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SYFY WIRE Batman Forever

Joel Schumacher, famed director of Batman films and The Lost Boys, dies at 80

By Josh Weiss
Batman & Robin

Joel Schumacher, the director known for making The Lost Boys and two memorable films about DC's Caped Crusader — Batman Forever and Batman & Robin — has died at the age of 80. According to Variety, the filmmaker passed away in New York City today after a battle with cancer.

Schumacher's somewhat campy depiction of Gotham City is still a hotly debated issue, especially when it comes to the infamous "bat nipples" found on the Batman suits worn by Bruce Wayne actors Val Kilmer (1995's Batman Forever) and George Clooney (1997's Batman & Robin). They're so iconic, in fact, that Zack Snyder parodied the costume choice in his 2009 adaptation of Watchmen.

Joel Schumacher

Born in New York in the summer of 1939, Schumacher studied at Parsons and the Fashion Institute of Technology. He began his entertainment career as a costume designer for films produced throughout the 1970s. At the same time, he wrote screenplays for 1976's Car Wash (which spawned the hit song of the same name by Rose Royce) and 1978's The Wiz (a remake of The Wizard of Oz with a predominantly African American cast). He started out as a director for television prior to his breakout film in 1985, the coming-of-age drama St. Elmo's Fire.

Schumacher followed that up two years later with The Lost Boys, a horror-comedy about two brothers (played by Corey Haim and Jason Patric) dealing with a pack of vampires. Kiefer Sutherland, Alex Winter, Corey Feldman, Edward Hermann, Dianne Wiest, and Jami Gertz co-starred. Considered a definitive entry in '80s cinema, the movie influenced a new generation of filmmakers like Jordan Peele (he paid homage to it in last year's Us) and spawned a TV show that's in the works at The CW.

"I had one of the greatest casts in the world. That makes the movie," Schumacher said for a 17-year retrospective of The Lost Boys. "It’s beautiful to look, I think, and the music’s great, but it's really the cast that makes it."

The Lost Boys

In the mid-90s, Schumacher inherited the Batman film franchise from Tim Burton, who parted ways with the DC character after 1992's Batman Returns. Batman Forever adopted a more playful atmosphere and vibrant color palette — an obvious departure from Burton's moody and gothic interpretation. Michael Gough returned as Alfred, but everyone else in the cast was new. Kilmer led an impressive ensemble that included Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face), Jim Carrey (The Riddler), Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian), and Chris O'Donnell (Robin).

The sequel, Batman & Robin, upped the camp factor by 11, giving Clooney's Wayne a bat-themed credit card and hiring Arnold Schwarzenegger to crack an endless supply of ice-related puns as Mr. Freeze. Gough and O'Donnell were back, but there were plenty of newcomers as well: Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy), Alicia Silverstone (Batgirl), John Glover (Dr. Jason Woodrue), and Robert Swenson (Bane).

As Variety puts it: "The openly gay Schumacher was accused of introducing homoerotic elements to the relationship between Batman and Robin; in 2006 Clooney told Barbara Walters that he had played Batman as gay."

"I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'" the director told the trade outlet in 2014 when asked about the controversial nature of bat nipples. "I think that will be on my gravestone. It’s how I’ll be remembered."

"I never did a sequel to any of my movies, and sequels are only made for one reason: to make more money and sell more toys. I did my job. But I never got my ass in the seat right," Schumacher added during the 2014 interview. "There’s nobody else to blame but me. I could have said, 'No, I’m not going to do it.' I just hope whenever I see a list of the worst movies ever made, we’re not on it. I didn’t do a good job. George did. Chris [O’Donnell] did. Uma [Thurman] is brilliant in it. Arnold is Arnold."

Schumacher also helmed The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), Flatliners (1990), The Phantom of the Opera (2004) and The Number 23 (2007).