Joel Schumacher, costume designer-turned-director of films including “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “The Lost Boys” and “Falling Down,” as well as two “Batman” films, died in New York City on Monday morning after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 80.
Schumacher brought his fashion background to directing a run of stylish films throughout the 1980s and 1990s that were not always critically acclaimed, but continue to be well-loved by audiences for capturing the feel of the era.
Schumacher was handed the reins of the “Batman” franchise when Tim Burton exited Warner Bros.’ Caped Crusader series after two enormously successful films. The first movie by Schumacher, “Batman Forever,” starring Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman, grossed more than $300 million worldwide.
Schumacher’s second and last film in the franchise was 1997’s “Batman and Robin,” with George Clooney as Batman and Arnold Schwarzenegger as villain Mr. Freeze. For “Batman Forever,” the openly gay Schumacher introduced nipples to the costumes worn by Batman and Robin, leaning into the longstanding latent homoeroticism between the two characters. (In 2006, Clooney told Barbara Walters that he had played Batman as gay.)
Several years after the Batman debacle, Schumacher directed the feature adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” Despite tepid reviews, it received three Oscar noms.
In 1985 Schumacher struck gold with his third feature film, “St. Elmo’s Fire,” which he directed and co-wrote. Brat Packers including Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy as well as a young Demi Moore starred in the story of a bunch of Georgetown grads making their way through life and love. Even the theme song was a hit and is still played to evoke the era. The film offered a pretty smart take on the complexities of post-college life.
His next film was a big hit as well: horror comedy “The Lost Boys,” about a group of young vampires who dominate a small California town, starred Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. It became a cult favorite, and a TV series adaptation has long been in the works.
Schumacher had a high-concept screenplay by Peter Filardi and an A-list cast — Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin — for the 1990 horror thriller “Flatliners,” about arrogant medical students experimenting with life and death, and the director hit it fairly big again, with a domestic cume of $61 million.
While those hits captured the era well, others during that period were misfires, such as the 1989 remake of the French hit “Cousin/Cousine” called “Cousins” and starring Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini and the sentimental “Dying Young,” starring Roberts and Campbell Scott.
But in 1993 he showed what he was capable of with the critically hailed “Falling Down,” starring Michael Douglas as a defense worker who’s lost it all and decides to take it out on whomever he comes across. The film played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
The New York Times said the film “exemplifies a quintessentially American kind of pop movie making that, with skill and wit, sends up stereotypical attitudes while also exploiting them with insidious effect. ‘Falling Down’ is glitzy, casually cruel, hip and grim. It’s sometimes very funny, and often nasty in the way it manipulates one’s darkest feelings.”