July 1988: "Die Hard" Debuts in Movie Theaters Across America

Bruce Willis in Die Hard
Photo Credit
(20th Century Fox)

The movie business was booming in 1988. The year was dominated by comedy blockbusters and explosive action films that kept theater seats filled and popcorn popping all summer long. Among the biggest hits of 1988: Die Hard, the Bruce Willis classic that debuted in American movie theaters on July 15, 1988.

Die Hard wasn't expected to be much of a hit. At the time, Bruce Willis was coming off of box office bomb, Sunset, and had raised eyebrows when he received a then-whopping $5 million to star in Die Hard. Legend has it that public opinion on Bruce Willis was so low at the time that movie audiences would audibly groan when his face appeared onscreen during the movie trailer. It got to the point that Die Hard movie posters initially didn't even feature Bruce Willis' face--just a looming image of the iconic Nakatomi Plaza building.

When Die Hard debuted on July 15, 1988, it was in only 21 movie theaters across the country. A successful opening weekend and strong word of mouth inspired 20th Century Fox to expand the movie to almost 1300 theaters for the following weekend of July 22, 1988. The studio also realized it was time to put Willis' face on the movie poster.

As the movie grew in popularity, it ping-ponged all over the top five in weekend box office for an impressive ten weeks, never once claiming the #1 spot. Coming to America and Who Framed Roger Rabbit spent most of those 10 weeks trading off the top position. At the end of the the year, Die Hard landed as the 7th most popular movie of 1988. The #1 movie of the year: Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The legacy of Die Hard has far outgrown box office results. Now considered among the greatest--if not the greatest--action movie of all-time, the movie's holiday season has now made the primary debate whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

In December 2018, 20th Century Fox went so far as to claim that Die Hard is “the greatest Christmas story ever told." When asked, Bruce Willis had a perfectly Bruce Willis response: “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a g--d--- Bruce Willis movie."


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