Over his six-decade career, Richard Donner made movies that endured. With Superman, he ushered in the modern superhero film. With The Goonies, he redefined childhood adventure. He worked across genres, always using the word “verisimilitude” as his mantra; he maintained that the key to a great film was to be truthful, honor the source material, and take it seriously. If a character happened to be able to fly, so be it.
And to think that Donner almost didn’t become a director. When he was starting out as a young bit actor, he once recalled, filmmaker Martin Ritt told him: “You can’t take direction. You ought to be a director.” The rest was history. Academy members, including Edgar Wright, Kevin Smith, and Josh Gad, have all paid tribute to the film legend, who died this week at 91. Steven Spielberg called him “the greatest Goonie of all.”
If you’re new to Richard Donner’s work, or if you’ve seen the entire Lethal Weapon series more than once, it’s always a good idea to revisit the classics.
See also: A look back at the Academy’s tribute to Richard Donner in 2017, featuring words from Geoff Johns, Kevin Feige, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and more.
This supernatural horror film stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as a couple whose child might actually be… the devil. As typical of horror films of the era (i.e., The Exorcist), there’s also a priest, played by Leo McKern, who tries to warn Peck’s character of the troubles surrounding him. The Omen is the kind of movie you might want to watch with a friend—or with the lights on. It earned two Oscar nominations, including Best Original Score and Best Original Song, ultimately winning the award for Score.
In a hard pivot from horror, Donner went on to direct Superman—starring Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, and more—thus ushering in a new era of superhero films. The comic-book hero hadn’t made an on-screen appearance since the 1950s TV show Adventures of Superman. So, with a $55 million budget (it was the most expensive film made up until that point), Donner was able to pull off a series of convincing visual effects and create a star out of Reeve, who played the Man of Steel. The film also featured a score by John Williams and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound. It received a Special Achievement Oscar for Visual Effects.
If you like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or Gremlins, chances are you’ll really like The Goonies. The Amblin production, helmed by Donner, follows a crew of kids who, in an effort to save two of the brothers’ home, set off on an adventure, guided by the “X” on a pirate treasure map. In true Spielbergian form, the movie is full of elaborate obstacles, memorable performances, and quotable dialogue (“Goonies never say die!”).
Over the course of 11 years, Donner directed all four Lethal Weapon films. The action series stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as two cops who must put aside their differences to solve crimes. Gibson’s Martin Riggs is a suicidal detective, and Glover’s Roger Murtaugh is a veteran cop and family man. The films bring together action, stunts, and fight sequences, which is all to say, Donner excelled in the action genre, too. Donner and Gibson paired up again for the film Maverick in 1994 and Conspiracy Theory in 1997.
In what’s become a modern Christmas classic, a television executive and curmudgeon played by Bill Murray is haunted by three spirits who open his eyes to his past wrongdoings. It’s an updated version of A Christmas Carol with a Saturday Night Live edge. (The script was co-written by Mitch Glazer and former SNL head writer Michael O’Donoghue.) Perfect for the holiday season—or a random Sunday afternoon in July.