With the recent news that Schumacher had passed away at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer, there have been many reports on the kindness and humour he displayed throughout his career. Schumacher would begin his career as a fashion designer, with credits on several movies in 1970s, and go onto become one of the few openly gay filmmakers in the 1980s and 90s, especially brave considering the treatment of many homosexuals during that time.
With a career lasting over thirty years as a director, it’s unfortunate that such an individual has been unfairly remembered for the inclusion of bat-nipples in his second Batman film, Batman and Robin. An example of this would be the decision by editors at io9 to title their article on his death as “Joel Schumacher, the man who gave us Bat-nipples, has died at 80”, one which has unsurprisingly led to a backlash from fans. There’s an even greater irony considering that Schumacher had previously confirmed himself as a huge Batman fan during an interview for the Batman Forever DVD.
It’s time to put focus on and raise awareness of some of Schumacher’s previous films that you may be less familiar with, or didn’t realise he was involved in.
St Elmo’s Fire
An American coming-of-age film that Schumacher not only directed but also co-wrote, St. Elmo’s Fire would go on to become a classic representative of the Brat Pack genre. Similar to classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, this movie featured several young actors (hence the nickname Brat Pack) who worked together in teen-oriented coming-of-age movies that became commercially successful.
St Elmo’s Fire was in fact the film where several of the main members of the aforementioned group first became close friends, despite their dislike for the nickname due to its disparaging image. Schumacher himself would allegedly voice his resentment of the label in his director’s commentary for the movie, but regardless of their thoughts on the term, the movie still grossed over $30 million on a $10 million budget. This success would help open many doors for Schumacher as a director on larger projects.
The movie itself focused on a group of post-graduate university students who try to come to terms with both adulthood and the change of their friendships. The group of friends were played by several Brat Pack members, such as unofficial leader Emilio Estevez (with The Breakfast Club actually debuting in the same year) as the main character, backed up by fellow members Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy in supporting roles. Estevez was also joined by two of his fellow cast members from The Breakfast Club in Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, meaning all three members featured in two box office hits in 1985.
Schumacher actually pushed quite hard for all three members of The Breakfast Club to be hired after film producer Lauren Shuler Donner followed recommendations from John Hughes. The film also featured close contributor Mare Winningham and a new member of the Brat Pack, Demi Moore, who was forced into rehab prior to filming the role that would be deemed her breakthrough. The movie is considered a beloved snapshot of life in the 1980s, but also demonstrates Schumacher’s strength as a director of ensemble casts, which would encompass the majority of his career.
The Lost Boys
After his success with St Elmo’s Fire, Schumacher would be approached by producers to direct The Lost Boys, after Richard Donner of The Goonies fame had to back out due to other projects. Schumacher requested changes to the original script, which was more akin to The Goonies with vampires aged 13-14 years old, leading to a much sexier and more adult interpretation of the story.
The Lost Boys focuses on two young brothers moving to Santa Carla, California and coming into contact with not only a gang of vampires, but also two ultra-serious brothers who hunt the aforementioned vampires. With its focus on sexuality and stylistic flourishes, bolstered by a tremendous cast of relative unknowns featuring Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland, The Lost Boys gained tremendous critical and commercial acclaim.
Made on just $8.5 million, lower than Schumacher’s previous film, the movie would earn over $30 million and help spawn a franchise encompassing two sequels, two comic book series, and a television series. However, the film itself would help develop a more modernised interpretation of vampires, with youthful depictions of a sexualised vampiric style impacting upon future films such as From Dusk Till Dawn and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The Lost Boys still possesses a strong cult following, even including the theme song Cry Little Sister by Gerald McMann, which has recently been covered by Marilyn Manson to be used for upcoming Marvel Horror movie The New Mutants.
A Time To Kill
The debut novel of acclaimed author and former lawyer John Grisham, A Time To Kill was inspired by a harrowing rape case that Grisham learned about in court. Originally published in 1989, it took seven years before it was brought to the silver screen, with Grisham working closely with Schumacher in casting. The movie would focus on a court case in Canton, Mississippi, where Carl Lee Hailey (played by Samuel L. Jackson) murdered the two men who raped his ten-year-old daughter and be taken to trial amidst national media attention. The court case is not helped by the burgeoning racial tensions existing in Canton, with the Ku Klux Klan publicly picketing for Hailey to be sentenced to death, and an all-white jury increasing the odds against both Hailey and his lawyer, Jake Brigance, played by Matthew McConaughey in his first major studio lead role.
A spiritual successor of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, and possibly having grown in relevance during these tumultuous times, the unflinching portrayal of horrific abuse and violence doesn’t detract from its engrossing story. Raising vital questions about law, crime, punishment and revenge, Schumacher coaxes a tremendous range of performances from a talented cast. Anchored by McConaughey in a performance reminiscent of his McConaissance in the early 2010s, he is accompanied by a cast including Oliver Platt, Sandra Bullock, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, all helping develop the tension as Brigance battles to acquit a black man in a town struggling with racial warfare.
An underrated piece that would gross over $150 million worldwide with critical acclaim focused on both the cast and direction, it was unfortunately overshadowed coming out between Batman Forever and Batman and Robin (supposedly Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman conceived the latter film during pre-production on A Time To Kill). For an interesting opportunity to see the last film Schumacher directed before his life changed forever because of Batman and Robin, you would find few better movies.
After the experiences of directing two Batman movies and two John Grisham movies, Schumacher actually stepped back and began to refocus his efforts on lower budget character dramas. This would include the Nicholas Cage-starring 8MM and Flawless with Robert De Niro and culminate five years later with his second work alongside a young Irish actor, Colin Farrell.
Phone Booth was a tense and streamlined thriller that was originally pitched in the 1960s by screenwriter Larry Cohen to celebrated auteur Alfred Hitchcock, but it would be thirty years before Cohen could figure out a good enough reason for a film centred entirely in the titular location. The script garnered interest from figures such as Mel Gibson (who recommended several twists that Cohen incorporated), Steven Spielberg (who believed Hitchcock would definitely have directed if alive, and would regret passing on the script), and Michael Bay (who straight away wanted to get the film out of the phone booth).
Although Jim Carrey was originally partnered with Schumacher for the film, he would eventually back out and the role was picked up by Farrell, who was on the edge of becoming a hot star. After waiting at least a year to build interest in Farrell (ironically assisted by Spielberg with his own film Minority Report, which Farrell featured in), the movie premiered in 2003 as a box office hit. The film would gross close to $100 million worldwide on a budget of just $13 million, another example of Schumacher’s tremendous ability to earn huge box office takes on small budgets. With tremendous pacing throughout and an array of tricks to keep the focus on the minimal location, Schumacher’s direction was favourably compared to the original director Hitchcock.
But instead of being favourably compared to an auteur, maybe Schumacher deserves to be remembered as a talented director who could change his style depending on the desires of the producers and studio, even if asked to direct a live-action Batman cartoon.