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Wait, is Bruce Willis’ Die Hard character in Michael Bay’s World War II epic Pearl Harbor or not?

John McClane holds a gun in Die Hard.
20th Century Fox

File the following under the “WTF” file: an old Hollywood legend resurrected by Twitter user ThisIsCreation claims that Bruce Willis appeared as his most famous character, John McClane, in Michael Bay’s 2001 World War II movie Pearl Harbor. Even though this assertion was well-known among film fans, it’s ignited a debate as to whether it’s real or not. Yes, you read that right: The lead character from the now-canonical Christmas classic Die Hard, a movie that was released in 1988 and is definitive of that era’s then-modern look, anachronistically pops up in the background of a movie set in 1941. How? Why?

Unlike most legends, this one has actual evidence. In the clip below, Kate Beckinsale’s character, Evelyn Johnson, is seen arguing with her friend, nurse Sandra (played by a young Jennifer Garner, taking a break from Alias), amid a chaotic scene in the aftermath of an aerial bombing. In the background, a soldier passes by and is then followed by an oddly familiar-looking man in a dirty white tank top. He appears to be injured, and he limps quickly by, but the man looks uncannily like Bruce Willis. And not just any version of Willis, but Die Hard-era Bruce Willis. Watch:

Bruce Willis in Pearl Harbor (John McClane)

Sure seems like him, huh? The reason why this is still a legend is because neither Bay nor Willis have confirmed it’s actually the actor in the movie. Even though Bay had just directed Willis in the 1998 disaster movie Armageddon, the two were rumored to not get along during filming, so why would Willis agree to cameo in Bay’s next picture if he hated the director’s guts? Some argue Bay digitally inserted Willis into the background, which does explain why the quality of his image is lower than that of the others in the scene. Still others chalk it up to mere coincidence and posit that it’s just an extra who looks like Willis.

Men run from an explosion in Pearl Harbor.

My take? That’s Willis in the background. Either he patched things up with Bay and wanted to play a practical joke on an unsuspecting audience or Bay wanted to get revenge on Willis by pulling him into his movie without his consent. Either way, in Bay’s retelling of the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, John McClane was there, helping the wounded, and maybe kicking some Axis ass in the background. Who knows, maybe if Bay had made a sequel, Pearl Harbor 2: Die Harder, he would’ve inserted Willis in that famous photo taken at Iwo Jima.

Peal Harbor is now streaming on Max. Die Hard is streaming for free (but with ads) on YouTube.

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Jason Struss
Section Editor, Entertainment
Jason is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast whose love for cinema, television, and cheap comic books has led him to…
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