I remember reading in the magazine Cinescape that the writer of LW 3 was asked to write a script for LW4 but they fired him cause he wanted to do it very dark and kill Riggs at the end, ending the franchise on a note closer to the First one, in a way. Warner wanted to go lighter and came up with the LW4 abortion where it was basically like the worst joke in the Three Stooges.

  • alex

    I tried watching Lethal Weapon 4. I couldn’t get past the first hour.