Obituary: Director Joel Schumacher Dies Aged 80

The mighty Joel Schumacher has died at the age of 80. Having quietly battled cancer for a year, he finally succumbed to the disease. Movies In Focus has always been impressed by Schumacher’s visual flair and technique for storytelling. He’s a director who was sadly away from directing for too long and I’ll miss the type of mainstream films he directed. 

As one of the all-time great directors, he helmed a wonderful selection of films that included everything from The Incredible Shrinking Woman to Batman. A former costume designer turned writer with The Wiz and Car Wash, Schumacher segued into directing with the aforementioned Lily Tomlin starrer. The openly gay Schumacher hit the big-time with the astute Brat Pack feature St Elmo’s Fire. The 1985 film helped launch the careers of Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy and Emilio Estevez – and helping to launch careers was something that Schumacher would continue to do throughout his career. 

Schumacher would go on to direct the seminal 1987 horror The Lost Boys after producer Richard Donner dropped out because it was too similar in tone to The Goonies. Schumacher upped the characters ages and darkened the tone to deliver an MTV-style vampire film that still hits the mark. Shrewd casting, great music and a witty script made it classic teen vampire film which entertains.

He followed that Vampire pic with the astute and well played Cousins starring Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini. The director would follow that up with the tremendous Flatliners in 1990. The neon drenched hit film (produced by Michael Douglas) starred another great cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon. He later reunited with Roberts on the ill-fated 1991 film Dying Young. However, 1993’s Falling Down was a punchy and astute thriller with a career best turn by Michael Douglas and Schumacher followed that acclaimed film up with the hit John Grisham adaptation, The Client in 1994. 

Schumacher took on the directing reins with Batman Forever in 1995. Recasting Michael Keaton’s  Batman, with the younger and more athletic Val Kilmer, this version of Batman was more child-friendly and commercial, right down to Jim Carrey’s casting as The Riddler. The introduction of Robin also helped to lighten the character and Tommy Lee Jone’s Two-Face was a half-lightened version of his comic character. Financially more successful than Batman Returns, it appeared Schumacher’s neon lit Gotham City was what enthusiasts of the franchise desired. Then he delivered Batman and Robin.

With Kilmer filming The Saint (much to Schumacher’s annoyance) George Clooney was brought on board for a third incarnation of Batman. Batman was now once again a guest star in his own movie, this time in his own movie, due to the influx of villains such as Bat-Girl, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze and Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. Effectively a plot-point-by-plot-point reworking of Batman Forever, Batman and Robin returned Batman to the camp caped-crusader of the 1960′s television series. The film was critically mauled and the low box office led to the franchise being left dormant. It’s a poor film but a tremendous visual feast.

Schumacher directed the screen adaptation of John Grisham’s debut novel A Time To Kill in 1996, a film which launched the career of Matthew McConaughey that also starred Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, Ashley Judd, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland.

1998’s 8mm was Schumacher making amends for Batman and Robin. An Andrew Kevin Walker script with Nicolas Cage delivering one of his best performances, gave this gritty film an edge that most Hollywood studio productions don’t have. It also featured a strong supporting role from Joaquin Phoenix. While it might not be for everyone, it is a strong and powerful film. 

1999 saw Schumacher deliver the delicious double whammy of Flawless and Tigerland. The former a wonderful comedy-drama and the latter a hard-hitting Vietnam-era drama which introduced the world to Colin Farrell. 2002 saw the Chris Rock/Anthony Hopkins misfire Bad Company and reunited with Farrell with the claustrophobic thriller Phonebook. 2003 saw Schumacher take on the tale of Irish Journalist Veronica Guerin and he followed that up with an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera a year later. 

In 2007 Schumacher direct Jim Carrey in the thriller The Number 23 and in the 2009 Nazi horror Blood Creek starred Henry Cavill and Michael Fassbender. His final feature was the 2011 thriller Trespass starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman.

Schumacher ultimately rounded out his career with a pair of episodes of House Of Cards, showing that he still had a penchant for a bit of satire. 

A master visual stylist, Joe Schumacher drew a lot of criticism for having films which were all style and no substance. However, the director delivered a plethora of films across multiple genres which often tackled difficult subjects. His neon drenched films were a sight to behold, while he was also able to tease out wonderful performances from his actors. In a time where many mainstream films are soulless endeavours, Joel Schumacher features remind us that commercial movies can also be rich and textured. 

Joel Schumacher 1939 – 2020