On Monday, July 5th, Richard Donner passed away at the age of 91. By now, you’ve probably seen some of the many condolences his family has received from members of the film industry. Steven Spielberg, Kevin Feige, Edgar Wright, and others have made statements to the press. Some celebrities took to Twitter to reminisce about their time working with Donner, sharing stories about the impact he’s had on their lives. Josh Gad reposted a video of a charity stream from 2020 that reunited the cast of The Goonies (dir. Richard Donner, 1985). Elijah Wood and Sean Astin recalled their time working with Donner as children. The list goes on.
The response from the comic book community has been just as massive. Publishers and creative voices from across the industry have come forward to express their admiration for Donner and the legacy of his masterpiece, Superman: The Movie (1978). Frank Miller, author of comic book masterworks like Batman: Year One and Sin City, spoke of the film’s impact: “Richard Donner showed us the mythological potential of the superhero. He convinced us of the impossible, and just like Superman did with Lois Lane, he swept us off our feet.” Indeed, Donner’s commitment to a realistic portrayal of the Man of Steel that audiences could identify with changed the landscape of the entertainment industry by showing Hollywood the potential of the superhero genre. Scores of filmmakers drew inspiration from Superman, including Zack Snyder, director of Justice League (2017). On Twitter, Snyder paid his respects to Donner with an image of Superman’s poster captioned with a simple statement: Thank you, Richard Donner. You made me believe.
As of July 8th, it’s been three days and the outpour of empathy continues: as I write this, Richard Donner’s name has been mentioned in over 300 tweets in the last hour. If that doesn’t give you an idea of how much he meant to people, the mark his films have left on pop culture and an entire generation of viewers will. Scrooged (dir. Richard Donner, 1988) is a holiday staple, and airs on channels like AMC and Freeform every year around Christmastime. References to The Omen (dir. Richard Donner, 1976) can be found in literally every work of fiction featuring the spawn of Satan — a recent example being the Amazon original series Good Omens, based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet. And when have we ever stopped talking about The Goonies? Films like Super 8 (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2011) and IT (dir. Andy Muschietti, 2017) wouldn’t exist without it, and neither would Stranger Things — a seven-time Emmy award-winner with a fourth season currently in production.
Richard Donner created more than your favorite movies. There’s a good chance that he defined your childhood too.
I first saw The Goonies on television when I was in sixth grade. My mom hated it, but I immediately knew I had stumbled upon something special. In the children’s movies I was used to, kids always felt like department store mannequins: plastic, bland, perfect. The danger never felt real. The jokes weren’t funny. And the adventure— well, it was just a movie, it could never happen in real life. Right?
The Goonies wasn’t that kind of children’s movie at all. The characters felt like real kids I knew from school: they were loud, they swore (the reason my mom disliked the movie so much), they joked about sex, they relentlessly teased each other and made-up seconds later. The jokes were good; even as adults, my brother and I still quote scenes like the one that sees Chunk (Jeff Cohen) being forced to “spill his guts” as he’s held captive by the villains. But most important of all, the adventure felt real.
This wasn’t a faraway land in a fantasy world: it was a neighborhood in Astoria, Oregon, where your only entertainment was killing time with your friends; where everyone knew one another; and where the weather was always gloomy and rainy. It was the kind of neighborhood you or I could have lived in. The characters weren’t heroes on a quest to recover a magic relic, looking for a way to defeat a primordial evil force that threatened all of creation. They were just a group of kids on a treasure hunt, trying to save their home from being bulldozed.
The Goonies made mundane suburbia seem exciting, filled with secrets and hidden treasure just waiting for someone to uncover it — someone like you and your friends. I still find myself coming back to it as a source of inspiration for my own screenwriting projects. I love stories about ordinary kids thrust into extraordinary situations, where the adventure — the magic — is in their own backyard. They’re some of my favorite stories, and I constantly find myself revisiting them even as an adult. I have The Goonies to thank for that. If it wasn’t for Richard Donner’s movie, my creativity, sense of humor, and so many other things would probably be very different.
So, rest in peace, Richard Donner. You made us believe a man could fly and that a world of adventure — of pirate gold, booby-trapped caves and friendships that would never die — was out there, hidden right under our feet. All we had to do was look for it.