Richard Donner: life and career of Goonies, Superman and Lethal Weapon director - and best films remembered

Mel Gibson, Steven Spielberg and Danny Glover have paid tribute to the movie director legend who has died at 91

Film director Richard Donner has died aged 91.

Donner was the director of some of the most iconic movies in the 1980’s including Superman, The Goonies, The Omen and Lethal Weapon.

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Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Donner’s production company confirmed the news to Variety on Monday (6 July). A cause of death has yet to be announced.

Richard Donner’s life and career

The New York-born director began his career in TV in the 1960’s. He directed several episodes of shows, including The Man from UNCLE, The Twilight Zone and Kojak.

However, it wasn’t until his switch to the big screen that Donner began to become a star behind the camera.

He directed the 1976 horror classic The Omen. Starring Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn, the film tells the story of Peck’s child who turns out to be the Antichrist.

Two years after The Omen’s release, Donner’s next film was Superman starring Christopher Reeve as the titular character.

The film also featured Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. The film went on to become the sixth highest grossing film ever, and was nominated for three Academy Awards, in the Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound categories.

Principal photography for the first installment also included shots for the sequel, Superman II, but Donner was replaced by Richard Lester, and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut wouldn't be released until 2006.

His post Superman success saw him direct the iconic family comedy The Goonies in 1985, and help launch the Lethal Weapon franchise, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in 1987.

Donner’s final credit as a movie director came with the 2006 action thriller 16 Blocks, starring Bruce Willis and Mos Def.

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He said as recently as December 2020 that he still planned to direct a fifth Lethal Weapon film, which would've been his final project. "This is the final one. It's both my privilege and duty to put it to bed," he said.

The production company he ran with his wife, Lauren Schuler, also produced the X-Men and Free Willy franchises.

Tributes paid to Richard Donner

Director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) was among those who paid tribute to Donner on Monday, writing on Twitter: “Richard Donner's big heart and effervescent charm shone in his movies through the remarkable performances of his cast, which is no mean feat.

You remember all the characters in Superman, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies & more, because Donner knew how to capture that magic onscreen.”

In a statement to Deadline, Mel Gibson said, “Donner! My friend, my mentor. Oh, the things I learned from him! He undercut his own talent and greatness with a huge chunk of humility referring to himself as ‘merely a traffic cop.’ He left his ego at the door and required that of others. He was magnanimous of heart and soul, which he liberally gave to all who knew him. If we piled up all the good deeds he did, it would stretch to some uncharted place in the firmament. I will sorely miss him, with all his mischievous wit and wisdom.”

In a statement through his Amblin production company, he said: "Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres.

"Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with you favoUrite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friends, staunchest ally, and - of course - the greatest Goonie of all.

"He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can't believe he's gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always."

Corey Feldman, one of the stars of The Goonies, tweeted that Donner "was an incredible human" who was there for him in difficult times.