Earlier today, the film and comics industries were saddened by the loss of Richard Donner. The filmmaker behind hits like Superman: The Movie and the Lethal Weapon movies passed away today, according to statements from his wife, X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner. The filmmaker, who also directed Scrooged and The Goonies, remained a significant part of the superhero-movie discourse for years after he was done with his Superman films. On the DVD box set for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, a conversation between Donner and Nolan is included as a bonus feature. A tribute to Donner mounted a few years ago featured appearances by then-Warner Bros. and DC executive Geoff Johns as well as Marvel honcho Kevin Feige.
Both Johns and Feige worked with Donner as young men. Feige has always been open about the influence that Richard and Lauren Shuler Donner had on his approach to superhero storytelling.
"Richard Donner not only made me believe a man could fly, he made me believe that comic characters could be brought to life on the big screen with heart, humor, humanity, and verisimilitude," Feige said in a statement. "Above all, he taught me that it can and must be done with respect, caring, and kindness to everyone in front of and behind the camera. Dick and Lauren became mentors during my early career, and key supporters throughout the birth of the MCU. I owe my career to the way they took the time to nurture and teach a kid from New Jersey who didn't know how to use a fax machine or make coffee very well. I always thought that Dick was immortal. I still do. My thoughts are with Lauren and the entire family."
Donner was born Richard Donald Schwartzberg on April 24, 1930, in The Bronx, New York. After initially hoping to get his start in the industry as an actor, Donner was motivated to go into the world of directing, and began helming commercials and western TV shows in the late 1950s. Donner's TV work included episodes of The Fugitive, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Gilligan's Island, and Tales From the Crypt. He also directed two iconic episodes of the original run of The Twilight Zone — "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "From Agnes — With Love".
Donner's breakout project was 1976's The Omen, the cult classic supernatural horror film. Just two years later, Donner directed Superman: The Movie, the Christopher Reeve-starring project that is regarded as setting the blueprint for modern superhero films. Donner also participated in principal production of Superman II, before being fired from the project and replaced by Richard Lester after creative differences with the film's producers. In 2006, fans got to see Donner's original vision of the project fully realized with the release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
Our thoughts go out to Mr. Donner's family, friends, and fans at this difficult time.