Cult movies: Richard Donner was a true superhero of movie-making

Richard Donner's definitive Superman (1978) made a star of Christopher Reeve and set the benchmark for superhero movies
Ralph McLean

Richard Donner (1930-2021)

WHEN Richard Donner passed away this week a large part of Hollywood history shuffled off to the great cinema in the sky with him.

'Prolific' barely covers the credits that the much admired American director and producer clocked up in a career that stretched back to the 1960s.

We may live now in an era when film-makers are acclaimed for making pretty much the same movie time after time, and taking an eternity to do so as well, but Donner came from a time when you had to be able to turn your hand to just about anything, make it quickly and make it brilliantly.

A quick glance at the films he gave us down the decades shows just how eclectic he was in his choices and just how successful he was in the delivery of his many, varied projects.

He last took his seat in the director's chair in 2016 but it's to the 1970s and 1980s that we need to look to appreciate the pure cinematic genius of the man. He helmed everything from the likes of Superman to The Goonies and Lethal Weapon, as if it was the easiest gig in the world.

He gifted the watching world sinister chillers like The Omen and comedy classics such as Scrooged and, as producer, his fingerprints were all over some of the most successful TV shows and film franchises ever made.

If you want proof, just consider the Lethal Weapon series. Across a decade of sequels those films grossed almost $1,000 million dollars worldwide - that is successful by anyone's standards.

In fact, it's hard to think of a single movie-maker with the ability to entertain and enthral mass audiences across a whole range of cinema styles in quite the way Donner did. From comic book capers to timeless comedy and iconic cop movies the man could, it seems, do it all.

He started in TV in that most golden era for small screen magic, the 1960s. The work he did on classic series such as The Twilight Zone, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild, Wild West stood him in good stead for his big screen adventures in the following decade and beyond with their emphasis on fun, style and entertainment above everything else.

Personally, I could name you a dozen Donner films that have made my life better but if I had to pick one it would have to be Superman.

That 1978 blockbuster made a star of Christopher Reeve and made millions for Warner Bros in the process. Grossing more than $300 million at the global box office it created the blueprint for the entire superhero genre and it still stands up today.

With it's innate understanding of what audiences want and a playful, almost childlike, sense of wonder that permeates just about every frame, it's the kind of instant classic that most director's would kill for to have on their CV just once.

That Donner clocked up hit after hit of a similar status only reminds us just how great a showman he really was.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access