A Richard Donner Tribute – Top Five Films

The iconic director Richard Donner has passed on, and for any fan of movies, his distinctive body of work is a stellar reminder of what the best of Hollywood can create.  From franchises to important dramatic works, Richard Donner was an old school filmmaker with a serious knack for not only putting together casts that kill but creating a cinematic story that sells. A master craftsman, well-deserving of a tribute, I have fittingly highlighted here five of my favorite films – the best of Donner.  And while there are films not featured here that are still highly memorable (The Omen is one creepy decapitating outing!), fun as hell (Maverick was just a joyride!) and worth watching (Radio Flyer is a hard watch but a worthy one!), what’s selected below are flicks that showcase a filmmaker who will be sorely missed.  In loving memory of the late great Richard Donner, here are his …Top Five Films.

1. “LETHAL WEAPON” (1987)

Yes, many people made the original Lethal Weapon a five-star flick.  Yes, the script by a young up-and-coming writer Shane Black was perfect prose.  Yes, the casting by actor-loving movie maven Marion Dougherty was a game-changer.  (It was originally her idea to cast Danny Glover!)  And yes, the soothing sax sounds ala Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen brought the soulful score to a film already steeped in style.  But it was the filmmaking crazy glue talent of cinematic chef Richard Donner that took all the above ingredients and made one damn fine movie meal.  The iconic team of cops Riggs and Murtaugh would go on to span four films, some good (part three reinvigorated the franchise for me with the arrival of Rene Russo!), some average (part four was reaching but had nostalgia!), but the original film showed one thing proof positive – dining with Donner was an unforgettable experience.


2. “THE GOONIES” (1985)

Do I really need to explain and dissect the genius behind The Goonies?  Created at a time when kid movies dared to be more than merely Disney fluff fests (thanks Spielberg!), The Goonies was a relatable tale of kids we were, knew, and loved simply doing what kids do – getting into trouble and having a blast.  Add to that quirky characters (Sloth?!), classic lines (”Goonies never say die!”), and an old school tale of finding buried treasure, and you’ve got a distinctive 80’s outing that’s nevertheless timeless.


3. “SUPERMAN” (1978)

Proving indeed that “you’ll believe a man can fly,” Superman should at the very least be credited with grandfathering in every other superhero flick that followed afterward.  But at most, it showed what a master talent wrangler Donner was early on.  Filling his stylish popcorn movie with thespians that would make The Actor’s Studio blush, Superman sported a who’s who of greats thanks to the vision of Dick Donner.  Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, the lovely and tough Margot Kidder, a young and soulfully rich Christopher Reeve as his man of steel, and especially the iconic Marlon Brando as Jor-El – Donner understood the value of star wattage.


4. “LADYHAWKE” (1985)

Quirky, fun, and yet still rich in moments of drama and period, Ladyhawke may be one of Donner’s lesser-remembered outings, but it’s still one of his best.  A hidden gem that matched comedy (a mousey Matthew Broderick!), drama (the inner turmoil-projecting prowess of Rutger Hauer is on display in full force!), and mystery (every time Michelle Pfeiffer’s wide-eyed ingénue appears, it elicits goosebumps!) into one engaging love story of an outing, Ladyhawke may seem like cinematically simple stuff, but nothing can be further from the truth.



Don’t get me wrong, I liked the theatrical version (helmed by Director Mark Lester after Donner was taken off!), but this cut of the film back under the control of Donner is both a more meaningful dramatic picture and sports a natural progression from the first film.  While Lester’s version was more of a fun fluff piece and ultimately turned Reeve into a bit of a court jester, this new cut showed Donner really understood the hubris behind the Superman mythology, added back in the much-needed work of Marlon Brando previously unseen to solidify the father/son bond and showcased the best work of Reeve’s career – what a difference a little Donner makes.



I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

  1. No Comments