I distinctly remember when Joel Schumacher was confined to what’s known as “movie jail” in 1997 after the release of Batman & Robin. As the years went by and he was given projects that were less than prestigious. And I admit when a film was released with his name as director I paid it little mind.
But what I’ve learned in the almost 15 years reviewing films and over 40 years of being film lover is that it’s always better to dwell on a filmmakers successes rather than their failures. And yes Batman & Robin was terrible, and doesn’t hold up after twenty years, but I chose to reflect, remember an recommend Schumacher’s early work.
From 1981 beginning with The Incredible Shrinking Woman (an underrated gem) to 1993’s Falling Down Schumacher directed some genuine classics. Films that vary in genre and succeed in their execution.
In 1983 he co-wrote and directed D.C. Cab a film that may not hold up to the political correctness of today but will always hold a place in my heart as one of those movies that played endlessly on cable. I still love the goofy nature of Gary Busey, Paul Rodriquez, and the overly seriousness of Mr. T.
A couple of years after that he directed St. Elmo’s Fire which was sold as ‘what happens when the Breakfast Club graduates college’. Again with the heavy cable rotation this is one my mom would watch all the time.
And it was two years later in 1987 that Schumacher directed what I consider his best film. The Lost Boys still holds up despite Corey Haim’s bad wardrobe and semi ridiculous plot. There was no stopping Schumacher from making a cool, slick modern day vampire film. And allowing his young cast to shine most notably Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland, with great assists by Edward Herrmann and Dianne Wiest. Rewatching it recently, it is undoubtably a classic of the genre
With a step into sci-fi (Flatliners) and drama (Dying Young) for a few years, it was in 1993 that he directed Michael Douglas in one of his finest performances. Falling Down is a worker bee fantasy like no other. It comes off like Schumacher doing his best Tony Scott impression, but it’s still a solid film with memorable moments throughout.
Then it was the back to back, to back to back John Grisham/Batman films that closed out the 90’s for Schumacher. I certainly don’t blame him for the turn the Dark Knight of Gotham was taken. Looking back that seemed to be more of a result of the studio wanting a lighter tone for the series, otherwise Jim Carrey never would have been cast. But Schumacher went full-tilt Batman ’66 by the time the series was over. Even with it’s silliness I still enjoy elements of Batman Forever.
I feel bad that he never recovered from the Bat-lash, even as he made forgettable mid-range thrillers like Phone Booth and The Number 23 he still was able to churn out his most financially successful film, The Phantom of the Opera. Still there is nothing that can takeaway from what history will remember as some truly great films.
Joel Schumacher will be remembered and will be missed. Thank you for the films Joel.