There is a 1968 film that can technically be considered a prequel to the Die Hard film series starring Bruce Willis, with a prominent Hollywood star as the leading role. The first Die Hard movie hit theaters in 1988, introducing the iconic action hero John McClane (Willis), as he works to rescue hostages from terrorists on Christmas Eve. The film became a franchise of five Die Hard movies released between 1988 and 2013, but the original installment remains the most iconic.

Die Hard was based on the 1979 action thriller novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. While this novel served as the inspiration for the Die Hard franchise, it was a sequel to an earlier novel by Thorp that came out in 1966. The original novel was adapted into a film in 1968, meaning that Die Hard can be considered a sequel to this earlier film.

Prior to the release of Nothing Lasts Forever, Roderick Thorp wrote a detective thriller novel in 1966 called The Detective. Then, in 1968, a film of the same name came to theaters, starring Frank Sinatra in the role of Joe Leland, the private detective. Leland investigates the case of the recently widowed Norma MacIver, exposing corruption and fraud in a death that seems like a suicide. The movie and novel provided an adult perspective on police life, as well as addressing previously taboo subjects.

The film was a box office success, becoming the 20th highest-earning film of the year, making $6.5 million in box office rentals. The Detective was also one of Sinatra’s biggest box-office hits, as well as one of his most popular films. Notably, the role of John McClane in Die Hard was initially offered to Sinatra, even though it wasn’t a direct sequel. Sinatra declined the part, ultimately paving the way for Willis to take on the iconic character.

Just as there are changes between the Nothing Lasts Forever novel and the Die Hard movie, similar distinctions exist between The Detective and Die Hard. The most obvious distinction lies in the name of the main character. While the film adaptation of The Detective adheres to the character’s original name, Joe Leland, Die Hard changes the name to John McClain. Beyond this, the difference in the tone of the two stories is clear. The Detective is a detective film, with Leland working to unravel the murder mystery. In contrast, Die Hard movies are dynamic action films, with intense gunfights and adrenaline-pumping fight sequences.

The Detective also challenged the societal norms of its time, pushing boundaries with its script that delves into police corruption and being considered progressive for its time for its portrayal of gay characters. Die Hard, on the other hand, embraces the gritty and high-energy tone of an action film, showing McClain fighting terrorists on Christmas Eve. Despite the differing genres, with one being a true action film and the other a crime thriller drama, both protagonists, despite their names, share common character traits. This means that both The Detective and Die Hard have a compelling leading character, who was played by Sinatra and Willis, respectively.

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