Hollywood Legend Richard Donner Dies at 91
Director and producer Richard Donner, who is best known for the Lethal Weapon film series and the original Superman film, died on Monday, July 5th, 2021, at the age of 91. Among many other impressive aspects of his legacy is the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe likely wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for Donner’s willingness to take on the fresh faced intern, Kevin Feige.
Richard Donner Retrospective
The legendary director, producer, and occasional comic book writer was born Richard Donald Schwartzberg, and he was raised in the Bronx. He initially wanted to develop a career in acting, and even attended New York University as an acting major where he performed with amateur companies in what he called “five-line parts” off-Broadway.
Donner had some success in his early acting career, even getting a bit part in a television show on directed by Martin Ritt, titled Of Human Bondage. However, Ritt wasn’t impressed with the young actor’s ability to take direction on set. According to Donner, Ritt told him: “Your problem is that you can’t take direction. You ought to be a director.”
Though not his first film (which was X-15 in 1961), his big directorial break came with 1976’s The Omen, starring Lee Remick and Gregory Peck. Thereafter, Donner went on to direct the original Superman: The Movie in 1978, starring the late Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman, which kicked off the very profitable DCEU.
In regards to Superman, he once confessed,
Nobody knew how to go about it. It was the blind leading the blind, all experimentation … One of my greatest attributes on the picture was I knew what I wanted. I didn’t know how to get it, but I wouldn’t accept anything until I saw it.
Luckily for comic book movie fans, the director’s dedication and vision showed in the final product, and the film managed to make people believe that a man could fly, as shown in his marketing campaign.
Thereafter, Donner also brought his craftsmanship to producing alongside his wife Lauren Shuler Donner, with films like The Lost Boys, Delirious, and Free Willy.
He was the executive producer on 2000’s X-Men, which grossed $297 million worldwide the year it came out, and the later prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman, which grossed $379 million worldwide.
Donner’s Impact on Kevin Feige
Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige started his career as an intern at Donner’s production company. Like the comic book characters that he helped popularize, Feige has had his own hero’s journey from Marvel fanboy to Marvel uber-producer, all with the help of his very own Tony Stark, director-producer Donner.
— Marvel Studios (@MarvelStudios) July 5, 2021
Before becoming Marvel Studios’ head-boss, there was a couple in a position of power willing to give Feige his first big break. In fact, Feige shared this story in the past, filming a segment for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ tribute to the late Goonies director, in which he credited 1978’s Superman for its excellence and significance to not only his career, but to Marvel Studios as well, saying:
Superman: The Movie is still to this day the archetype of the perfect superhero film origin story and we watch it before we make almost any one of our films, and that’s been the case for the past seventeen years since I left the fold to go work for Marvel.
Feige’s first Marvel credit is working as associated producer alongside the Donners on 2000’s X-Men. The first X-Men film almost didn’t get made, but thanks to Donners’ encouragement of Feige and his passions, the film came to be:
I started writing notes on the early drafts of X-Men that came in, and because Lauren is an amazing mentor and is so gracious, she would read the notes. Eventually, she started saying, ‘Hey, come into the office and sit with me.’ I would be sitting with Tom DeSanto, who’s the producer of X-Men, and Bryan Singer, who was the newly-hired director, and I just started to become a part of that creative team.
Stan Lee tried to get Hollywood to take Marvel Comics seriously for years, and when Donner and Feige came along, the publisher had finally found someone who speaks their the language and we are all the luckier for it.
Marvel Blog sends its condolences to those closest to him, but we hope that the legacy of his movies will ensure his memory for generations to come.