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SYFY WIRE Richard Donner

Richard Donner dies: Iconic director of Superman, The Goonies & more was 91

By Benjamin Bullard
Richard Donner

Richard Donner, who directed some of the biggest pieces of the world’s genre-loving childhood, has passed away, according to Deadline. The iconic director and producer, who helmed the beloved 1970s big-screen Superman blockbuster and the swashbuckling 1980s kids’ adventure The Goonies, was 91.

Donner directed some of the biggest movie hits of the 1970s and 1980s, in the process playing a vital role in bringing horror, science fiction, and fantasy into the box office mainstream. He directed horror classic The Omen in 1976 before taking the reins of DC’s Superman franchise in 1978, in the process making household names and permanent sci-fi royalty of stars Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent, aka Superman) and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane).

Donner’s prolific career also introduced many larger-than-life franchises into the permanent pop culture lexicon, including Gilligan’s Island, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged, and many more. Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in 1930 in The Bronx, New York, Donner reportedly passed away on Monday, July 5.

After the success of Superman and its 1980 sequel, which received a 2006 re-release as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut as an alternative to the original Richard Lester-directed version, Donner’s big-screen career embarked on a string of box office successes. The Goonies released in the same year as another Donner-directed hit, the comedy The Toy starring Richard Pryor. He directed Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1985 dark fantasy film Ladyhawke, before teaming with stars Mel Gibson and Dany Glover to launch the immensely successful Lethal Weapon franchise, beginning with the first film in 1987.

Donner also directed Bill Murray in 1988’s Scrooged, delivering what has since become a perennial comedic film favorite spin on A Christmas Carol, the classic Charles Dickens Christmas tale. He produced Tales from the Crypt Presents: Ritual, HBO’s 2002 feature film based on its popular horror-comedy series, and directed an early-career Paul Walker alongside Frances O’Connor and Gerard Butler in the 2003 science fiction adventure Timeline. As an executive producer alongside producer Lauren Schuler Donner, his wife, Donner’s long list of film credits also includes 2000’s X-Men and its 2009 prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the ensuing decades, Donner’s far-ranging screen interests also yielded an abundance of television hits. Donner helmed six episodes from the fifth season of The Twilight Zone, including William Shatner’s memorable appearance in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," as well as episodes including "From Agnes – with Love," "Sounds and Silences," “The Jeopardy Room,” "The Brain Center at Whipple's," and "Come Wander with Me.” Donner directed several episodes of the classic 1960s TV comedy Gilligan’s Island, and worked on more than two dozen small-screen successes in all, including The Fugitive, Combat!, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Kojak, and many more.

Donner was never nominated for an Academy Award, but his seminal work in framing comic book and science fiction stories into big-budget films that critics took seriously yielded a long list of recognitions. He earned 1979 Best Director honors from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Superman, which also won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in the same year. His final film credit was 2006’s 16 Blocks, an action thriller starring Bruce Willis, David Morse, and actor/hip-hop star Mos Def.