RIP Richard Donner, the legend who made Superman one of us


I woke up to the news of Richard Donner’s passing and immediately remembered the great artists he had created. The 91-year-old filmmaker was at the forefront of some of the most popular genres in mainstream cinema history: superhero movie, horror movie, boyfriend cop. And much of what he’s done, with a tremendous sense of style, is unforgettable.

Christopher Reeve as Superman (not a bird, not a plane, what a line), that distinctive cloak flowing behind, made us believe he could fly. Yes, he had superpowers. Yes, he was from an alien planet. Yes, nothing could destroy it (except a mysterious substance called kryptonite, which emanated from the killer emerald rays). But we always felt like he was one of us, as we watched him frolic as shy journalist Clark Kent, who is harassed by his brutal boss and develops feelings for his colleague, the charming Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) then goes out and saves the world.

Richard Donner with Christopher Reeve in Superman Christopher Reeve played the lead actor in director Richard Donner Superman (1978). (Photo: Twitter / TomTaylorMade)

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Many superheroes have graced our screens after Superman: Spider-Man popularized this beautiful line “with great power comes great responsibility” as he leaps on high towers; the dark and anguished Batman rides in his sleek car through dark Gotham, and a host of other Marvel stars have shown up after that first Superman, out of bustling ’70s Hollywood. Superman has become a franchise. The others too. But the red and blue costumed aviator in the sky of this first iteration claimed a place in our hearts and refused to be dislodged.

Then there was The Omen (1976). Donner created a beautiful family with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, and a little cherub-like boy plunged them into an area where nothing good ever happens, and gave us the fear of our lives.

Richard Donner with Danny Glover Mel Gibson Danny Glover and Mel Gibson with the filmmaker at the Richard Donner Tribute in 2017 (Photo: AP / File)

The boy is adopted, and as he grows up horrible things start to happen. Accidents leading to imminent deaths, wolves circling around, bizarre murders. Who is this little boy with those pale, cold eyes? Why is disaster stalking him so closely?

The Exorcist had come a few years before The Omen, seizing the first player advantage in the sky of supernatural horror. But The Omen, in many ways, was even scarier. Since then, I have never been able to look at the slender spiers atop churches without shivering. And I studiously stayed away from number 666. Perfect day to revisit this thrilling film.

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And who can forget Lethal Weapon’s (1987) rat-a-tat fun, in which Mel Gibson and Donny Glover team up, the former disillusioned with the world’s corrupt ways, the latter an equally grizzled Vietnamese vet, and go after the bad guys, bad guys? Police buddy movies weren’t new; but the White and Black pair for weight was surely a novelty. There was rhythm, smart lines, and fast action, and two actors were doing their jobs.

No, we’ll never be too old for this shit.

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