Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The 12 Best Richard Donner Movies Ranked

Director Richard Donner died Monday, July 5, 2021, at the age of 91. Born in 1930, his directorial career spanned five decades. Originally, he aspired to be an actor, but after an argument with director Martin Ritt on the set of "Of Human Bondage," he quickly changed course. "Marty ... told me I couldn't take direction and should be director," Donner recalled.

Donner began by directing TV episodes in the early days, contributing to shows like "The Twilight Zone," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," and "Gilligan's Island." In 1976, he achieved commercial success in film with the horror movie "The Omen." Donner was also known for the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, "The Goonies," and 1978's "Superman," starring Christopher Reeve.

When learning of Donner's death, many celebrities expressed their condolences on Twitter. Patty Jenkins tweeted that she "loved Richard Donner as a person and massively admired him as a director." Elijah Wood, who worked with him on "Radio Flyer," said "my childhood and life was so impacted by the incredible Richard Donner." "You made me believe," tweeted Zack Snyder, along with a poster for Donner's 1978 "Superman" movie.

In honor of Donner's life and career, check out our list of his best 12 movies, ranked.

12. Conspiracy Theory

1997's political thriller "Conspiracy Theory" comes in at number 12 on our list. This film stars Mel Gibson as a taxi driver and conspiracy theorist who gets into hot water when it turns out that his wacky theories are actually true. Gibson's co-stars include Julia Roberts, who plays Alice Sutton, an attorney for the Justice Department, and Patrick Stewart, who plays a CIA psychiatrist named Dr. Jonas.

The film was a success at the box office, pulling in $137 million with a budget of $80 million. Both the critical reviews and audience opinions of "Conspiracy Theory" are mixed. CNN's Carol Buckland called it "the smartest thriller of the summer," while others were less enthusiastic. The reviews on IMDb are similarly mixed, with some users lauding it as "breathtaking" and "underrated" and others finding it disappointing. Overall, "Conspiracy Theory" was a success, but there are other, better Richard Donner films.

11. Lethal Weapon 3

As with many movie franchises, the "Lethal Weapon" sequels are not as well-loved as the original. 1992's "Lethal Weapon 3" may not measure up to its predecessors, but it is still a solid movie that many fans enjoyed. In it, buddy cops Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) must work together to take down a former LAPD cop-turned-arms dealer. 

"Lethal Weapon 3" has a 60% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.7/10 rating on IMDb. It may not be sophisticated or high-class, but as film critic Stephanie Rosenfeld writes: "It's an action movie — we want explosions, not character development. And explosions and car chases are what we get." 

With a budget of $35 million, "Lethal Weapon 3" was a box office success, pulling in $321.7 million. It was actually the highest-grossing of all of the "Lethal Weapon" movies, demonstrating just how popular the series had become in the five years since the first movie premiered in 1987.

10. Radio Flyer

Number 10 on our list is 1992's drama "Radio Flyer." In this film, a man recollects his youth in which his little brother endures abuse at the hands of their stepfather. The brother, in an effort to escape his miserable situation, converts a "Radio Flyer" wagon into a plane and flies away.

"Radio Flyer" stars Lorraine Bracco, John Heard, Adam Baldwin, and Ben Johnson. A young Elijah Wood plays Mike, the older brother. The younger brother Bobby is played by Joseph Mazzello, who went on to star in "Jurassic Park" as the young boy Tim.

Critics were generally not pleased with "Radio Flyer." It has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Critics Consensus describing it as "a family film that is too harrowing for children and too saccharine for their parents." It was also a box office flop, bringing in only $4.7 million with a budget of $35 million. Richard Donner lamented the film's failure and took it personally, saying, "I was destroyed by the reaction to that film. You have no idea how it hurts. It tears you up inside and out and it affects your relationships, everything. It could have destroyed me." "Radio Flyer" has an average rating of 6.9 on IMDb, and there are plenty of 10/10 reviews to balance out the critical disdain for the movie.

9. Ladyhawke

"Ladyhawke" is one of Richard Donner's lesser-known films, but it still has its fans. This 1985 fantasy/adventure movie tells the story of a thief (Matthew Broderick) who escapes from a dungeon and becomes allies with a warrior (Rutger Hauer) and a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) who have been cursed by the Bishop of Aquila to turn into a wolf and a hawk, respectively. He comes to care about the pair and gets caught up in trying to help them lift the curse.

The movie, which had a budget of $20 million, was not financially successful. It only made $18.4 million at the box office. However, it is generally well-regarded by critics and moviegoers alike. Time Out describes it as "facile sword-and-sorcery stuff ... but at times very funny."  Vincent Canby of The New York Times praises Matthew Broderick's comedic abilities and Michelle Pfeiffer's "ethereal and erotic" presence. It's a flawed film, but it's worth a watch.

8. Maverick

Next on our list is the 1994 western comedy "Maverick." This movie is based on the TV show by the same name that aired between 1957 and 1962 on ABC.

"Maverick" stars one of Richard Donner's favorites, Mel Gibson, as Bret Maverick, a card-playing con artist. He needs $3,000 to enter a high-stakes poker tournament, and the film follows him as he tries to come up with the money by various means. Jodie Foster stars as Annabelle Bransford, another con artist, and James Garner plays Marshal Zane Cooper.

There are a ton of cameos in this movie, the most amusing of which is Danny Glover. Mel Gibson's "Lethal Weapon" co-star appears to recognize Gibson in this film, which is a pretty amusing moment for fans of the franchise. The crossover is apt, given Donner's assertion that "Lethal Weapon" is a "contemporary Western" with "good guys and bad guys."

"Maverick" was a commercial success, bringing in $183 million and pleasing critics and audiences with its brand of wacky hijinks.

7. Scrooged

1988's "Scrooged" is seventh on our list with an average score of 7.0 on IMDb and a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. A modern take on "A Christmas Carol," "Scrooged" stars Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a nasty, cynical TV executive. Like Scrooge in the Dickens novel, he is visited by three ghosts who convince him to change his ways. 

"Scrooged" was a box office success, making $60 million domestically. It is generally well-liked, and it is often included in lists of the best Christmas movies of all time, along with other classics like "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "A Christmas Story," and "Miracle on 34th Street."

This is all despite the apparent pain the movie caused both Murray and Donner, who butted heads during the production. Murray later recalled that he "thought it was an extraordinary script" but that he and Donner had different ideas about what the finished product should look like. Murray went on to say that "there was a fair amount of misery making it. We disagreed so much that neither of us was particularly happy with it."

6. Lethal Weapon 2

This 1989 sequel to "Lethal Weapon" wasn't quite as good as the first, but it was still a solid addition to the franchise. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover again played buddy cops Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. In this film, the two men must stop a gang of South African drug dealers.

"Lethal Weapon 2" was supposed to be written by Shane Black, who wrote the first "Lethal Weapon" movie, but unfortunately, this did not work out. Black wrote a script, but it was rejected for being too dark. Black says Richard Donner wanted something more fun and exciting.

The movie was a box office success at $227.9 million. It is rated 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critics concluding that, "Lethal Weapon 2 may sport a thin plot typical of action fare, but its combination of humor and adrenaline, along with the chemistry between its leads, make this a playful, entertaining sequel."

5. Inside Moves

"Inside Moves" was somewhat of an unusual film for Richard Donner. It wasn't an action movie or a thriller — it was a drama based on a book by the same title by Todd Walton. In it, a man attempts to commit suicide, only to cripple himself. He begins hanging out at a dive bar with other misfits and finds a group of friends who really care about him. Then, he gets involved in playing basketball, is given money to have his leg fixed, and goes on to find success as a basketball player. Unfortunately, his success makes him shun his old friends.

"Inside Moves" came out in 1980 and was relatively unknown. It stars John Savage ("The Deer Hunter") as Roary and Diana Scarwid as his girlfriend, Louise. It has an average score of 7.2 on IMDb, with one reviewer calling it a "hidden gem." It earned Scarwid an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. 

Notably, Donner chose to change the book's ambiguous ending to a happy one, telling one interviewer, "[I]f you want to be depressed, it's free: turn on the news."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

4. Superman

This list would not be complete without 1978's "Superman," starring Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman, Marlon Brando as his father Jor-El, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. 

"Superman" was a very influential comic book movie. It depicted its titular hero's origin story, his romance with Lois Lane, and his battles with his nemesis Lex Luthor. It was a true blockbuster and was the most expensive film ever made when it was released, with a budget of $55 million. The big budget paid off, as "Superman" was a huge success at the box office, making $300.5 million

"Superman" is exactly the kind of movie that Richard Donner was so good at making: funny, adventurous, and exciting. Critics loved it, with Roger Ebert giving it 4 out of 4 stars and calling it "a pure delight" and "tremendously exciting"  and describing it has having a "sly sophistication ... that makes it, amazingly, a refreshingly offbeat comedy." Its special effects were also lauded and were quite impressive for the time, and "Superman" paved the way for the modern comic book superhero movies of today. In 2017, the Library of Congress chose it for preservation, along with Donner's "The Goonies." 

3. The Omen

"The Omen," which was released in 1976, propelled Richard Donner to the big time. It is a supernatural horror movie about a family whose child is replaced at birth. The replacement baby, who they name Damien, turns out to be the Antichrist. The movie was followed by three sequels in 1978, 1981, and 1991 and a remake in 2006.

The movie was a commercial success, raking in $60.9 million at the box office with a budget of only $2.8 million. Critics and audiences both had a positive reaction to the film, which has an 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.5 on IMDb. It has endured all these years as a horror classic due to its use of suspense and atmosphere. Jerry Goldsmith won an Academy Award for the movie's original score, and Gilbert Taylor won an award from the British Society of Cinematographers for best cinematography.

Donner was surprised at the positive reaction to the film. As he put it, the audience was "shocked, committed, and involved." In 2018, he recalled saying, "Oh my god, I think we've got something."

2. Lethal Weapon

The first "Lethal Weapon" movie, released in 1987, is number two on our list. This buddy cop movie introduces Mel Gibson as the suicidal Martin Riggs and Danny Glover as family man Roger Murtaugh, two LAPD detectives who must learn to put aside their differences and work together to bust a drug trafficking ring.

The movie had a budget of $15 million and earned $120.2 million, making it a substantial commercial success. The critical response was mostly positive as well, something that can be tricky to pull off for an action film. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post described it as "a vivid, visceral reminder of just how exciting an action film can be."

"Lethal Weapon" was followed by three sequels, a TV series starring Damon Wayans, a video game, and a theme park ride. Richard Donner expressed interest in making a fifth movie, but that never came to fruition.

1. The Goonies

Of course "The Goonies" is number one on our list! "The Goonies" was directed by Richard Donner and produced by Steven Spielberg, who came up with the story it was based on. In it, a group of kids from the "Goon Docks" neighborhood must go on a quest to save their homes from foreclosure. After finding an ancient map, the group embarks on a hunt for long-lost pirate treasure that gets them into some hairy situations.

"The Goonies" starred a young Sean Astin, who later went on to play Samwise Gamgee in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Bob Newby on the TV show "Stranger Things." Also in the movie was Josh Brolin, who starred as Thanos in the "Avengers" movies.

"The Goonies" came out in 1985 and was filmed with a budget of $19 million. It made $61 million at the box office and went on to become a cult classic as well. There was even a virtual reunion of the cast members in 2020.