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I'm a writer/film theorist. Check out my articles on Pixar, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, Die Hard, politics, and more!

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Acting veteran Bruce Willis has appeared in a ridiculous amount of films over the years. He has portrayed Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense, Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction, and David Dunn in Unbreakable. But the role that I and many others will always see him as is NYPD cop John McClane from the movies.

It's just so defining – many remember his humor, wit, ability to kick ass, and his famous catchphrase, "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf**ker!" And today, I'm going to talk about how this role was able to shape Bruce Willis's acting career.

Here We Go!

In the early 1980s, Willis was an up-and-coming actor appearing in episodes of The Twilight Zone and Miami Vice, and had small, uncredited roles in films. Then, in 1985, Willis was cast as David Addison in a comedy series called Moonlighting.

This series was able to establish Willis as a comedic actor, and though his performance was praised, he still wasn't a household name.

But let's give a little bit of context to Die Hard; back in the 1980s, all the action heroes looked like killing machines, who were barely even human. I mean, we had Sylvester Stallone's Rambo:

And we had Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator:

And in this movie, we have John McClane, an NYPD detective who's going to Los Angeles to work on his relationship with his wife, who he is separated with due to work.

He's a vulnerable guy who looks like your dad, and isn't one of those heroes who lives to fight crime. John is only a hero because he has to be. In fact, in Die Hard 4, he says that he only fights terrorists when he has to. If someone else could do it, he would let them do it, but most of the time, he finds there's no one else who can, which is why he does it.

The thing with Willis's performance in the film is he showed how real he was. John was just a cop with some fighting skills who needed to save his wife and other hostages from terrorists. And as was emphasized in the films, he is the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I mean, he wasn't even looking for crime to fight. He was just reuniting with his family. And once terrorists come, he doesn't run in with a machine gun blazing. He is careful with what he does, and just becomes the monkey in the wrench the pain in the ass.

Die Hard was just so original and was its own action movie, and when you have an actor like Willis in this role, you're gonna have a hit. The film was released in 21 theaters on July 15, 1988, when it made $601,851 – an average of $28,659 per theater.

When it was released to the U.S., it made $140.8 million at the box office, which established Willis as not just a comedic actor, but as an action hero.

After the success of Die Hard, Willis moved away from his TV career, with a focus in film roles. Die Hard got four more sequels and another on the way, all with Willis reprising his role as McClane.

He was also given more prominent action roles, such as Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout, Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element, and Hudson Hawk in the film of the same name. And he portrayed a hero with a superpower in the film, Unbreakable.

The thing is, Die Hard was just the beginning of his success, and his convincing, relatable performance as John McClane in the action film is what made him the star he is today. He has been given many other action roles, and many serious roles, which distanced him from his comedic role in Moonlighting.

Although, Bruce Willis can still do comedy. He won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his special guest appearance on the popular sitcom, Friends.

But this action hero – this vulnerable ass-kicking NYPD cop is the role that many of us will all remember him for. His other action films can be brushed off as forgettable. But the action role that we will almost always associate with Willis's image is John McClane.

And that's it!

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