It’s hard to explain the impact Richard Donner had on the film industry. Along with perfecting the “buddy-cop” genre with the Lethal Weapon series, Donner introduced the world to the first great superhero film with 1978’s Superman: The Movie. It can be argued that today’s entertainment landscape, with both Marvel and DC movies ruling over the big and small screen, is all due to Donner, who not only made us believe a man could fly, but was also a mentor to Kevin Feige and Geoff Johns.
Richard Donner left this world on July 5, but his work across film and TV has ensured that he will never be forgotten. Before he directed his first movie, Donner was already on his way to being an icon with his TV work, most notably the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but these ten films are the work he’ll be most remembered for.
10 Maverick Brought The Fun Of The Classic TV Series To The Movies – 7.0
Two years after Clint Eastwood starred in and directed the quiet and contemplative Oscar-winning Western Unforgiven, Richard Donner, Mel Gibson, and Jodi Foster brought the fun back to the Old West with Maverick. Based on the popular TV series that starred James Garner, Maverick tells the story of Bret Maverick, a card shark of the West who finds himself wrapped up in a series of comedic adventures while trying to get the money he needs to play in a card game. The film was a hit with critics and audiences alike.
9 Ladyhawke Has Seen Its Fanbase Grow Over The Years – 7.0
Donner’s Ladyhawke, a fantasy drama from 1985, failed to find success at the box office but has become a cult favorite over the years. In the film, Matthew Broderick stars as Gaston, a thief who finds himself teamed up with Rutger Hauer’s Navarre, a man who turns into a wolf each night, while his pet hawk turns into the woman he loves, Isabeau, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. The only way to break the curse that has befallen the two lovers is to kill the man who cast the spell.
Ladyhawke sits high among the fantasy films of the 1980s, along with films like Willow, Legend, and Conan the Barbarian, thanks to the heartbreaking acting by Hauer and Pfeiffer, and Donner’s ability to find the soul of any story, .
8 Radio Flyer Gave Donner The Chance To Get Serious – 7.0
Radio Flyer is a heartwrenching story about two brothers and the abuse they suffered from their alcoholic step-father. The step-father, who demands to be called ‘King’, focuses his rage on Bobby whenever the boys’ mother is out of the house.
To save Bobby from the beatings, the two young brothers come up with a plan to turn their Radio Flyer toy wagon into an airplane that will fly Bobby away. Richard Donner replaced the original director and scriptwriter David Mickey Evans after ten days of filming when the studio was unhappy with the dailies. Donner recast every main role in the film before shooting restarted.
7 Scrooged Is A Modern Day Holiday Classic – 7.0
Creating a Christmas classic is hard work. Almost every year there are movies that try and earn the right to be placed among films like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, but very few make it onto best-of lists. Donner’s Scrooged, starring Bill Murray is firmly placed in the list of classics.
A modern-day retelling of Charles Dickens’ 1843 story A Christmas Carol, the film sees Murray as Frank Cross, a TV executive who has given up love and family for money and power. Cross is visited by the three spirits of Christmas, with each one showing him his past, present, and future, letting Cross see the mistakes he made in his life and how there is still time to fix them.
6 Lethal Weapon 2 Brought The Gang Back Together – 7.2
After the massive success of the first film, Donner once again teamed up with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover for another action-packed adventure in the lives of Riggs and Murtaugh. Lethal Weapon 2 ups the humor from the first film while increasing the intense action as well.
The movie, the second of four films in the franchise, was Donner’s first true sequel, having been fired from Superman II before filming was finished. Lethal Weapon 2 was a critical and box office smash, bringing in rave reviews and making almost eight times its budget in the theaters.
5 Superman: The Movie Is Still The Blueprint For Superhero Films – 7.3
When he was hired to direct Superman: The Movie, Richard Donner decided that the movie shouldn’t poke fun at the concept, unlike 1966’s Batman, but instead revel in the earnestness of the Man of Steel. At a time when the United States was dealing with the one-two punch of the Vietnam War and President Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Donner gave audiences a Superman who proudly stood for “Truth, justice, and the American way.”
Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve as Superman, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, would go on to be a box office smash and receive a special Academy Award for special effects. Today, it continues to stand out as one of the best superhero movies ever made.
4 The Omen Will Make You Do It All For Damien – 7.5
Donner got his start in film with 1976’s The Omen, which tells the story of the literal Anti-Christ and the father who has to kill his own child to save the world. The film, which stars Gregory Peck, is a slow-burn horror film that is filled with some truly terrifying moments that have left audiences shaken for decades.
The film was supposedly cursed from day one, with many actors suffering injuries on set, and Donner himself being struck by a car during production. Still, the curse couldn’t stop The Omen from becoming a box office hit, spawning three sequels.
3 Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut Fixed A Broken Film – 7.6
Twenty-six years after being fired from Superman II, Richard Donner finally got to finish his version of the film in 2006. Unable to shoot new footage for a number of reasons, Donner was forced to use a screen test between actors Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder for one integral scene – the moment Lois Lane learns that Clark Kent is Superman.
For fans of Superman: The Movie, the chance to finally see Donner’s original vision for the second film was a dream come true. Their long fight to get The Donner Cut released helped pave the way for the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement.
2 Lethal Weapon Created A Genre – 7.6
Written by Shane Black, Donner’s Lethal Weapon quickly gave birth to the “buddy-cop” action movie genre. Teaming up Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as two very different cops, Lethal Weapon won over critics and audiences alike, spawning three sequels and a TV series. The movie is darker than the films that would follow it, but it also led to a glut of similar films, each with varying success.
Lethal Weapon also turned Mel Gibson into a Hollywood superstar of the 1990s. Donner and the actors would return for each film, and at the time of Donner’s passing, they were working on a final film in the series. Donner had planned to make this fifth film his final movie.
1 Donner Told Us That Goonies Never Say Die – 7.8
Donner’s most beloved film, 1985’s The Goonies tells the amazing tale of a group of kids as they face off against a criminal family and search for the legendary treasure of One-Eyed Willy in an attempt to save their homes from foreclosure. Starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, and Corey Feldman, along with a group of other teens, The Goonies continues to be a stand-out film for the kids of today.
The Goonies is a wild adventure story that can easily be placed among films like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. for its impact on a generation of kids who grew up doing the Truffle Shuffle and swearing that “Goonies never say die”.
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