Variety reports that legendary American filmmaker Richard Donner has passed away, at the age of 91. The cause was not disclosed. Donner directed 1978’s Superman: The Movie, and parts of its sequel Superman II, and would later revisit the character with co-writer Geoff Johns on DC’s “Action Comics” in the late 2000s. He also helmed The Omen, The Goonies, Ladyhawke, Scrooged, and all four Lethal Weapon movies, and also produced 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies with his wife Lauren Shuler Donner.
Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in New York City on April 24, 1930, Donner got his start as a TV actor. After transitioning into writing and directing, he made his directorial debut with the aviation drama X-15 (starring David McLean, Charles Bronson, and Mary Tyler Moore) in 1961, and went on to helm episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Gilligan’s Island, Perry Mason, Get Smart, Wild Wild West, Kojak, and even The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.
His big screen breakthrough came with The Omen in 1976, the success of which landed him the job of directing the two-part Superman movie developed by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Filming on both movies — starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and many more — began in March 1977, and ended in October 1978. Tensions between Donner and the Salkinds led to the decision to stop filming the sequel (75 percent of which had been completed), and concentrate on finishing the first film for its release on December 15, 1978.
Despite the enormous success of Superman (which earned the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film), Donner was fired from the sequel, which was completed by Richard Lester (who had initially been brought on board as an intermediary between the director and the Salkinds.) Donner would eventually revisit the film in 2006 with the home release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which required the use of footage shot by Lester, as well as an early screen test of Reeve and Kidder, for scenes Donner had not filmed.
At the same time, Donner and his former production assistant, Geoff Johns, were writing the Man of Steel’s adventures in “Action Comics.” Their collaboration produced two arcs: ‘Last Son,’ with artist Adam Kubert, and ‘Escape From Bizarro World’ with Eric Powell. The former arc, which at the time infamously became the subject of heavy delays, introduced Christopher Kent (Lor-Zod), the foster son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and biological son of General Zod and Ursa. Donner, Johns and Superman would eventually reunite one more time for ‘The Car,’ a story by artist Olivier Coipel, published in 2018’s 80th anniversary special “Action Comics” #1000.
Donner’s last film was the 2006 thriller 16 Blocks, starring Bruce Willis and Mos Def, but he insisted he had not retired, stating as recently as last year that he still planned to direct Lethal Weapon 5. In an ironic twist of fate, he was brought onto the set of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine to serve as an intermediary between the film’s director, Gavin Hood, and Fox, which led to rumors he reshot the film.
As well as Johns, Donner was a mentor to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who got his start as an assistant to Lauren Shuler in the late ’90s, and subsequently became an associate producer on 2000’s X-Men (and many more Marvel movies) as a result. At an Academy Tribute to Donner attended by Feige and Johns in 2017, Feige stated, “Superman, the movie, is still, to this day, the archetype of the perfect superhero film origin story. I hope you don’t bemoan the fact that that film has inspired all of these movies.”