Richard Donner has passed away at 91 years old, leaving behind a stunning legacy of movies that spanned multiple genres and influenced them all. Horror was never the same after The Omen in 1976. Family adventure romps are now measured against The Goonies. “Buddy cop comedies” were more or less launched by Lethal Weapon. It’s hard to imagine what today’s film industry would look like if not for Superman. And we wouldn’t have any of it without Donner, a man who knew how to marry blockbuster entertainment with human warmth better than almost anyone.
The rare terrific director who also had a reputation for being a very nice guy, Donner got his start in television with shows like The Twilight Zone, The Man From UNCLE, Gilligan’s Island and Perry Mason. He worked with the likes of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Mary Tyler Moore on small features before his spooky breakout hit The Omen with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. It was The Omen that convinced Warner Bros. to let Donner try his hand at Superman in 1978.
Donner’s influence on the first movie to be based on a comic book superhero can’t be overstated. Warner Bros. had been planning for their Superman feature to mimic the 1960s Batman TV show’s campy tone, but Donner wanted to play it straight. He knew people resonated with Superman on a sincere level, and he wanted his movie to take those people seriously. That approach worked wonders, largely thanks to a staggering performance from Christopher Reeves, and everyone from Christopher Nolan to Kevin Feige has credited Donner’s work as the blueprint for their own superhero movies.
Later, Donner would tackle The Goonies, the family entertainment staple based on a Steven Spielberg story with an influence that can be seen today in everything from the Harry Potter stores to, of course, Stranger Things. He also helped turn Mel Gibson into a household name by casting him opposite Danny Glover in the hugely successful Lethal Weapon franchise.
In the video below, you can see Donner’s work on The Goonies, in which he displays an excellent balance of wit, charm, encouragement and demand with his young cast, including Sean Astin, Martha Plimpton, Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman.
Later on Donner moved to production, co-producing movies like Free Willy and the first X-Men movie alongside his wife Lauren Donner.
“Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres,” Spielberg said in a statement. “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.”