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Bruce Willis Made a Whopping $5,000,000 From an Opportunity Rejected by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone In 1988

Published 03/19/2023, 9:41 AM EDT

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John McClane’s famous line to Hans Gruber over a walkie-talkie—”Yippee-Ki-Yay, Motherf***er!“—still echoes throughout the world since the release of the cult classic. It’s been 35 years since the release of arguably the greatest action movie of all time, Die Hard. While the debate over whether it’s a Christmas movie continues, Die Hard remains a popular holiday movie choice. It changed action cinemas in Hollywood and made stars out of then-newcomer Bruce Willis and debutant Alan Rickman. It furthered the change in the salary structure of typical Hollywood heroes after Bruce Willis made a whopping amount from the film. It was unprecedented.

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As iconic as the movie is, more iconic is the story behind its casting, especially for its lead part of John McClane. After a host of A-list stars like bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, etc, the torch had passed on to a relatively unknown Bruce Willis. The opportunity came in the form of the brazen NYPD detective role. This is how things changed since.

Die Hard came as a blessing to Bruce Willis


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“They went to Arnold Schwarzenegger. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere—turned it down. They went to James Caan—turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We’ve had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pu**y. The reaction? ‘This guy’s no hero.’ Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis”, said one of the screenwriters, Steven E De Souza to the Daily Beast.

It’s true that the script passed along from table to table before they finally found its hero. But the genius behind lifting Willis from being a TV actor and turning him into a bonafide movie star was someone by the name of Arnold Rifkin. Rifkin represented Willis and was dead-set on getting a salary number from the studio that eventually would make his client a star in a hot minute.


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The justification he gave was, “I needed a number that would make him the highest-paid actor for a minute in time… If it worked, the rest was irrelevant”. Rifkin took a huge gamble and it paid off.


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Hollywood was never the same after Willis’s unprecedented salary

It worked. Fox studio offered Willis a sum of $5 million. It was unheard of at the time in Tinseltown, and it started murmurs among all the Hollywood A-list stars at the time. Richard Gere, one of the first persons to reject the movie role, started enquiring about Willis, his new-found fame, and the large salary he took home. Even curiouser was he about the how of it. Suddenly, everyone in Hollywood started asking for more. Salaries jumped up to five, ten, or even twenty million dollars for some stars.

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The movie went on to have more than a few sequels since, with Willis donning the lead role every time. But the day in 1988 when the first installment came out, it changed the life of Bruce Willis. He soon became one of the highest-paid actors in the industry, and shrubbing shoulders with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone is no joke.


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Written by:

Tanmay Roy


One take at a time

Tanmay Roy is a US Sports author for EssentiallySports. He has done MBA and B.Tech in Civil Engineering.
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Edited by:

Jahnabi Choudhury