Jerry Bruckheimer Biography


Home > Notables > B > Bruckheimer, Jerry > Biography


Birth Name: Jerry Bruckheimer
Born: 09/21/1945
Birth Place: Detroit, Michigan, USA


Bruckheimer was born an only child on Sept. 21, 1945 in Detroit, MI to German immigrant parents-his father was a manager for an exclusive clothing store and his mother was an accountant while maintaining the Bruckheimer home. Due to being slightly dyslexic, he was a slow reader, leading to lackluster student career. But he developed a passion for photography thanks to a fairly wealthy uncle who gave him hand-me-down cameras. From the time he was six, Bruckheimer was taking pictures, seeing the world differently than others. When in high school, he began printing his photos, winning several awards from Kodak and National Scholastics. A solid C-student, Bruckheimer moved on to the University of Arizona where he started studying dentistry, but quickly switched gears to psychology. His first job out of college was working in the mailroom of a New York ad agency, a job born from financial necessity rather than any burning desire to work in advertising. But when he heard that someone from his agency bolted from New York to forge a career making movies in Hollywood, Bruckheimer became determined to do likewise.

Bruckheimer moved to Los Angeles, CA in the early 1970s to make his mark as a producer, starting with an associate producer gig on the revisionist western "The Culpepper Cattle Company" (1972). In 1973, Bruckheimer met Simpson at a screening of "The Harder They Come" at Warner Bros., where he had been working. Though it would be several years before the two would work together, they became fast friends-Bruckheimer even stayed at Simpson's Laurel Canyon home when he divorced from his first wife, Bonnie. After producing "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975) and "March or Die" (1977), Bruckheimer finally teamed up with Simpson on the Richard Gere-defining drama, "American Gigolo" (1980), a bleak, but redemptive look at a male prostitute (Gere) making a lucrative living hustling older-and wealthier-women in Los Angeles, only to be framed for the murder of a trick-a situation he can only get out of if he can convince a senator's wife (Lauren Hutton) to provide an alibi.

After co-founding Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions in 1982, the two went to work on several high-concept films that redefined the business of Hollywood. In 1983, they made "Flashdance," a high-flying drama about a female steel worker (Jennifer Beals) moonlighting as an exotic dancer with dreams of going to a real dance school. "Flashdance" became a sensation, taking in over $90 million at the box office after being shot on a modest $7.5 million budget. With the success of this iconic film, Simpson and Bruckheimer were rolling. Though their next effort, "Thief of Hearts" (1984), a cheap and cheesy thriller about a professional thief (Steven Bauer) who stumbles upon a woman's diary and uses her private thoughts to seduce her, was easily forgettable, it would be their next project that made Bruckheimer and Simpson kings of Hollywood.

Though it was Simpson who first pitched the idea of "Beverly Hills Cop" back in 1977 when he was an executive at Paramount Studios, it took Bruckheimer's cool business sense to finally make the fish-out-of-water story about a rough-and-tumble cop (Eddie Murphy) from Detroit forced to work with uppity Beverly Hills detectives. Again shot on a modest budget - only $14 million - "Beverly Hills Cop" took in a whopping $235 million at the box office, an astronomical sum in 1984, and defined what would become the action-comedy genre. But it was their next movie, "Top Gun" (1986), that put the producers over the top. Born when Bruckheimer found an article about naval flight schools and excitedly pointed it out to Simpson, "Top Gun"-the story of a maverick fighter pilot (Tom Cruise) who attends the top flight school and falls in love with his instructor (Kelly McGillis)-became a sensation, turning Cruise into the biggest star in the world. "Top Gun" took in $176 million at the box office, dealing Bruckheimer and Simpson yet another winner.

The producers returned to the well for "Beverly Hills Cop II" (1987), and though it proved less successful as its predecessor, Bruckheimer and Simpson were given an unprecedented production deal with Paramount: several hundred million dollars to finance movies, a large cut of the box office take, and no prior approval from the studio. The regret, however, was felt through the Paramount halls of power almost immediately with the release of "Days of Thunder" (1990), a disaster of a movie from start to finish. All indications prior to production indicated a massive hit: Tom Cruise starring in a race car movie-in effect, "Top Gun" on wheels. But cost overruns ballooned the budget from $45 million to $70 million. To make matters worse, aside from the constant rewrites to satisfy an unhappy star, Bruckheimer's friend and producing partner-by then suffering from a crippling drug addiction-inserted himself as an actor, playing Italian NASCAR driver Aldo Benadetti (Simpson). "Days of Thunder" was an unmitigated disaster that served as a poignant lesson that many still remembered decades after the fact.

The ending of their deal with Paramount by "mutual agreement" at the end of 1990 was taken by many as the sign of a changing Hollywood mindset, with studios starting to put less emphasis on blockbuster productions and more on lower-budget films with smaller-minded subjects. Meanwhile, Bruckheimer and Simpson signed a non-exclusive, five-year deal with Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures in early 1991. The team were known to each other as "Mr. Inside" (Simpson) and "Mr. Outside" (Bruckheimer), the former having worked his way up through the Hollywood corporate structure and the latter drawing on a background of hands-on experience with the nuts and bolts of filmmaking.

Simpson-Bruckheimer seemed to be on a roll in 1995 with three successful films: the cop comedy "Bad Boys" with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence; Tony Scott's thriller "Crimson Tide" which pitted Denzel Washington against Gene Hackman, and "Dangerous Minds," a fact-based drama about an inner-city schoolteacher (Michelle Pfeiffer). Behind the scenes, things were hardly pleasant. Simpson's drug addiction was worsening and the bulk of the producing responsibilities fell to Bruckheimer. In December 1995, Bruckheimer confirmed the formal dissolution of Simpson-Bruckheimer Productions. Less than a month later, Simpson was found dead of natural causes at his Bel Air mansion. The last movie Bruckheimer produced with Simpson, "The Rock," became the summer blockbuster of 1996, reestablishing Sean Connery as an action star and creating that image for Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage.

On his own in 1997, Bruckheimer produced "Con Air" (1997), another prison blockbuster featuring Cage as a reluctant hero. He followed up with the equally noisy, testosterone-soaked summer flick "Armageddon" (1998), which reunited the producer with Bruce Willis, the star of his moderately popular "The Last Boy Scout" (1991). The disaster flick also paired him for the first time with Ben Affleck, the handsome young actor who would star in his $135 million epic "Pearl Harbor" three years later (2001). Bruckheimer also began to venture into television production, first serving as executive producer of the 1996-97 ABC series based on "Dangerous Minds," while "SOF: Special Ops Force/Soldier of Fortune, Inc." (1997-99) was a syndicated action series that followed a group of trained crime fighters. Bruckheimer served as executive producer of the popcorn TV-movie "Max Q: Emergency Landing" (ABC, 1998) involving the space shuttle and then switched gears with the politically-themed "Swing Vote" (ABC, 1999), which focused on a newly appointed Supreme Court justice confronting a controversial decision on abortion. The producer was back to the action genre with his second foray in network series, the 2000 CBS fall drama "C.S.I."

In 2000, Bruckheimer tackled an interesting array of big screen projects, some of which indicated Bruckheimer had an interest in broadening his horizons and taking a vacation from genre fare. In addition to the big-budget action-adventure film "Gone in 60 Seconds," which starred Bruckheimer favorite Cage, the producer worked on the female-driven "Coyote Ugly," a story about a young woman trying to make it as a singer, followed by "Remember the Titans," starring Denzel Washington as a football coach dealing with racial strife. For the latter, the producer actually took a pay cut in order to insure its filming. In 2001, Bruckheimer created the reality show "The Amazing Race" where 11 teams race around the world performing various tasks in a quest to win $1 million. The show became an instant hit, spawning numerous sequels.

Returning to the feature world, Bruckheimer collaborated once again with director Michael Bay on "Pearl Harbor" (2001), a sweeping, but sappy telling of the Japanese surprise attack that pulled the United States into World War II. At the time the most expensive film ever green-lit by a studio, "Pearl Harbor" boasted of impressive battle scenes, thanks to Bay's typically deft handling of action sequences. But the majority of the film was weighed down by an insipid love affair between a naval pilot itching for action (Ben Affleck) and a base nurse (Kate Beckinsale)-the lackluster chemistry between the two leads was almost as destructive as the Japanese bombers. Nonetheless, "Pearl Harbor" took in close to $200 million in domestic box office alone.

His next true-to-life war film, "Black Hawk Down" (2001), faired much better with critics. Director Ridley Scott crafted a gritty and realistic film about the ill-fated humanitarian mission in Somalia on October 3, 1993 that left 70 soldiers wounded and 18 dead. Bruckheimer's next project, "Bad Company" (2002), was a buddy action-comedy about a veteran CIA agent (Anthony Hopkins) who must transform a sarcastic, street-wise punk (Chris Rock) into a savvy spy to replace his murdered twin brother to negotiate a sensitive nuclear weapons deal. "Bad Company" promised laughs from the unusual pairing of the two leads, but ultimately failed to please critics and audiences alike.

Bruckheimer continued to make quality television for the 2002-03 season, producing "Without A Trace" (CBS, 2002- ), a procedural drama about the FBI's Missing Persons Department, and the spin-off "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002- ), about a team of forensic investigators in the palmed city. He toned-down his approach for his next film, "Veronica Guerin" (2003), a true-life telling of the fearsome Irish journalist (Cate Blanchett) who investigated and exposed Dublin drug gangs at great person risk-a rare small, independent feature that barely cracked seven figures at the box office. But his next project, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003), was a rare combination of box office smash and critical darling. The swashbuckling adventure centered on the roguish, but charming Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp in an Oscar-nominated performance) who teams up a young man (Orlando Bloom) to rescue the Governor's beautiful daughter (Keira Knightley) from Sparrow's nemesis, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). "Pirates of the Caribbean" surprised many critics for being an entertaining-albeit lengthy-thrill ride, while taking in a considerable bounty at the box office.

Bruckheimer's next feature, "Kangaroo Jack" (2002), a dopey kids' comedy about two petty crooks (Jerry O'Connell and Anthony Anderson) who track down a kangaroo after it makes off with a large amount of cash, was panned by most critics for being too stupid to exist. He returned to the well for "Bad Boys II" (2003), the high-impact action sequel that reunited Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as two Miami narcotics agents chasing after a ruthless drug lord (Jordi Molla) determined to expand his empire and take control of the city's drug trade, murdering anyone who gets in his way. Bruckheimer then produced the short-lived hour-long drama, "Skin" (Fox, 2003-2004), a modern-day "Romeo and Juliet" set in the Los Angeles porn industry, and the more popular "Cold Case" (CBS, 2003- ), a Sunday night ratings hit about a Philadelphia homicide detective (Kathryn Morris) assigned to reopen and investigate unsolved murders. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruckheimer and his team produced "Profiles from the Front Lines" (ABC, 2003), a reality series that followed U.S. troops as they fought terrorism in Afghanistan, the Philippines and South America. The show was canceled, however, due to sensitivities that arose from second Iraq War, leaving three episodes unaired.

Back in features, Bruckheimer put his stamp on "National Treasure" (2004), a flashy, but plodding global romp about an archeologist (Nicolas Cage) who steals the Declaration of Independence because he suspects it has an invisible map leading to the famed Knights Templar Treasure on the back. Though critics were less than enthusiastic, "National Treasure" managed to attract a significant crowd to theaters and performed well at the box office. His next feature project, "King Arthur" (2004), proved to be a rare misfire for the producer. Half-legend, half-history, the filmmakers struggled to give validity to the mythical British king, but forgot to craft a strong story or develop interesting characters. What resulted was a bland-albeit visually interesting-historical drama that tried to mimic "Braveheart" but without the action, romance and three-dimensional characters. Brushed aside by critics, "King Arthur" bombed at the domestic box office, but managed to find an audience overseas. Meanwhile, Bruckheimer developed another television spin-off, "CSI: New York" (CBS, 2004- ), the second procedural to derive from the original. And like the others, the series proved to be a solid ratings winner.

His next television project, "E-Ring" (NBC, 2005-06), was a character-driven drama set inside the Pentagon that pitted the military brass against civilian politicians in decisions on war and peace. The project failed to capture a strong audience and network placed the show on permanent hiatus. His next show, "Just Legal" (WB, 2005), a one-hour drama about a jaded, middle-aged lawyer (Don Johnson) who takes as a partner a 19-year-old idealistic prodigy (Jay Baruchel) straight out of law school, lasted a mere three episodes before it was canceled. "Close to Home" (CBS, 2005-07), another legal drama, fared better than "Just Legal" by virtue of the more universal premise of a female prosecutor struggling to build cases against criminals and balance her life at home as a new mother. In the feature world, Bruckheimer produced "Glory Road" (2006), the inspirational true-life telling of the 1966 Texas Western Miners who made NCAA history thanks to their charismatic coach (Josh Lucas), whose will to win with heart, determination and self-respect helped break down racial barriers. Meanwhile, Bruckheimer was set to release the much-anticipated sequel, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), the continuing tale of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who is indebted to the legendary Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) - a fate he must escape in quick time or be doomed to eternal damnation in the afterlife.

A third installment, "Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End" (2007), was shot simultaneously with the second part, and was released to much fanfare in May 2007. A fourth film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," was ramped up for production in early 2010. Prior to that, Bruckheimer produced the sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" (2007), which managed to surpass the original in terms of box office. Though he had a rare short-lived television series with "Eleventh Hour" (CBS, 2008-09), Bruckheimer bounced back with new hits like "Dark Blue" (TNT, 2008- ) and "The Forgotten" (ABC, 2009- ), starring Christian Slater as the leader of an amateur group of crime fighters looking for justice for those who have been wronged. Meanwhile, he awaited the fate of "Miami Medical" (CBS, 2010- ), a drama that focused on a trauma team saving lives. Back in the feature world, Bruckheimer scored another hit with the animated live-action combo, "G-Force" (2009) while serving as a producer on the adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's bestseller, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (2009). He also shepherded the adaptation of the video game "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010), starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley.