Why did Die Hard With A Vengeance end up with a different distributor?

Die Hard With A Vengeance (2)
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Die Hard was always traditionally a 20th Century Fox franchise – apart from the split rights of the third movie, Die Hard With A Vengeance.

One of the oddities of collecting physical media over the years is when a franchise of movies has different studios behind them. For those of us who used to nicely arrange our videos and DVDs on a shelf – and perhaps still do – this tended to lead to inconsistency in labelling, and, first world problems, the shelf of titles not looking as it should. I’m always reminded of the trick that that company behind the TV show Monk pulled when all of the boxsets of that show were out in the open

Monk DVD set


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Going back to film, take a look at a trilogy such as How To Train Your Dragon, where every film had a different distributor. The same too for the Bill & Ted movies. Don’t even get us started on Terminator films.

When it comes to actually physically collecting the films then, this meant inconsistencies creeping in. And whilst it won’t have affected American fans of the saga, for those who were trying to keep the Die Hard films together on the shelf, there was a bit of anomaly with their backers.

It’s odd in this case because Die Hard is perceived to be a franchise backed by a single major Hollywood studio. That’s the dearly departed 20th Century Fox (now part of the Disney embark), and so writ large into Fox lore are the Die Hard films that the first basically takes place in the studio’s headquarters.

After the success of the first film, a sequel briskly followed, also backed by Fox. But it took some time to get to the third movie, Die Hard With A Vengeance, and that ended up distributed across the UK by – perhaps reading the tealeaves – Disney. Then, Die Hard 4.0 was a Fox film, and the fan fiction movie that arrived in 2013.

The reason things took a turn with film three though was said to be down to the fractious behind the scenes relations between Hollywood uber-producer Joel Silver and Bruce Willis.

The pair made the first two movies together, but, well, fell out a bit on 1992’s The Last Boy Scout. So much so that Willis was – cutting a story short – disinclined to work with Silver again. They never have.

Die Hard With A Vengeance (1)

Silver Pictures, the production company of Silver, was thus not going to be part of whatever deal Willis made for Die Hard 3, and as such, a new deal was sought.

Enter Cinergi Pictures, an independent production company formed at the end of the 1980s by the late Andrew G Vajna. He was the co-founder of independent movie blockbuster legends Carolco (Terminator 2, Basic Instinct, many others), but split away for his new venture. After a bumpy start with films such as Medicine Man and, er, Super Mario Bros, it scored a hit with Tombstone, and got interested in the Die Hard project.

By 1992, Cinergi had signed a partnership deal with Fox for the production, at the point it was being set up as on a cruise liner. That idea was scuppered when Under Siege – starring Steven Seagal – hit big at the box office, and the new direction for what became Die Hard With A Vengeance was chosen.

It cost the best part of $1m apiece to buy Joel Silver and another producer, Larry Gordon, out of the Die Hard franchise, but it’d be money well spent in the end. When the movie arrived in cinemas, it was a big hit, grossing over $350m off its eventual $90m budget. A costly swing for Cinergi, certainly, but a successful one.

As such, along came the releases outside of the US under the Hollywood Pictures label – a Disney imprint – and for a while, it wasn’t possible to buy a triple pack of the films in certain territories. In fact, had another Bruce Willis film gone to plan, it would have been trickier for a long time to come.

However, Cinergi partnered with Disney on the film Broadway Brawler, again starring Willis, and it’s a production we’ve covered here. The too long didn’t read version of that particular tale is that Willis shut down that production once filming had begun, and faced the legal ire of Disney’s lawyers. He agreed to make three films for the studio as part of the agreement he eventually reached, those being Armageddon, The Kid and The Sixth Sense. Every one of them a hit, two of them amongst the biggest hits of his career.

Die Hard With A Vengeance (3)

Yet Cinergi found itself without a metaphorical seat when the music stopped. The firm was already dealing with some costly flops by the time Broadway Brawler collapsed, and found itself exposed. It had been given an advance by Disney of some $38m to make the film, and was struggling to pay it back.

It took a year or so of toing and froing before Cinergi and Disney struck a deal. In exchange for Disney cancelling the debt, Cinergi agreed to surrender an assortment of projects and rights. And then Fox saw its chance, and put on the table an offer to pick up the international rights Cinergi held to Die Hard With A Vengeance. The deal was done by the summer of 1997, two years after the release of the movie and long after the video hit stores too. Fox stumped up $11.25m to get the other 50% of the project back, a snip of a deal all things considered (although the theatrical release money had, of course, already been banked).

It wasn’t enough to save Cinergi, which finally collapsed at the start of 1998, just as Disney was preparing to launch the first of the aforementioned trio of Bruce Willis movies. But for home video and DVD collectors, it did mean that they could get a boxset of Die Hard where the spines of the-then three films all aligned neatly. It’s the little things that matter.

Ironically of course, Disney now owns the Die Hard franchise, and under its stewardship has made just one clear decision regarding it: shutting down the planned sixth movie, that would have served as both prequel and sequel. Given how the aforementioned 2013 fan film turned out, that may have proven to be a wise move…

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