Remembering Superman Director Richard Donner, Who Passed Away Monday at 91 Years Old
Legendary director Richard Donner passed away Monday at the age of 91, leaving behind a film legacy that made us all believe a man could fly.
The Bronx-born, Jewish director got his big breakthrough into Hollywood when he made the now-iconic horror movie The Omen in 1976, ruining the name Damien for all time. Two years later, he did a massive 180 and made the 1978 Superman film. Considered the most expensive film ever made at that point, with a budget of $55 million, it was risky on multiple levels.
Superhero films were not the box office draw they are today, and on top of spending so much money, the development team decided to cast an unknown actor, Christopher Reeve. Also, Donner was shooting Superman II simultaneously with the first film, which made everything extra risky. By the time they were focusing totally on Superman, apparently, 75% of the sequel was done. Thankfully, the film would be a massive success grossing over $300 million at the box office and making Reeve a legend.
Donner would go on to direct The Goonies, Scrooged, the Lethal Weapon film franchise, and several episodes of television shows.
Following his death, many fans, fellow directors, actors, and friends took onto the internet to share tributes. Most notably Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor in Superman, recounted an anecdote to The Hollywood Reporter:
“I showed up for the first day of makeup tests for Superman with a fine Lex Luthor mustache I’d grown for the role,” he began. “Dick, wearing his own handsome mustache, told me mine had to go. He bargained to lose his if I did mine. True to his word, he celebrated my last razor stroke by gleefully pulling off the fake whiskers he’d acquired for the occasion.”
Concluded Hackman, “Dick made it fun, and that’s why the films turned out that way, too.”
Thank you, Richard Donner. You made me believe. pic.twitter.com/zmeONQpTUT
— Zack Snyder (@ZackSnyder) July 5, 2021
For this last shot of The Omen, Richard Donner told his child actor to look back at the camera like he was angry, and when he did, Donner started joking “Don’t you smile! Don’t you smile!”
And that’s how we got one of the great evil smiles in cinema history.#RIPRichardDonner pic.twitter.com/xoGJtX8dqX
— N O S ⋊ Ɔ I ᴚ ᴚ Ǝ ᗡ ⊥ ⊥ O Ɔ S (@scottderrickson) July 5, 2021
I couldn’t agree more with the tributes pouring in honoring the great Richard Donner. I was so lucky to have worked with him in his final movie for television #SarahT alongside @RealLindaBlair. His next project was #TheOmen-the rest is history! #RIP_Dick https://t.co/5E3w4milYP
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) July 6, 2021
I loved Richard Donner as person, and massively admired him as a director. To think he made The Omen, Superman, The Goonies and Lethal Weapon in just over 10 years time, and many more. Stunning. Truly one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. He will be sorely missed. pic.twitter.com/6BWIkrvfuN
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) July 6, 2021
Good bye dear Richard. Thanks for your films, for your elegance, your sense of humor, your friendship and for those happy and funny days we spent during the shooting of “Assassins”. We will never forget you amigo.
RIP #RichardDonner pic.twitter.com/VumJPZkLe3
— Antonio Banderas (@antoniobanderas) July 6, 2021
For me, Superman remains one of those movies that proves what makes Superman so great, and I will always hold it as the example of what makes Superman work: the warmth, the heart, the smile. Those things bring him to life, and I still say Donner brought him to life best.
What is your favorite Richard Donner film?
(image: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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