- As a child, he entertained neighborhood kids by staging plays and puppet shows.
- First professional job was a 20-minute industrial video for Shell Oil.
- Came to the U.S. in the early 1980s with an aspiring-moviemaker friend after they had sold their businesses, taken out loans and put a lot of money on their credit cards.
- Helped make ends meet in Hollywood by writing movie reviews for some Finnish newspapers.
- Shot Die Hard 2: Die Harder and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane back-to-back and edited them simultaneously; they were released within a week of each other in 1990.
- His 1993 wedding to Geena Davis was a three-day extravaganza that featured pony, elephant and hot-air-balloon rides, skywriting planes creating aerial artwork; it reportedly cost $700,000.
- Cutthroat Island (1995), which he directed, was the movie industry's first $100 million flop.
- Shooting for 2001's Driven required nighttime filming in Toronto and, at the time, it required the largest police lockdown ever in that city.
- Despite Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) being a completed film, producers were unhappy with director Paul Schrader's final cut and hired Harlin to reshoot the entire movie.
- 1992, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Feature: Winner
- Laura Dern — Ex-significant Other
- Geena Davis — Ex-wife
- Attended the University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
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