Richard Donner's Best Movies, Ranked – MovieWeb

From The Omen to Superman, The Goonies to Lethal Weapon, versatile director Richard Donner helmed some of the biggest movies of the 1970s and ’80s.
Richard Donner was responsible for some of the most successful movies of his time, including three that launched their own franchises. He was a key part of the revolution that focused Hollywood on summer blockbusters, something we still live with today. And yet he was rarely recognized for his contributions, certainly not to the extent of others like Spielberg and Lucas, until the outpouring of gratitude that followed his death in 2021.
Perhaps it was because Donner was routinely dismissed as a director of "popcorn" flicks, enjoyable but not meaningful. Or maybe it was that his films were so different from each other, lacking a distinct style. After all, his three franchise blockbusters, The Omen, Superman, and Lethal Weapon, were in three different genres. But that just proves his versatility, and even movies that didn't make this list, including 1985's Ladyhawke and his final effort, 16 Blocks from 2006, are worth watching. It wasn't easy to narrow down, but here is our list of underappreciated director Richard Donner's seven best movies.
Though Donner was known for high-profile projects, he did direct a number of smaller films. Among the best is 1980's Inside Moves, about a failed suicide attempt that leaves a man named Roary partially disabled. Donner later said he took the job to get his mind off being fired from Superman II. Now largely forgotten, the film was notable for its Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for Diana Scarwid's performance as Roary's girlfriend Louise. Donner was also praised for proving that he could direct a picture so different from the blockbusters for which he had become known.
By 1994, Richard Donner needed to prove he could do more than buddy cop sequels in his Lethal Weapon franchise. So, he agreed to something completely different: Maverick, a Western comedy based on a television series from the late 1950s. The movie was a surprising hit with both critics and audiences, eventually becoming one of the highest-grossing Westerns of all time. It starred Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, two of the most popular actors in Hollywood, as well as James Garner, who had played the title role in the original more than 30 years earlier.
Donner had started in television as well, directing for dozens of shows, including several well-known Westerns, Wanted Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen, and The Rifleman with Chuck Connors. But Donner's greatest contribution to television was one of his six episodes of The Twilight Zone. The third episode of the fifth and final season of the show's original run, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" starred a young William Shatner, and is routinely ranked among the best of the series. It was remade for both the 1983 film and the 2019 revival, as well as endlessly parodied by Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, among others.
Related: Best New Western Movies Since 2010, Ranked
Though Donner had directed three smaller films, 1976's The Omen was his first major motion picture. Neither he nor star Gregory Peck were particularly interested in making a horror movie, so both approached it as a thrilling family drama. Peck was legendary for his many leading roles, including in To Kill a Mockingbird, but was looking for a distraction from personal tragedy, as his eldest son had recently been found dead, apparently by suicide.
Donner, already in his mid-40s, proved adept at handling the difficult and melodramatic material in The Omen, leaving enough ambiguity for viewers to doubt the satanic nature of the tragedies befalling the family. Audiences responded, making the film one of the highest-grossing of the year. It earned two Oscar nominations and is now considered one of the landmark horror films of the 1970s. It was also the first of Donner's movies to launch its own franchise, which includes two television series and four additional movies to date, with at least one more in development.
Richard Donner was nothing if not versatile, which is probably why he was chosen for Scrooged. The 1988 film is a dark fantasy comedy retelling of A Christmas Carol, and also a satire of the commercialization of the holidays. But Donner and sometimes wild star Bill Murray seem to have had different visions for the movie and clashed on set. At the time of its release, Scrooged got mixed reviews, with some critics calling it mean-spirited or even hypocritical. But today the movie has become a holiday tradition, if not a classic.
Donner's challenge with 1985's The Goonies was that it's as much a non-stop theme park ride as a movie, with a cast made up almost entirely of children. One of Chris Columbus' earliest screenplays, it was based on a story by no less than Steven Spielberg, who also was frequently present on set. Donner later admitted that it wasn't always easy working with so many child actors. But the movie, now a cult classic, launched the careers of Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, and Martha Plimpton, in part because of the performances that Donner coaxed from them.
Related: Shipwreck Believed to Have Inspired The Goonies Found Off Oregon Coast
The idea of teaming two police officers with different personalities for comedic effect was not new in 1987, with movie examples going back decades. And Eddie Murphy had revived the genre only years earlier with 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop. So while Lethal Weapon definitely benefited from a strong screenplay, it was the casting of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and Donner's focus on their relationship, that made the film work.
Gibson was already well-known for his portrayal of Mad Max in three movies, but Lethal Weapon made him one of the biggest stars of the era. He would work with Donner five more times, including on 1989's Lethal Weapon 2. The first of three sequels, it was well-reviewed and an even bigger box office success. The franchise most recently included a television series, though another movie is reportedly in the works.
Richard Donner will always be remembered first and foremost for Superman. And why not? The 1978 film launched the modern era of superhero movies, where comic book material was taken more seriously. It continued the trend of summer blockbusters, which started in 1975 with Jaws and continued in 1977 with Star Wars, and studios follow even now. With a budget of $55 million, Superman was the most expensive film ever made at the time, but expectations were not high following press coverage of its long and troubled production. Still, Donner made it work, convincing audiences that Christopher Reeve could fly, and just as importantly, delivering scenes and dialogue that made the movie hopeful, charming, and accessible. It eventually made more than $300 million worldwide.
Even fans may not realize that most of what became 1980's Superman II was shot at the same time as the first movie; not back-to-back, but simultaneously. Indeed, some three-quarters of the sequel was directed by Donner during the original 19-month filming period. But tensions with producer Pierre Spengler and public criticism of the decision to cut Marlon Brando's already completed scenes led Donner to be fired and replaced with Richard Lester, who finished the movie. Decades later, Donner got the chance to oversee his own edit, released as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut in 2006. And, of course, if that wasn't enough validation, the franchise he started continues strong to this day.
JM Maher is a lifelong fan of film and television. Always interested in creative projects, he has worked on everything from mobile games to cookbooks. When not traveling, he lives with his wife and two children in Nebraska.


About Summ

Check Also

The best movies leaving Netflix, HBO, and more in March to watch now – Polygon

Use your Google Account Forgot email?Not your computer? Use a private browsing window to sign …