Legendary filmmaker Richard Donner has died at the age of 91, according to his wife and producer Lauren Shuler Donner. This is incredibly sad news, as Donner inspired many through his versatile filmography and set the stage for a number of filmmakers who came after him.
Donner’s career as a director began to take off with the 1976 horror film The Omen, but it’s a testament to his dynamic talent that he followed that horror hit up with a film that would introduce and revolutionize an entire film genre: the superhero movie. With 1978’s Superman, Donner brought Christopher Reeve’s fantastical hero to the big screen in a way that was deeply human, with the film’s marketing promising audiences, “You will believe a man can fly.” Donner juggled the spectacle of a DC Comics adventure with the romance and humor that made Superman relatable as a protagonist, and he set the stage for decades of superhero storytelling that followed.
Over his extensive and impressive career, Donner tackled a variety of genres. 1985’s The Goonies captured the adventurous spirit of being young and inquisitive (even if the filmmaking experience was a headache for Donner); 1987’s Lethal Weapon brought an edge to the buddy comedy genre of the 1980s; even 1988’s Scrooged put a sinister twist on the classic “Christmas movie” staple, and that’s not to mention his television work on shows like Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone and his producing work that ranged from Free Willy to X-Men.
Donner had been planning to return to the Lethal Weapon franchise and said in 2020 that a fifth film in the series would be the last movie he directs. Sadly, he never got the chance.
Any filmmaker would be lucky to have a quarter of the films on Donner’s resume, and his breadth of work is a testament to his talent and character. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.