Richard Donner, Director of ‘Superman’ and ‘The Goonies,’ Dies at 91
The director of some of the most famous and beloved movies of the 1970s, ’80s, and ‘90s has died. Richard Donner, the man behind Superman, The Goonies, and all four Lethal Weapon movies passed away on Monday. He was 91 years old. His death was confirmed by his wife and his business manager, although no cause of death was given.
Born in the Bronx, Donner initially planned to become an actor, then found success behind the camera. He started in commercials, then moved into television, directing episodes of popular series like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Gilligan’s Island, Kojak, and The Fugitive. He directed one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring William Shatner as an airplane passenger who cannot convince anyone else on his flight that there’s a mysterious creature on the wing of their jet.
Donner’s transition into film directing was slow and not immediately successful. His first hit came with 1976’s The Omen, still one of the great evil kid movies of all time. Two years later, his Superman completely changed the way people thought about superheroes. More than a decade of Batman TV show reruns had convinced the world that comics were a goof. His epic treatment of the Man of Steel showed otherwise. He arguably does not get enough credit for the groundwork he laid for modern comic-book movies.
Donner also worked on Superman II, although the finished film was ultimately credited to director Richard Lester, until Donner’s original vision for the movie was reassembled in 2006 as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. A few years later, he made another of the decade’s defining movies with 1985’s The Goonies, the story of a ragtag group of kids who go in search of a lost pirate treasure.
Two years after The Goonies, Donner had another massive, era-defining hit with the first Lethal Weapon. Starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, it became one of the biggest buddy cop movies of the era, spawning three sequels — all of which Donner directed as well.
While the Lethal Weapon franchise kept Donner busy through most of the 1990s, he snuck in other projects between sequels, including the Bill Murray comedy Scrooged and the extremely underrated movie version of the TV show Maverick, featuring Gibson, Jodie Foster, and the original series’ star, James Garner.
Donner’s output slowed in recent years; his final directorial effort was 2006’s Bruce Willis thriller 16 Blocks. He also wrote several Superman comic stories with his former assistant turned DC Comics writer and executive Geoff Johns. Tributes to Donner are already pouring in from around Hollywood, including one from Steven Spielberg, who produced The Goonies and said in a statement to Deadline, “Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all. He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his husky, hearty, laugh will stay with me always.”
With some filmmakers, when the pass away the headline says it all. With Donner, no one movie could capture the breadth of his career highlights across film and television, through different genres and decades, including several of the biggest hits of his lifetime. His impact will continue to be felt for generations to come. After all, he made us believe a man could fly.