Joel Schumacher, the colorful director of 23 feature films including Flatliners, Falling Down and perhaps the two most polarizing entries in the Batman franchise, has died at the age of 80 after a year-long battle with cancer, according to Deadline.
Other films on his resume included one of the defining movies of the “Brat Pack” era, St. Elmo’s Fire, along with the John Grisham adaptations A Time to Kill and The Client, the highly influential horror film The Lost Boys and the screen version of the long-running Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera.
But Schumacher was arguably best known for directing 1995’s Batman Forever and its follow-up, 1997’s Batman and Robin, which veered the series away from the dark, psychologically twisted tone established on Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) and into campier territory closer in spirit to the 1960s TV show.
Schumacher was born in New York City on August 29, 1939 and was initially drawn to the fashion industry, studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons The New School for Design. But he eventually realized he wanted to work in the film industry and moved to Los Angeles, where he found work as a costume designer on movies like The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Woody Allen’s Sleeper.
He soon shifted to screenplays, penning the scripts for Car Wash, the screen version of The Wiz and others, before landing his first directorial gig in 1981 with The Incredible Shrinking Woman.
He scored his first big hit with 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire, which was critically slammed but was a key movie for what became known as the “Brat Pack,” highlighting young stars such as Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Andrew McCarthy.
His next film was 1987’s The Lost Boys, which continued his penchant for spotting talented young actors — in this case Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, Corey Haim and others — while presenting vampires as youthful and sexy, a trope that would have an impact on vampire films for decades to come.
His other hits included Flatliners (1990) and Falling Down (1993), which was controversial for its empathetic portrayal of a middle class working stiff (played exceptionally by Michael Douglas) who goes on a rampage of violence as he tries to get across Los Angeles in time for his daughter’s birthday.
In 1994, Schumacher was recruited by Warner Bros. Pictures to take over the Batman series after it was decided that Tim Burton would not direct a third entry, following the disappointing response to his Batman Returns.
The studio gave Schumacher a mandate to lighten the tone of the series and make it more palatable to children. With a recast Dark Knight (Val Kilmer), the introduction of Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and two over-the-top villains in the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), Schumacher did just that, making his Batman Forever more akin to the Adam West TV series than Burton’s nightmarish vision.
Batman Forever was a hit, leading the studio to rush a fourth entry into production with Schumacher again at the helm. The result was Batman and Robin, which featured yet another new Batman (George Clooney) while amping up the humor, camp factor and neon-colored production design.
This time, however, the plan backfired as Batman and Robin became one of the most notorious big-budget flops of all time. Often derided as one of the worst comics-based movies ever made, it effectively killed the Batman franchise until it was revived by Christopher Nolan in 2005 with Batman Begins.
Schumacher later took responsibility for the film’s failure, saying, “I blame no one but myself,” adding, “There was a desire at Warner Bros. to make it more for kids…but I think the joke’s on me.” The openly gay filmmaker was also criticized for putting nipples on the Batman and Robin costumes and accentuating their anatomical accuracy.
The director did score hits after that with the dark 1999 murder mystery 8mm and the low-budget 2002 thriller Phone Booth, but a long-in-development screen version of the Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera — starring a miscast Gerard Butler in the title role — did not strike a chord with audiences. Schumacher’s last feature, Trespass, with Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, was released in 2011. He also directed two episodes of the groundbreaking Netflix political drama House of Cards in 2013.