Richard Donner — the genre-jumping director behind the Lethal Weapon franchise and The Goonies — died Monday at 91 years old. Donner began his career directing the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, in the Western TV series Wanted Dead or Alive. He continued directing with Western TV shows like The Rifleman and Have Gun — Will Travel. Donner spent more than a half-century making beloved shows and movies. May he rest in peace as we salute him by watching some of our most beloved films from the iconic filmmaker.
Here are five great movies that showcase the diverse talents of the late, great Richard Donner.
The 1976 horror film was Donner’s first stab at the genre and grossed more than $60 million at the box office. The film starred acclaimed actor Gregory Peck and told the story of an adopted child who is the devil incarnate. Released on the heels of The Exorcist, Donner’s film takes much of its predecessor’s ingredients (possession of a child and a heroic yet unsuccessful priest, to name two) and creates another successful addition to the genre. The Omen proved Donner was a talented director capable of much more than TV Westerns.
In 1987, Donner breathed new life into the buddy-cop genre. His LA-based cop comedy starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover was such a success it spawned three sequels, all directed by Donner. The juxtaposition of police action and comedy even spawned a television spinoff in 2016 and a series of parody-sequels on the comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s not a stretch to say that without Donner there would be no Point Break, Bad Boys, or Rush Hour.
Perhaps Donner’s biggest contribution to film is his transformation of the superhero genre. In 1978, Donner directed Superman starring Christopher Reeve. The adaptation of the DC comic set a much more serious tone than that of previous comic book adaptations, such as the 1960s Batman series.
Donner was also an occasional comic book writer, and in 2000, he was an executive producer for X-Men, again proving his commitment to establishing superhero films as a legitimate form.
Bill Murray might be best known for films like Caddyshack and Ghostbusters, but 1988’s Scrooged is classic Murray. Donner directed the Christmas comedy right after finishing Lethal Weapon, proving he didn’t rely on action to make a blockbuster. The film also includes Murray’s three brothers, and despite creative differences between the star and director, the duo managed to create a film now included in many people’s annual Christmas watchlist.
Many of Donner’s movies could be considered cult classics, but no film is more worthy of that title than The Goonies. The children’s adventure-comedy is pure ’80s gold. Like being home-schooled or not playing sports as a child, when someone grows up without seeing The Goonies, it shows.
The film stars Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, and Corey Feldman in one of the most purely fun films of all time. In 2017, The Goonies was preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry due to its “importance to American cinema and the nation’s cultural and historical heritage.” The film grossed more than triple its budget, earning more than $63 million. After the film’s success, Donner kept up his pursuit of great filmmaking and continued to direct and produce for another 25 years.