Joel Schumacher, director of Batman movies Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and many other famous films like The Lost Boys, Falling Down, St. Elmo's Fire and A Time to Kill, is dead at the age of 80. Variety reports that Schumacher died on Monday in New York City, after a year-long battle with cancer. While his Batman films will keep him alive in infamy for as long as the character is around, Joel Schumacher was also notable as one of Hollywood's most openly gay directors, who is increasingly recognized for adding LGBTQ+ themes and aesthetic into otherwise traditional Hollywood genre fare. He was a one-of-a-kind visionary (love or hate that vision), and will surely be missed.
Joel Schumacher was born in 1939 in New York City, to the interesting mix of a Swedish Jewish mother and Baptist father from Tennessee. A love of fashion led Schumacher to NYC's Parsons The New School for Design, and then Fashion Institute of Technology. Along that path, he discovered that filmmaking was a better expression of his creative talents and subsequently moved to Los Angeles. Schumacher got his first work doing costume design on the 1970s adaptation of author Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, followed by Woody Allen's Sleeper in 1973. After that, he got his first directing gig on a TV Movie (Virginia Hill in 1974), and started making a name for himself as both a director and a writer, penning both the cult-hit '70s film Car Wash and the screen adaptation of William F. Brown's Wizard of Oz re-imagining, The Wiz (1978).
No doubt Schumacher's name gained much more prominence in the industry as h helped usher in the era of the "Brat Pack" in '80s films. St. Elmo's Fire was a 1985 coming-of-adult-age tale about a group of college graduates, which helped build the careers of Rob Lowe, Andie MacDowell, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson. Even though critics panned it, the film still earned a nice profit ($37 million on a $10 million budget). 1987's The Lost Boys was a major success for Schumacher, mixing horror and comedy while helping usher in the careers of Jason Patrick, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Alex Winter and others. Lost Boys has since become an '80s horror icon, sparking an upcoming Lost Boys TV series revival.
In the '90s, Schumacher graduated to bigger budget genre films, scoring cult-hits with movies like Flatliners, Falling Down, and the John Grisham adaptations The Client and A Time to Kill. Even his 1999 Nic Cage film 8mm became a cult-hit, due to its disturbing narrative about an investigation into the world of "snuff films." But what definitely changed the course of Joel Schumacher's career was making his two Batman films Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, in 1995 and 1997, respectively. The first Schumacher Bat-film was controversial for its tonal departure from the Tim Burton films, but pulled in a lot of bank ($336.6 million). Batman & Robin pulled in less money ($200 million) and all but killed the franchise with its campy approach to the superhero.
After Batman & Robin Joel Schumacher was never given quite the same level of opportunity as a director. He would go through the 2000s making cult genre films like Phone Booth and The Number 23, as well as an adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera, which received mixed reviews. As the Batman franchise moved on into the Chris Nolan era of The Dark Knight Trilogy - and later Zack Snyder's Batfleck - Schumacher would later issue an apology to the Batman fandom, regarding Batman & Robin:
“Look, I apologize. I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that... You know, I just knew not to do a sequel. If you get lucky, walk away. But everybody at Warner Brothers just expected me to do one. Maybe it was some hubris on my part. I had a batting average of 1,000, so I went from falling down a bit after Lost Boys, to a kind of a genius with The Client, a big blockbuster with Batman Forever, then had great reviews with A Time to Kill, so my batting average was good. I never planned on being, that dreadful quote, 'a blockbuster king' because my other films were much smaller and had just found success with the audience and not often with the critics, which is really why we wrote them. And then after Batman & Robin, I was scum. It was like I had murdered a baby."
Time of course changes everything, and as stated, Schumacher's work as a visionary (and particularly an LGBTQ+ filmmaker, ahead of his time) has now become much more celebrated. His thematic narrative in Falling Down has become a fixation of modern socio-political discourse, while Lost Boys is getting new life. Even his Batman films have gotten ironic mention in modern Batman lore, like comics and animated series. So while Joel Schumacher may have faced a lot of criticism in life, his legacy will live on long past his death.