This publicity film image released by 20th Century Fox shows Bruce Willis as John McClane, left, Jai Courtney as his son Jack, center and Sebastian Koch as
This publicity film image released by 20th Century Fox shows Bruce Willis as John McClane, left, Jai Courtney as his son Jack, center and Sebastian Koch as Komarov in a scene from "A Good Day to Die Hard." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Frank Masi, file)

It's been 25 years since Bruce Willis brought the character of John McClane to the big screen in the explosive action film "Die Hard." But the franchise shows no signs of going into retirement with the fifth installment - "A Good Day to Die Hard" - which rolled into theaters Valentine's Day with guns blazing.

Willis joked he's not certain why the franchise keeps going, but he says everyone knows it's time to do another "Die Hard" movie when someone comes up with "a complicated title that no one understands."

"We had just gotten to where we thought we understood 'Live Free or Die Hard' and now we have 'A Good Day to Die Hard,' which I have to admit I'm a little baffled about," Willis says.

Actually, Willis does have some serious ideas as to why "Die Hard" won't die. It isn't all of the explosions and big stunts; it's a good story with a theme of family. In "A Good Day to Die Hard," McClane travels to Russia when his son is arrested and ends up in the middle of an international situation.

Then there's John McClane. Willis said that because he's a guy who thinks he has everything in control - but doesn't - people can relate to the character.

His final theory: The "Die Hard" movies are like a big roller coaster. They offer thrills and excitement with a hint of danger that make them a fun ride. Creating that excitement is the goal each time Willis slips back into the John McClane role.

Director John Moore views the "Die Hard" movies as modern-day Westerns.

"'Die Hard' is a brilliantly scripted, brilliantly plotted thriller. It has some explosions. But, ultimately, its plot is always oriented like a Western. A man comes to town. He's out numbered. He has morality on his side. He uses ingenuity and determination to do the right thing. It's got more John Wayne than anything else," Moore says. "It's about a guy whose doing something morally correct for his family, as opposed to stopping submarine plots. It's always been about his family.

"People struggle to understand why 'Die Hard' is such a standout action film. It's because it isn't an action film. It's a Western."

The films have offered hints to the Western heritage from the first film. McClane's famous catch phrase of "Yippee-Ki-Yay (expletive deleted)" was a line Willis improvised as a response to the film's villain, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) referring to McClane as a cowboy. And cowboys get mentioned in the latest film as the chief reason why the villain hates Americans.

No matter the reasons, the "Die Hard" franchise just keeps going - much to the surprise of Willis.

"No one ever knew at the beginning that we were going to be doing five of these films," he says. "It's a strange, great honor to get to run down the street and do what we do and make it look fun and scary, sometimes, and interesting and still have the core of the character there."

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© 2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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