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A pervasive rumor has been circulating since as long as I can remember that early on in Die Hard's either production or cinematic release, a poster existed that did not feature star actor Bruce Willis, typically attributed to Willis' lack of popularity which would result in a loss of ticket sales. I'm not going to dig around for a ton of references to it, but I heard it again in this YouTube review of the Die Hard C64 game (note: I'm not affiliated in any way with this YouTube video). Naturally, once the movie was a smash hit and Willis was liked by the audience, a new poster was hastily released that featured his likeness.

Well, I gave it a Google, expecting to find an image of such a poster quite readily...but all of the posters I could find featured Willis' likeness quite prominently. Is this a myth, or does such a poster exist?

P.S. I'm really surprised Snopes hasn't tackled this, especially if it's a myth.

122

There is an episode of the docu-series The Movies That Made Us (a spin-off of The Toys That Made Us) that is about the making of "Die Hard".

Writer Steven E. de Souza had this to say about the audience reaction when the trailer hit theaters:

... when Bruce Willis came up, the audience laughed ... some people even said they weren't just laughing at the trailer, they were booing ... so, the studio was in a panic.


And director John McTiernan commented:

They took him off the poster about a month before the movie came out.


So the studio made a poster featuring just the building.

Poster

Only after the movie proved to be a box office hit, did they put Bruce Willis' face back on the poster.

Poster 2
[both images are screenshots taken from the docu-series]

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    There is a comment on a forum mentioning this poster: "When it was released in 1988, the Houston Chronicle Newspaper had a full 2 page print AD for it ... it didn't have any graphics showing the Nakatomi Tower nor did it had a photo of Bruce Willis". If someone has access to microfilm archives of that newspaper, they should be able to track down the original 2-page ad. – JonathanReez Dec 28 '19 at 16:39
  • @JonathanReez This archive? – Mast Dec 29 '19 at 14:21
  • @Mast this one doesn't seem to have printed ads. You need the microfilm/scanned archives. – JonathanReez Dec 29 '19 at 14:34
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    I've added a follow-up answer: movies.stackexchange.com/questions/105936/… – JonathanReez Dec 29 '19 at 16:09
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    Were they saying boo or Booruce Willis? – Studoku- Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '19 at 16:17
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Following up on the answer by @Oliver_C I've managed to find that ads lacking Bruce Willis were indeed featured in newspapers. For example, here's a clip from a The Journal News on July 12th 1988:

enter image description here

Similar ads were posted on July 12th-14th by The Miami News, The Record, The Philadelphia Enquirer and The Daily News. These newspapers had a version of the poster that mentioned 70mm film and Dolby Sound:

enter image description here

This was noticed by newspapers at the time, as evidenced by this short article in The Press Democrat on July 14th 1988:

After paying Bruce Willis a reported $5 million to make "Diehard." 20th Century Fox is choosing to make little of his name in promotion of the picture. TV spots make the movie out to sound like a thrill ride at an amusement park; while one has to look through the fine print at the bottom of the page to see any mention of Bruce's name in newspaper ads that scream "On July 15 ... An Adventure That Will Blow You Through the Back Wall of the Theatre."

However the ad for Die Hard in the LA Times on July 15th 1988 did have Bruce Willis in it:

enter image description here

Given that the red-carpet premiere occurred on the evening of July 12th 1988, it seems that the producers have decided to include Bruce Willis after all sometime around July 13th.

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    Nice work on getting those images sourced :-) – Mast Dec 29 '19 at 17:34
  • That's good research. It's possible that the marketing kept using Bruce-Willis-posters in only a few select newspapers/cities (especially L.A.). But if the studio changed their mind and switched back to using Bruce-Willis-posters nationwide before the movie's wide release (July 15th), one has to wonder why? What happened that made the studio reverse their marketing strategy again? – Oliver_C Dec 29 '19 at 18:21
  • @Oliver_C I cannot find any non-Bruce Willis posters on Newspapers.com after July 15th. There's a lot of them on July 20th and they all have Bruce Willis. It could also be that non-Bruce-Willis posters were sent out to newspapers by mistake and this was later retconned as producers being afraid of putting up his face. – JonathanReez Dec 29 '19 at 18:23
  • I don't know how far in advance you have to book an ad, but if director John McTiernan's memory is correct, then the studio took Willis off the poster about a month before release. – Oliver_C Dec 29 '19 at 18:30
  • I believe it's the film (for the picture) that is 70mm, not the sound. The "six-track Dolby Sound" part is about the sound. – reirab Dec 30 '19 at 5:56
13

It's not that he was excluded, but given he was only seen as the comedic character David Addison in Moonlighting the studio was possibly nervous about featuring Willis.

enter image description here

The poster you ask about is this:

enter image description here

As you can see the Nakatomi building is as important, showing the action which people might not assume from a picture of Willis. There is also heavy description to ensure people realized it was a thriller.

As word spread as the film went around the world (remember the days when films didn't open everywhere at once) Willis became more the key factor (and later films followed this style)

enter image description here

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    Ohhhh, well I feel kind of dumb now. I saw both posters and, when considering the rumor, looked at the original and thought "Surely they can't mean the poster in which Willis' face occupies 25% of it", but ok, fair enough. Thank you for the info :) – Cody S Dec 27 '19 at 23:28
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    @CodyS Well, while the answer is certainly good, there's nothing that says this necessarily is the poster you've heard about and if there might not be more to the rumour your heard. As nice as it is, an answer posted 10 minutes after asking doesn't necessarily have to be the end of all wisdom. ;-) – Napoleon Wilson Dec 27 '19 at 23:31
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    Though this answer provides a few poster images and mentions Willis' initial troubles with being taken as a serious actor, it neither confirms or denies there having been a poster without Willis on it... and that's the main focus of the OP. – Charles Dec 28 '19 at 11:57
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    @CodyS Someone has popped out of the woodwork with an even more convincing answer, so you might want to revisit your choice. – David Z Dec 29 '19 at 1:45
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    movies.stackexchange.com/a/105940/21272 is why you should wait before accepting an answer. – RonJohn Dec 29 '19 at 2:09

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