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Richard Donner, director of summertime blockbusters, dies at 91

He made Superman and The Goonies, and a lot of the fandom that followed

Actor Joe Pantoliano, actor Jeff Cohen, actress Lupe Ontiveros, director Richard Donner, actor Ke Huy Quan, director Robert Davi and actor Corey Feldman attend the Warner Bros. 25th Anniversary celebration of “The Goonies”
Richard Donner (center, blue shirt) with actors Joe Pantoliano (Francis Fratelli), Jeff Cohen (Chunk), Lupe Ontiveros (Rosalita), Ke Huy Quan (Data), Robert Davi (Jake Fratelli), and Corey Feldman (Mouth) at a 2010 celebration of The Goonies’ 25th anniversary.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Richard Donner, the director in charge of 1980s summertime blockbusters like The Goonies, and whose creative vision led 1978’s groundbreaking Superman, died on Monday. He was 91.

Donner’s passing, first shared by his wife and film production partner Lauren Shuler Donner, drew tributes from his contemporaries and several other filmmaking luminaries. In a statement, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, called the Donners “mentors during my early career, and key supporters throughout the birth of the MCU.”

In a statement released by Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg called Donner “the greatest Goonie of all.” That references the 1985 adolescent adventure Donner directed for Spielberg, in which a group of misfit preteens go in search of long-lost pirate treasure to save their neighborhood from zealous country-club developers.

“He was all kid,” Spielberg said. “All heart. All the time.”

Richard Donald Schwartzenberg was born April 24, 1930, in The Bronx, New York. His early directing career came in television, delivering famous episodes of The Twilight Zone (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring William Shatner) and Hanna-Barbera’s electric kool-aid children’s show The Banana Splits.

In feature films, his first big hit was The Omen, a 1976 horror movie in which Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are a couple raising the Antichrist. That was followed by 1978’s Superman, which many regard as the beginning of the modern superhero movie genre that has dominated box offices for the past 30 years.

Superman arrived to theaters about 18 months after Star Wars, and capitalized on the public’s burgeoning fandom for science fiction and comic book blockbusters. Superman was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Film Editing, and started with a cold open credits sequence that brought audiences to their feet, roaring with applause.

A dispute with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, however, led to Donner being fired from the celebrated sequel Superman II (shot contemporaneously with the first movie) after he had filmed about three-quarters of its footage. Superman II, which premiered in 1980, received a re-released Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut in 2006, at the same time Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns premiered. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut won a Saturn Award in 2007 for Best DVD Special Edition Release.

After Superman, Donner was best known for helming the Danny Glover/Mel Gibson buddy-cops-on-the-edge Lethal Weapon franchise, as well as 1988’s Bill Murray holiday vehicle Scrooged.

But his influence on summertime sci-fi and comic-book movie fandom is perhaps most felt in 1985’s The Goonies, another crowd-pleaser that helped establish a kids-versus-the-world subvariety later exemplified (and celebrated) in shows like Stranger Things.

The Goonies grossed $61 million against a production budget of $19 million, and in 2017 was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, by the Library of Congress, as a motion picture of cultural significance. Superman was also selected for preservation that same year.

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