Richard Donner died yesterday at the age of 91. While still prolific and active behind the scenes, he hadn’t directed a feature since the superb 16 Blocks in early 2006. That picture, starring Bruce Willis as an over-the-hill and alcoholic cop who makes a split-second decision to protect a witness from his fellow officers, works as both a character-driven action drama and a proverbial “final Die Hard movie.”
It wasn’t a hit, as even back then, we were starting to see the decline of the non-IP star vehicle. It turned out to be a good curtain call from one of our very best journeyman directors. Donner’s legacy is prolific enough that inventing the modern superhero movie is just one line item on a long resume. What’s notable, beyond mere talent, offscreen decency and mainstream success, is how he subtly helped shape the pop culture that drives our current nostalgia.