Worked With:

Kevin Spacey


James Cameron


Brooke Adams


Lisa Hartman Black


Joanna Cassidy


Craig Ferguson

Joel Schumacher Biography


Home > Actors > S > Schumacher, Joel > Biography


Birth Name: Joel Schumacher
Born: 08/29/1939
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA


Born on Aug. 29, 1939 in New York, NY, Schumacher was raised by his Baptist father, Frank, a soda fountain worker who died when his son was only four years old, and his Swedish-Jewish mother, Marian. With the intention of embarking upon a fashion career, he briefly attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in his teens before earning a scholarship to Parsons: The New School for Design, from which he graduated with honors. During this time, he worked as a design and display artist for Henri Bendel's department store in New York City before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his true ambition of becoming a filmmaker. Schumacher spent several years working as a costume designer on "Play It As It Lays" (1972), Woody Allen's classic "Sleeper" (1973) and the urban comedy "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1974), starring Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft. He switched gears mid-decade to write the screenplays for "Car Wash" (1976), a mediocre comedy about the goings-on at a Los Angeles car wash that became a cult classic over time; "Sparkle" (1976), a showbiz drama about three Harlem sisters who become pop stars in the 1950s; and "The Wiz" (1978), the then-most expensive musical ever made that became a notorious commercial flop starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

Schumacher graduated to directing with "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" (1981), a satirical comedy focused on a woman's place in society starring Lily Tomlin as a woman whose exposure to a mixture of household chemicals causes her to shrink. He next directed "D.C. Cab" (1983), a silly and dated comedy about a group of cabbies trying to save their taxi company from a takeover starring Mr. T in all his spandex and gold-chained glory. Following this, Schumacher concentrated on more mainstream Hollywood fare, starting with the coming-of-age Brat Pack drama "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985), starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy. Though the movie was a hit, "St. Elmo's Fire" was panned by a majority of critics. Schumacher had a much better critical reception with "The Lost Boys" (1987), a quirky and fun horror comedy that depicted a single mom (Dianne Wiest) who moves with her two sons (Jason Patric and Corey Haim) to a Northern California town that the boys soon discover is infested with vampires headed by a punkish leader (Kiefer Sutherland).

"The Lost Boys" was originally slated to have Richard Donner direct, who instead passed in favor of "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and personally handed the project over to Schumacher. At first, Schumacher hated the idea as it was strictly kiddie-centric, but he loved the title. Instead of following through on Donner's idea of gearing a vampire movie toward kids a la "The Goonies" (1985), he decided to make a horror-comedy hybrid with packs of dangerous teenagers riding motorcycles. It was a huge risk for the studio, especially since this was unchartered territory for all involved, including Schumacher, who felt around in the dark while shaping the script with writer Jeffrey Boam. What he turned out was a somewhat campy, but fun popcorn entertainment that featured star-making turns from Haim, Feldman, Patric and Sutherland, while becoming a critical and financial hit that earned a loyal fan base that found new adherents in subsequent generations. After directing Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini in the rather forgettable romantic comedy "Cousins" (1989), Schumacher helmed "Flatliners" (1990), an intriguing, but ultimately disappointing drama about a group of medical students (Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin) who stop their own hearts to experience death for a couple of minutes before being revived to tell about their experiences.

Following the glossy Julia Roberts tearjerker "Dying Young" (1991), Schumacher took a bold step forward with "Falling Down" (1993), an ambitious and tightly-wound thriller about defense department employee William Foster (Michael Douglas), who loses his job and suffers one humiliation after another while walking the streets of Los Angeles. Foster finally snaps and goes on a vigilante spree, becoming a menace to some and a hero to others. Filmed while the 1992 Los Angeles riots broke out, "Falling Down" marked decidedly new territory for Schumacher, who presented a fascinating character study. Schumacher chose a more conventional follow-up with "The Client" (1994), a slick legal thriller adapted from John Grisham's bestseller which boasted a respected cast that included Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones and promising newcomer Brad Renfro as a street-smart 11-year-old who knows too much about a mob-related assassination. The film was a solid success and won Sarandon an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

In a surprising turn, Schumacher was selected to replace Tim Burton as the director of the popular "Batman" franchise. Schumacher was in part handed Warner Brothers' biggest asset because of his reputation as a stylist who completed his films on time and under budget. Warner Bros. wanted a lighter film after Burton's darkly comic "Batman Returns" (1992) and knew Schumacher could deliver on that front. The new director replaced former Batman Michael Keaton with Val Kilmer, added Chris O'Donnell as Robin and pitted them against two accomplished scene-stealers as villains - Jim Carrey as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. Once completed, "Batman Forever" (1995) rode a massive wave of hype and anticipation as one of the blockbusters to beat that summer. The former costume designer and set decorator was afforded an opportunity to flex those old muscles again on a massive scale. Even more lavish and art directed than its illustrious predecessors, the film abandoned the somber tones of the Burton films in favor of vivid comic book colors. Batman and Robin's suits were also revised from earlier incarnations to give them a pumped up, body-conscious look complete with erect nipples and large codpieces, all of which were seen in close-up several times in the film. Audiences and many reviewers embraced the new model, thereby affording Schumacher his biggest hit up to that point in his career.

Schumacher's version of "The Client" had so impressed John Grisham that the author personally selected Schumacher to helm "A Time to Kill" (1996). Adapted from Grisham's first novel, the film centers on the effects of a murder trial on the residents of a small Southern town. Schumacher selected the virtually unknown Matthew McConaughey to play the leading role of a crusading lawyer and surrounded the novice with veterans Samuel L. Jackson as the murder suspect, Sandra Bullock as a law student, Donald Sutherland as the lawyer's mentor and Kevin Spacey as the prosecuting attorney. Critics raved about the performances and Schumacher's sensitive handling of the racially-charged story. Warner Bros.' Batman franchise seemed alive and well until Schumacher helmed the fourth installment, "Batman & Robin" (1997), with George Clooney wearing the cape this time, while Arnold Schwarzenegger played the main villain, Mr. Freeze. Loud, confusing and full of atrocious one-liners by Schwarzenegger, "Batman & Robin" was a failure on all levels. Schumacher received the brunt of criticism for his inclusion of many over-the-top gay fetish allusions - he, himself, being openly homosexual - like continuing to focus on protruding Bat-nipples, close-ups of codpieces and campy jokes that made the 1960s series look positively straight-laced. So bad was the film that Clooney later apologized for making it and claimed that they may well have killed the franchise (director Christopher Nolan would go on to resurrect it with two extraordinary films that rebooted the series).

Schumacher continued feeling the heat with his next feature, "8MM" (1999), a dark and ultra-morbid neo-noir about a surveillance expert (Nicolas Cage) who investigates a snuff film that seems to show the murder of a young, unidentified woman. The word grim failed to describe the utter depravity of the movie, which was nearly universally panned for being exploitative and lacking in humanity. Schumacher retreated to low-budget filmmaking following the two studio disasters to direct "Flawless" (1999), a well-received character-driven thriller which paired a wildly flamboyant drag queen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) with his neighbor, a disabled, homophobic cop (Robert De Niro) in script crafted by Schumacher himself. The director truly found himself back in the critics' good graces with the well-received Vietnam War drama "Tigerland" (2000), which focused on a young soldier (a fresh-faced Colin Farrell) trying to fight back against a resilient military system. Farrell reunited with the director for "Phone Booth" (2002), a high-concept, smartly directed thriller which starred the actor as an arrogant P.R. agent trapped by a sniper (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) in a New York telephone booth.

Schumacher took on a more intimate story, the real-life tale of a crusading Irish journalist who runs afoul of organized crime, in "Veronica Guerin" (2003), wisely eschewing his trademark razzle-dazzle directorial style in deference to the powerhouse acting of star Cate Blanchett. The thought-provoking and impactful thriller marked a return to measured restraint for the director. But moving on, Schumacher freed himself to indulge in all manner of directorial excesses when he adapted Andrew Lloyd Webber's enduring Broadway musical hit "The Phantom of the Opera" (2004). The director's baroque style was a perfect fit for the melodramatic sturm und drang of the material, while the film packed a powerful visual punch on the big screen. But despite the impressive spectacle, "Phantom" lacked a human connection, thanks to the miscasting of newcomers Emmy Rossum and woefully inept singer Gerard Butler. Schumacher returned to horror with "The Number 23" (2007), which starred Jim Carrey as an animal control officer who becomes obsessed with the titular number after discovering a mysterious book. Despite an intriguing premise and master casting of Carrey in his first thriller, "23" was panned by critics and failed to bring in big box office numbers. Sticking with numerical titles for the time being, Schumacher directed "Twelve" (2010), a crime drama about a drug-dealing teen (Chace Crawford) whose life takes a turn for the worst when his cousin is murdered and his best friend is arrested for the crime.