“It’s an exciting sport, but not terribly exciting to watch”: Bruce Willis Single-Handedly Saved 1 Underrated Sylvester Stallone Movie That Almost Starred David Bowie as the Villain

Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger only happened because of Bruce Willis' Die Hard.

Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone


  • Bruce Willis's Die Hard is one of the most iconic action movies of all time.
  • Having inspired several action movies, it also inspired Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger.
  • Cliffhanger also nearly starred David Bowie as the main antagonist.
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Hollywood has no shortage of action movies and has cooked up some of the best action films of all time over the years. Bruce Willis’ Die Hard surely occupies a high place in Hollywood’s Hall of Fame for the genre. Not only did it branch out an incredible franchise, but the movie also inspired a bunch of other iconic movies like Under SiegeSpeedThe Rock, and many more.

Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard (1988) | 20th Century Studios

Among these movies is Sylvester Stallone’s 90’s classic, Cliffhanger. Based on Willis’ top-of-class action film, Stallone’s flick would have never happened had the action thriller not been released.

Bruce Willis’ Die Hard Inspired Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger

Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger | TriStar Pictures

Bruce Willis‘ 1988 action thriller Die Hard featured him as a New York City police detective who runs into a terrorist takeover while going over to visit his estranged wife. A fascinating tale complete with adrenalin-packing action sequences and a brilliant storyline, the movie is now one of the best action films ever.


A timeless classic that continues to inspire countless action films, it was this film that eventually made Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger possible. In a 20th anniversary special, co-producer Gene Hines revealed to The Telegraph how he was inspired by a mountain climbing TV show to make the iconic film.

Yet they struggled to come up with a compelling story. It wasn’t until they came across Bruce Willis’ Die Hard that the movie came together. Co-producer Jim Zatolokin stated to the Telegraph,

It’s an exciting sport, but not terribly exciting to watch. For a long time, it was difficult to figure out how to turn climbing into an action-adventure film. Die Hard was around at that time, and the concept became ‘Die Hard on the mountain.’

And so with a script from Michael France and Sylvester StalloneDie Hard 2 director, Renny Harlin was roped in as the director for Stallone-starrer Cliffhanger. The result was expected, the movie quickly became a hit and garnered over $255 million worldwide (via The Numbers).


Rock Star David Bowie Was Originally Slated to be Cliffhanger’s Villain

David Bowie
David Bowie in Labyrinth | Tri-Star Pictures

A movie’s success is not only based on its story, premise, direction, and protagonist but also its antagonist. Having a formidable protagonist in an action movie becomes even more integral, and Cliffhanger succeeded in having just as explosive a villain in the form of John Lithgow as the evil Eric Qualen.

However, before Lithgow was cast, the movie’s director Renny Harlin was adamant about casting the rock icon David Bowie as Qualen. In an exclusive interview with SlashFilm, Harlin revealed,

My dream cast to play the bad guy in “Cliffhanger” was David Bowie. And I pursued him hard. I remember going to New York to meet with him and talking about the movie endlessly, but then it was very close, but I think maybe he had a tour or something happened that the schedules didn’t work out. So David Bowie didn’t play the bad guy. 

Unfortunately for Harlin, Bowie had just come off an extremely busy schedule, and starring in the mountain action flick would have undeniably required a lot of effort and training. Although Lithgow did a brilliant job, it is startling to think how Sylvester Stallone-starred Cliffhanger would have turned out had Bowie agreed in the first place.


Cliffhanger can be streamed and Die Hard can be rented on Amazon Prime.


Written by Maria Sultan

Articles Published: 1427

Maria Sultan is a News Content Writer at FandomWire. Having honed her skills are a Freelance and Professional content writer for more than 5 years (and counting), her expertise spans various genres and content type. A Political Science and History Graduate, her deep interest in the world around shapes her writing, blending her insights across diverse themes.

Outside the realm of writing, Maria can be often found buried in the world of books or pursuing art or engaged in fervent discussions about anything or everything, her passions balanced by binge watching Kdramas, Anime, Movies or Series during leisure hours.