John McTiernan: “Jan de Bont is the best cinematographer I ever worked with”

He is considered one of the best and most profitable film directors of action films in the 1980s and 1990s who worked with some of the biggest stars of his generation. His last film was released in 2003 and since then, it looked as if he vanished into thin air. He was no longer in the spotlight and had disappeared from the world of filmmaking. We’re talking about John McTiernan (b. 1951), the man who made solid film classics such as “Nomads” (1986), “Predator” (1987), “Die Hard” (1988), “The Hunt For Red October” (1990), “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” (1995) and “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1999). These are all very interesting and highly entertaining films that the audience could thoroughly enjoy; he made them with style and class. He was the king of action cinema. According to IMDB, his twelve feature films grossed $611 million in the U.S. and a staggering $1,245 million worldwide.

Roger Ebert’s favorable views on some of John McTiernan’s films

Several acclaimed film critics also favored his work. Roger Ebert (1942-2013), the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize For Distinguished Criticism—he was also one of America’s most respected film historians—was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. He used a four star system to rate his films. The compilation above of six McTiernan films shows his appreciation for the film director’s work.

Eventually, “Basic” (2003), starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, became his latest feature—so far. Mr. McTiernan’s golden years came to an end; he was forgotten in less than no time and, seemingly, was replaced by other talented filmmakers. He ran into trouble with the law and served time in jail.

John McTiernan at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival | Film Talk

But he’s back, meaning he hopes to make another film again—wouldn’t it be great if he assumes his place again—and he’s also been attending film festivals in recent years where they honor his work and his legacy, and where he’s a much sought-after film director for interviews focusing on his entire body of work. Earlier this month, Mr. McTiernan was a guest of honor at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF) for a masterclass and a lengthy series of interviews, going from one table to the other, and I was able to ask him a few questions as well.

Mr. McTiernan, a couple of years ago, I met cinematographer and film director Jan de Bont for an interview in Los Angeles. He spoke very highly of you. How do you remember working with him when he was your cameraman on “Die Hard” [1988] and “The Hunt For Red October” [1990]?

Jani and I were a great team; he is the best cinematographer I ever worked with. We came from similar families. Both of our families were pretty tough; our parents yelled at us a lot. When we were trying to work out a shot or something, Jani and I would argue about this and that. We knew that the arguments weren’t serious because we respected each other. He knew I thought he was fabulous, I had a feeling he sort of liked me, and that I at least understood what he was doing with the camera. But because we came from the families we did, we were pretty tough on each other, and it used to terrify the crew at first. ‘They’re fighting again! They’re fighting again!’ [Laughs.] And everybody got scared. But we weren’t scared; we knew exactly what we were doing, and we weren’t in the least upset about it. It was fun. And eventually, the crew understood it too. ‘This is just noise.’ I remember for some reason we wound up shooting on “Die Hard” on Christmas Eve—on Christmas Eve! We were shooting in the middle of the night in this cold concrete garage all night long; even the assistant directors were sneaking away and then came back with empty coffee cups. And about three in the morning, I looked across the set and the only person who was paying attention besides me was the Goddamn Dutchman. That was our bond, we were both very serious and pretty good at what we were doing.

“Die Hard” (1988, trailer)

Over the years you made several films that stood the test of time; they became timeless. Are you aware of that?

That’s something that journalists or critics deal with, but it doesn’t change my life. I never thought, ‘Okay, now I’m gonna make a classic movie,’ or, ‘No, that’s not classic enough, we gotta make a better movie.’ That is not how you make movies. You just do the best you can. But it’s wonderful if other people say it’s a good movie, although I don’t get any more residuals because somebody likes it [laughs]. My father-in-law used to say, ‘It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.’ So I suppose the fact that “Die Hard,“ for example, is a movie that they at least will play at Christmas now, more than thirty years after we made it, that’s a lot better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Are you working on a new project now?

I can’t talk about it because I don’t want to curse it. By talking about it before I am sure the money is in the bank, nothing is real. It’s a love story with a certain amount of action, that’s all I can say.

Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival,
September 2, 2022

“The Thomas Crown Affair” (1999, trailer), a remake of the 1968 Norman Jewison film


NOMADS (1986) DIR – SCR John McTiernan PROD Elliott Kastner, Cassian Elwes, George Pappas CAM Stephen Ramsey ED Michael John Bateman MUS Bill Conti CAST Lesley-Anne Down, Pierce Brosnan, Anna-Maria Montecelli, Adam Ant, Mary Woronov, Héctor Mercado, Josie Cotton, Frank Doubleday, Nina Foch

PREDATOR (1987) DIR John McTiernan PROD Joel Silver, John Davis, Lawrence Gordon SCR Jim Thomas, John Thomas CAM Donald McAlpine ED John F. Link, Mark Helfrich MUS Alan Silvestri CAST Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Eldipia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves

DIE HARD (1988) DIR John McTiernan PROD Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordon SCR Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza (novel “Nothing Lasts Forever” [1979] by Roderick Thorp) CAM Jan De Bont ED John F. Link, Frank J. Urioste MUS Michael Kamen CAST Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Hart Bochner

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) DIR John McTiernan PROD Mace Neufeld SCR Larry Ferguson, Donald E. Stuart (novel “The Hunt for Red October” [1984] by Tom Clancy) CAM Jan de Bont ED John Wright, Dennis Virkler MUS Basil Poledouris CAST Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Joss Ackland, Richard Jordan, Peter Firth, Tim Curry, Stellan Skarsgård, A.C. Lyles

MEDICINE MAN (1992) DIR John McTiernan PROD Andrew G. Vajna, Donna Dubrow SCR Tom Schulman, Sally Robinson (story by Tom Schulman) CAM Donald McAlpine ED Michael R. Miller MUS Jerry Goldsmith CAST Sean Connery, Lorraine Bracco, José Wilker, Rodolfo De Alexandre, Francisco Tsiren Tsere Rereme, Elias Monteiro Da Silva

LAST ACTION HERO (1993) DIR – PROD John McTiernan SCR Shane Black, David Arnott (story by Adam Leff, Zack Penn) CAM Dean Semler ED Richard A. Harris, John Wright MUS Michael Kamen CAST Arnold Scharzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Joan Plowright, Little Richard, Maria Shriver, Tina Turner, Chevy Chase, Sharon Stone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Melvin Van Peebles

DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE (1995) DIR John McTiernan PROD John McTiernan, Michael Tadross SCR Jonathan Hensleigh (certain characters created by Roderick Thorp) CAM Peter Menzies Jr. ED John Wright MUS Michael Kamen CAST Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Gryggman, Sam Philips, Anthony Peck

AMANDA (1996) DIR Bobby Roth PROD John McTiernan, Donna Dubrow, Andrew G. Vajna, Debbie Robins [Debbie Robins-de la Bouillerie] SCR Tom DeCherchio (story by Tom DeCherchio, Donna Dubrow, Lorelei Miller Mintz) CAM Shelley Johnson ED Henk Van Eeghem MUS Basil Poledouris CAST Kieran Culkin, Dennis Haysbert, Alice Krige, Laura Morgan, Erik von Detten, Mischa Hausserman, Tracey Walter, Bradley Pierce

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999) DIR John McTiernan PROD Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair SCR Leslie Dixon, Kurt Wimmer (screenplay THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR [1968] by Alan Trustman; story by Alan R. Trustman) CAM Tom Priestley Jr. ED John Wright MUS Bill Conti CAST Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Ben Gazzara, Frankie Faison, Fritz Weaver, Charles Keating, Mark Margolis

THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) DIR John McTiernan PROD John McTiernan, Michael Crichton, Ned Dowd SCR William Wisher, Warren Lewis (novel “Eaters of the Dead” [1976] by Michael Crichton) CAM Peter Menzies Jr. ED John Wright MUS Jerry Goldsmith CAST Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Omar Sharif, Dennis Storhøl, Vladimir Kulich, Anders T. Andersen, Richard Bremmer, Tony Curran, Mischa Hausserman

ROLLERBALL (2003) DIR John McTiernan PROD John McTiernan, Beau St. Clair, Charles Roven SCR Larry Ferguson, John Pogue (screenplay ROLLERBALL [1975] by William Ferguson; short story by William Harrison) CAM Steve Mason ED John Wright, Robert K. Lambert MUS Éric Serra CAST Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca, Nayeen Andrews, Oleg Taktarov, David Hemblen, Janet Wright, Andrew Bryniarski

BASIC (2003) DIR John McTiernan PROD James Vanderbilt, Michael Tadross, Mike Medavoy SCR James Vanderbilt CAM Steve Mason ED George Folsey Jr. MUS Klaus Badelt CAST John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Daly, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt, Taye Diggs, Dash Mihok, Cristián de la Fuente, Harry Connick Jr., Margaret Travolta

TAU CETI FOUR (2023) DIR – SCR John McTiernan PROD John McTiernan, Uma Thurman, Gail Sistrunk CAST Travis Fimmel, Uma Thurman


ROBIN HOOD (1994) DIR John Irvin PROD Sarah Radclyffe EXEC PROD John McTiernan TELEPLAY Sam Resnick, John McGrath (story by Sam Resnick) CAM Jason Lehel ED Peter Tanner MUS Geoffrey Burgon CAST Patrick Bergin, Uma Thurman, Jurgen Prochnow, Edward Fox, Jeroen Krabbe, Danny Webb, Conrad Asquith

THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT (1996) DIR Hubert de la Bouillerie PROD John McTiernan, Donna Dubrow, Thom Colwell, Debbie Ribons [Debbie Robins-de la Bouillerie] TELEPLAY Mark Fauser, Brent Briscoe (play by Mark Fauser, Brent Briscoe) CAM Greg Gardiner ED Mike Murphy MUS Randy Miller CAST LL Cool J, Amanda Plummer, Christopher Lloyd, Laura San Giacomo, Fisher Stevens, Judge Reinhold, Patrick Dempsey, Carl Reiner, Colleen Camp, Robert Loggia, Lea Thompson

QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (1997) DIR Mick Garris PROD Mick Garris, Ron Mitchell EXEC PROD John McTiernan TELEPLAY Mick Garris (short story “Chattery Teeth” [1992] by Stephen King; short story “The Body Politic” by Clive Barker) CAM Shelley Johnson ED Norman Hollyn MUS Mark Mothersbaugh CAST Christopher Lloyd, Matt Frewer, Raphael Sbarge, Missy Crider, Silas Weir Mitchell, Bill Nunn, Veronica Cartwright, Clive Barker, John Landis, Mick Garris