John McClane - the quintessential American action hero. To date, Bruce Willis has portrayed the iconic character in five films between 1988 and 2013, with rumors of a sixth (and perhaps final) film on the way. Three of the five Die Hard films received varying degrees of cuts in the UK, and in this special edition of Cutting Edge, we'll be looking at the changes and observations made by the British censors to all five of the Die Hard films; as well as taking a brief look at how the films fared in the United States with the MPAA.
Die Hard (1988)
The original Die Hard has always been uncut in the UK. Since its theatrical classification in early August of 1988 to its VHS and DVD incarnations, the film has been an uncut 18 with no BBFC changes. The 2008 Blu-ray and the theatrical
rerelease of 2013 saw the same uncut version receive a 15 rating under new BBFC guidelines for:
Strong violence, language, nudity and hard drug use.
In 1988, the BBFC were happy to pass it 18 uncut. Whilst the frequent strong language was considered borderline 15/18, the main issue was the film's bloody violence. However, the two original BBFC examiners noted the film's responsible handling
of the violence, with one of the two examiners noting:
It is not that strong... but there are a few moments that are incontrovertibly '18'. Impact shots, for example, are used sparingly but there are some close-ups. I do not think we should be thinking of cuts in this kind of big movie, especially
one that does not revel in sadism for the sake of it... It justified a medium strong '18'.
The second film examiner generally agreed, although they found the film a little stronger overall, commenting:
Designer muscles and weaponry directed by John McTiernan is not really a problem for the '18' category, since much is left to the imagination... and what isn't is either brutal but effected off-screen or carefully choreographed.... hands squeeze
faces, and heads butt each other and hit walls and sometimes repeatedly but mostly deliberately and sparely... Lots of blood on glass and walls... [The] violence... got us firmly into [the] top end of '18' but its discretion kept the scissors
All theatrical, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray releases of Die Hard are fully uncut in the UK.
Die Hard 2 (1990)
Cuts for an MPAA R rating
Finnish director Renny Harlin took over the directing duties for the first sequel, bringing his visceral style into play during the film's many action scenes. In the United States, the film received some trims to violence in order to achieve an R
rating from the MPAA (thus avoiding the commercially-unviable X certificate). Harlin's original cut of the film is available as a full-screen bootleg copy amongst trading circles, but this version has never had an official release in any part of
Cut Scenes: Baggage handling fight
The first scene reduced for the MPAA was the conveyor belt fight between McClane and Cochrane. The original X rated version draws out the death of Cochrane through a selection of intercut shots, and was considered too sadistic for an R
rating. As a result, it was trimmed to reduce the prolonged focus on Cochrane's struggling and suffering.
Cut Scenes: Annex Skywalk fight
The second cut for the R rated version occurs at the start of the shootout on the Annex Skywalk. When the SWAT team leader is shot in the head, the gory side-angle shot of blood erupting from the back of his head was removed.
O'Reilly's death was also trimmed for an R rating. When McClane shoots him from the ventilation duct, the second bloody impact shot to O'Reilly's body was cut.
Cut Scenes: Church yard fight
Later in the film, in the scene where McClane thrusts an icicle into an enemy's eye during the fight outside the church, the side-angle shot of the icicle embedded in the eye was trimmed in length by around half for the R rated version.
Cut Scenes: Wing fight
Another change made for the R rated version occurs when Major Grant is sucked into the airplane's engine in the finale. The original X rated version has a rather gory sound effect as Grant is pulled into the machinery, along with the sound of
McClane exclaiming. The R rated version does not omit any footage, but removes the wetness of the sound effects as well as McClane's exclamation; whilst playing up the levels of the music on the soundtrack.
The R rated version would become the standard version of Die Hard 2 released to territories throughout the world, so the R rated version is generally referred to as the uncut version. For purposes of the following discussion, we'll
therefore be referring to the R rated version as the uncut version.
Cuts for a BBFC 15 rating
When Die Hard 2 was submitted to the BBFC in its R rated cut - containing similar levels of strong language and violence to the first Die Hard film - the Board demanded cuts in order for the distributors to attain a 15 rating for the film's UK
Cut Scenes: Dialogue throughout the film
The first change requested by the Board was a general change to the film's dialogue:
Reduce sexual expletives throughout the film by at least half.
Alternate dialogue recorded by the original cast for American television showings was utilized for most of the film. The most humorous dub is perhaps used for Lorenzo's outburst at the end of the film, after his car is both rear-ended and
rammed into another vehicle in front of him. His original line of Goddamnit to hell, fuck! is dubbed to Oh man, front and back! in the cut UK version.
However, practically all of Bruce Willis' offending lines were not re-recorded following completion of the film, and as a result, censored versions of McClane's dialogue that originally featured the words 'fuck' or 'motherfucker ' were
created by removing the offending words; either by muting them, or - in some cases - damaging the audio on the soundtrack to mask the swearing. The combined result is that many scenes without Willis play quite well in the cut version where
the TV audio is used; the scene in Lorenzo's office plays rather smoothly, for example. On the other hand, some of McClane's lines are downright atrocious, thanks to the clumsy cuts made by the filmmakers. For full details of the changes made
to the film's bad language, readers should refer to the video at the end of this article.
Cut Scenes: Disused church
For the film's violence, the BBFC would be more specific on the changes needed for the 18 rating, beginning with a shot in reel 1 of the film:
Remove blood spurt when janitor is shot in empty church.
Cut Scenes: Baggage handling fight
The fight in the baggage handling area, already cut for an R, was cut further for the UK theatrical release, with the BBFC stating:
When McClane fights two terrorists on baggage-handling track, remove both his head-butts and close-up of terrified man about to have his head crushed by metal support.
Cut Scenes: Annex Skywalk fight
The heaviest cuts occurred during the Annex Skywalk sequence in reel 3; with the BBFC requesting:
Considerably reduce violence at the top of the escalator by removing the following:
bloody impact as man is shot in forehead
close-up of engineer's bloody arm cut by broken glass
heavy shooting of man on escalator, including blood spurt
blood spurt as man is shot through window
bloody impact as terrorist [actually a SWAT team member] is repeatedly shot and staggers away in slow motion, resuming as he crashes through glass partition
blood spurt from man's back
close-up of man's fear as paint tower falls on him
reduction in gunning down of advancing terrorist on escalator, including blood spurt
As a result of these changes, the cut version of the scene plays with more of a focus on excitement and action, rather than on violence.
Examples of the many cuts to the Annex Skywalk sequence
Cut Scenes: Plane hijacking
Later in the film when General Esperanza hijacks his transport plane, he shoots one of the pilots in the head at point blank range. The BBFC objected, stating:
Remove close-up of gun firing against side of pilot's head in plane.
Major Grant later berates McClane for getting involved, referring to him as a loose cannon . Getting in McClane's face and referring to head villain Colonel Stuart, Grant states:
We're here to jerk off that cocksucker until he tries to take off.
For the cut UK version, the line was redubbed using dialogue recorded for the American TV version, with Grant now heard to say:
We're here to service that hijacker until he tries to take off.
Cut Scenes: Church yard fight
A short while afterwards in reel 6, McClane fights with the terrorist outside the church; another scene that had already been cut in the United States. For this scene, the BBFC stated:
Considerably reduce stabbing of terrorist's eye with icicle, removing sight of bloody socket.
A few shots were affected, including a shot of the terrorist lying dead on the ground when McClane looks at him. As a result of the cuts, McClane's audible reaction to the dead man goes out of sync with the visuals of McClane looking away in
Cut Scenes: Soldiers in truck
The naive Marine officer Telford meets a grisly end at the hands of Major Grant when Grant slits his throat in an unexpected act of betrayal. The throat cutting - shot entirely with practical effects back in the glory days of adult action
entertainment - is particularly bloody and realistic; and the BBFC objected:
Reduce to the briefest establishing shot sight of Grant's knife slitting throat of soldier in back of truck. Remove the blood gush which follows [and] all clear sight of blood from throat in later shot of victim's head slumping forward.
The implication of violence remains, but the intended shock effect of the scene is hugely diluted in the cut version.
Following dialogue cuts and substitutions and all of the above violence changes, Die Hard 2 was passed with a 15 rating after 28 seconds of cuts on August 21st 1990. This cut version was later passed with a 15 rating in November of that year and
was released on VHS.
Uncut with a BBFC 18 video rating
The uncut version was later passed with an 18 rating for a video rerelease on August 11th 1992. This version was released on VHS in a THX widescreen transfer. The uncut 18 version has since become the standard UK release, and is the version
available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Uncut with a BBFC 15 cinema rating
Like its prequel, Die Hard 2 was also seen by the BBFC for a theatrical rerelease in early 2013. This time around, all the previous film cuts were waived and the film was passed with a downgrade to a 15 rating for:
Strong language and bloody violence.
At the time of writing, the first two Die Hard films have not been resubmitted for a home video classification under new BBFC guidelines, and they remain at 18 on DVD and Blu-ray.
Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)
John McTiernan returned for the second sequel, and the film appears to have received an R rating in the United States with ease; although unsubstantiated rumors persist to this day that a scene featuring McClane whipping the villain Targo with a
chain was cut for the R rating. The scene does appear a little choppy, but there is no solid evidence that suggests that this is due to MPAA interference.
Cuts for a BBFC 15 rating
When Die Hard With A Vengeance came before the BBFC in mid-1995 in its R rated form for a UK theatrical certificate, the BBFC requested cuts for a 15 rating. Their main issue was once again the frequency of strong language, although trims
were also requested to three of the film's bloodier scenes of violence.
Cut Scenes: Dialogue throughout the film
The first cut the Board demanded was, like Die Hard 2, a general one:
Throughout film, reduce the cumulative incidence of sexual swearwords by half, retaining those justified by dramatic tension.
Dialogue recorded for American television was once again used, although thankfully Bruce Willis had this time redubbed his own lines. The results, in all fairness, are actually quite seamless; voices generally match lip movements well and the
use of the original actors helps disguise the edits. The filmmakers went a little overboard, though, and removed not only a large amount of F-words, but also uses of goddamn and shit ; language that is regularly heard in PG
rated films. Thankfully, the filmmakers wisely elected not to use the substitution word 'melonfarmer' for the UK version; although this line is heard in American television showings on some cable channels. For a comparison between the uncut
version's language and the same lines in the cut UK version, readers can check the video below for the full details.
Cut Scenes: Bank heist
The first violence cut was made in reel 4, with the BBFC requesting:
Reduce slashing of security guard by woman assassin.
This cut refers to the bank heist scene, where Katya kills a man in the bank vault; a frontal slash across his throat was cut entirely, and a stab into his kidney was reduced in length.
Cut Scenes: Lift fight
The next change for the cut UK version occurs about ten minutes later, when McClane realizes the men he is riding in the elevator with are German terrorists posing as bank employees. In a particularly awesome sequence, a shootout occurs in
the elevator which climaxes with McClane shooting German bad guy Otto in the face at point blank range. It was a little too strong for the BBFC's tastes, however, with the Board demanding:
Reduce violence of shoot-out in lift, removing close up of blood spurt onto Willis's face.
The distributors took the request of reduction a little too far, removing not only the sight of Otto's blood and brains exploding onto McClane's face and the elevator walls but also a close-up of McClane's gun firing, as well as a shot of the
terrorists buckling over in the cab when they are fired upon.
The film's sound has also been bizarrely looped and chopped here, resulting in an obvious skip in the soundtrack as McClane starts shooting. Furthermore, after McClane has head-butted the terrorist standing behind him, he shouts Put it
down! to Otto in the uncut version. In the cut version, the sounds of gun shots from elsewhere in the fight have been shifted to play over this footage, so McClane's mouth is seen to move but no dialogue is heard. Why the audio was messed
around with in such a sloppy manner remains a mystery.
Cut Scenes: Truck killing
The next cut occurred in reel 5, when McClane kills two terrorists by shooting them through the door of the truck they are sitting in. For this scene, the BBFC requested:
When Willis kills two men in cab of truck, minimize sight of them juddering under impacts of repeated shootings through door, resuming to see them slump dead before door opens.
Only a small amount of footage was removed here, and the cut is actually rather seamless if you don't know what's missing.
Cut Scenes: Boat killing
One final cut occurs as the terrorist on the boat is sliced in half by the towing cable.
In the cut UK version, the sound of the cable ripping the terrorist in half on Simon's ship is removed, although the BBFC do not seem to have mentioned this in their cuts list.
With cuts having being made by the distributors, the film was seen by the BBFC again and passed with a 15 rating on August 10th 1995, with the Board recording that 12 seconds of cuts had been made. This cut version was later released on VHS in
1996, again with a 15 rating.
The initial DVD release of Die Hard With A Vengeance in the UK in 1999 was also a cut version, but eagle-eyed fans may have noticed that it ran almost three minutes less than the officially-rated BBFC version passed in 1996. This is because the
print used was even more heavily censored than the cinema- and VHS versions. Instead of using the censored UK print as-is, the distributors simply deleted the entire scenes that contained offending footage, leaving UK buyers with an appalling
mess of jump cuts that rendered entire sequences in the film completely nonsensical. For example, Katya is never seen to enter the vault or kill the guard at all during the heist. The lift shootout is also missing entirely, and the scene in the
tunnels sees McClane preparing to ambush the terrorists in the truck before suddenly standing over the dead men whilst wearing different clothes. The language cuts, however, were carried over from the officially-sanctioned cut version.
Since this print of the film had not been formally classified by the BBFC - despite sporting a 15 rating - it was technically illegal to be on sale, so it was eventually withdrawn from the market. A two-disc special edition was released in March
2002, which again had the cuts to strong language made. The violence cuts were also implemented, although they were done differently to the cinema- and VHS versions. Interestingly, the English DVD subtitles were based on the uncut print, and
therefore did not match the censored UK dialogue track.
Uncut with a BBFC 15 video rating
Die Hard With A Vengeance was seen by the BBFC again in 2008 for another DVD release, and it was passed uncut with a 15 rating on October 1st 2008 for:
Strong language and violence.
It took 13 years, but British audiences now had a fully uncut version of the film for the first time.
The UK Blu-ray released in 2012 also featured the uncut version.
Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)
Originally titled Die Hard 4.0, the third sequel in the franchise underwent a name change in the United States for American audiences; taking inspiration from New Hampshire's state motto, live free or die. The rest of the world
released the film under its original (and arguably more fitting) title.
Cut for an MPAA PG-13 rating
Director Len Wiseman was a huge Die Hard fan and wanted to stay as true to the series' origins as possible - as much as he could within the confines of the Hollywood studio system, that is. Just before production, however, someone somewhere
decreed that the film had to be a PG-13 for its theatrical release. It would be the first - and so far only - Die Hard film to be released with that rating. Fans were in uproar after the news leaked upon completion of the film, but Bruce Willis
himself assured them that the film would not disappoint:
The balls of the movie remain intact. I cannot speak for Fox. They wanted a hard core [Die Hard 4] too. But we shot it as if we were making an R rated movie, and except for the 'fuck' limitations, it looks and feels very hard R.
Cut Scenes: Blood spurts throughout the film
Knowing the film would have to meet the MPAA's approval for a PG-13 rating, Len Wiseman shot most of the violence with no blood, opting to insert blood spurts digitally for the subsequent unrated DVD edition.
Bloodless PG-13 cut
Digital blood in the unrated DVD
Cut Scenes: Dialogue throughout the film
Wiseman also shot different takes of various lines. A few humorous one-liners were used for the PG-13 theatrical cut, whilst the unrated DVD either removed them outright or replaced them with more darkly humorous variations that were closer
to McClane's character. For instance, after Matt tells McClane that he just 'killed' a helicopter with a car (and a bunch of bad guys in the process), McClane's reply differs in the PG-13 and unrated versions;
PG-13: I was out of bullets.
UNRATED: Hundreds of thousands of people get killed by cars every year. It's just like four more.
Similarly, after McClane throws an enemy down a staircase and severely injures him, McClane remarks in the PG-13 version that he'll get medical help for the man. In the unrated version, McClane coldly leaves the man lying on the floor,
telling him, Time to take a nap, pal.
Whilst some scenes were shot with multiple uses of strong language recorded on the set - and thus were unsuitable for inclusion in the PG-13 version - they were later reinstated into the unrated DVD version. However, Wiseman also added in a
lot of dubbed swearing to make the unrated version seem tougher . In the end, he would oversell it. For instance, some of these dubs are inserted over shots where McClane's face isn't on screen, so dubbed lines could easily be added in. On
the other hand, when McClane is seen on screen, his lips are sometimes not moving at all; for example, in the elevator shaft scene. McClane exclaims, Motherfucker! but the shot of him clearly shows that his mouth is not moving.
Cut Scenes: Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker
John McClane's most famous line in the series, Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker, is expected in every Die Hard installment. When news of the PG-13 rating for Live Free or Die Hard broke, the chances of this line being present in the film
was surely the first thing on a lot of fans' minds. Bruce Willis again jumped to the film's defense, remarking:
There is an interesting flip on the yippee-ki-yay motherfucker part that I think will be surprising... but [it] is more than satisfying to me and hopefully to the people who are fans of the mythology of Die Hard. The famous
catchphrase will most definitely be in [Die Hard 4].
The line was indeed in the film - but only partially. A well-timed gunshot masks the very end of the line, although it was reinstated in full for the unrated version.
Cut PG-13 Version given a BBFC 15 rating
In the UK, the retitled Die Hard 4.0 had no censorship problems with the BBFC, although it did receive a 15 rating. The BBFC said that one of the reasons for this was the fact that 'motherfucker' was still audible to them, despite the presence of
the gunshot masking the tail end of the word. However, the main category-defining issue was the violence, with the Board stating:
The sheer frequency and intensity of the violence, which occasionally displayed a certain degree of relish, had a determining effect on the film's classification. The accumulation of various moments of intense and occasionally brutal violence
gave the film an overall feeling of dwelling on violence that sat uneasily below '15'.
Unrated Version given a BBFC 15 rating
The unrated version was later classified for a home video rating and it too was passed uncut and awarded a 15 rating on September 25th 2007 for:
Strong language and violence.
It was released on DVD in the UK as the Ultimate Action Edition, along with a DTS 5.1 audio track. The unrated US DVD lacks the DTS track and also features a small branching error in one scene of the unrated cut where the film mistakenly
switches back to the PG-13 version for a few seconds. The UK disc does not feature this error.
To date, there have been no UK or US Blu-ray releases of the unrated cut. For those keen to track down an uncut Blu-ray, then the Australian Die Hard Legacy Collection contains both the PG-13 and unrated versions. Alternatively there are reports
that Nordic releases contain the unrated version.
A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)
The latest film in the franchise saw McClane heading outside of the United States for the first time, teaming up with his estranged son Jack in Russia to take down some Russian bad guys. Irish director John Moore took over the directorial reins
for this installment of the series, and the film saw the franchise return to its mature roots when it received an R rating from the MPAA.
Cuts for a BBFC 12A cinema rating
In the UK, the distributors submitted an unfinished cut of the film to the BBFC for advice on its classification. Bizarrely, the filmmakers wanted to get a 12A rating for the film; an unprecedented occurrence for the Die Hard series in the UK. As
the BBFC note in their records:
[A Good Day To Die Hard] was originally seen for advice in an unfinished form. The company was advised that the film was likely to receive a '15' certificate but that their preferred '12A' classification could be achieved by making
a number of cuts to both language and visuals. When the finished version of the film was submitted for formal classification, edits had been made to reduce the number of uses of strong language and to reduce sequences of bloody violence,
including blood sprays when characters are shot in the head, and punches to restrained individuals. The formal submission was consequently rated '12A'.
Cut Scenes: Dialogue throughout the film
Since the Advice Screening process is informal, the BBFC do not issue a formal cuts list to distributors. Furthermore, the cut version was not released on DVD, so a direct comparison of the theatrical 12A version to the uncut version is not
possible. However, when the 12A version was formally classified, the BBFC's records note that four uses of strong language made it into the edited version. These four uses were:
McClane's exclamation to his son: Jack, what the fuck was that?
McClane's quip around 35 minutes in: I'm on fucking vacation!
Jack's declaration to McClane of: I need to un-fuck this mission.
McClane's line to Jack in the finale: I'm sorry I fucked up your day.
The BBFC considered these four uses to be sufficiently infrequent and non-aggressive to be allowed at 12A, and thus all other lines that featured the words 'fuck' or 'motherfucker ' were edited for the 12A cinema version. As for
McClane's yippee-ki-yay line, it was simply cut short.
Despite the lack of a formal cuts list, the above BBFC notes about the Advice Screening process do give us some insight into what scenes were affected.
Cut Scenes: Collins being shot
The first of these visually-effected occurs about 34 minutes into the film when Collins is shot in the head with a large blood spurt. This occurrence was reduced for the 12A version.
Cut Scenes: Alik beating McClane and Jack
At around 48 minutes into the film, the Russian villain Alik beats and kicks both McClane and Jack as they kneel on the floor before him with their hands tied behind their backs. This scene - featuring punches to restrained individuals
- was also reduced for the 12A version.
Cut Scenes: Alik being shot
Alik is later betrayed by Yuri in an unexpected move, with the latter shooting Alik in the head at point blank range with bloody results. This was also cut for the 12A version.
Cut Scenes: Yuri being killed
Yuri later falls into the tail blades of a helicopter at the end of the film, becoming sliced into a bloody mess. Again, this instance of bloody violence was removed for the 12A version.
Following the filmmakers' changes, A Good Day To Die Hard was formally passed 12A without any formal BBFC cuts on February 8th 2013.
Uncut for a BBFC 15 video rating
The uncut R rated version was submitted for a UK home video classification and passed 15 without cuts by the BBFC on April 26th 2013. However, the BBFC state that this version only:
...reinstates some of the material removed at the 'advice' stage... One of the versions we saw for advice had additional uses of strong language that have never subsequently been reinstated.
In other words, changes made during the Advice Screening were incorporated into the final R-rated version of the film, as well as the cut 12A version. At least two instances of strong language appear to have been cut at the last minute, including
a line that follows a shootout where McClane quips that he flew 8000 fucking miles for this?! The Blu-ray subtitles contain the strong language, but the actual soundtrack loses the use of strong language. Similarly, in a later scene,
McClane is heard to say, Let's get out of this mother- , whilst the subtitles read, Let's get out of this building . Clearly, these two lines (at least) were different when the film was originally seen in an incomplete form by the