Richard Donner, one of the most influential directors in Hollywood’s history, died Monday at the age of 91. Donner revived and legitimized the superhero genre with Superman in 1978. And he helped define the buddy cop film with Lethal Weapon.
But before all of that, he made one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes ever. Named “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the 1963 episode features William Shatner, who sees a gremlin on the wing of his airplane. But every time he calls for someone to do something, the goblin-like creature has vanished. Is he losing his mind, or is there really something out there trying to crash the plane?
The episode became a keystone episode for the Twilight Zone. It helped make William Shatner a star — he landed the role of Capt. James T. Kirk on Star Trek in 1966 — and proved Donner was a talented director.
Shatner discussed filming the episode when he paid his respects to Donner on Twitter Monday night.
Hollywood Mourns the Death of Richard Donner
Richard Donner received love from some of Hollywood’s biggest names as news of his death spread.
“Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all,” Spielberg said via Variety. “He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always.”
Mel Gibson, who worked with Richard Donner on Lethal Weapon and Conspiracy Theory, said the director was a collaborator, not just a dictator.
“Donner! My friend, my mentor. Oh, the things I learned from him! He undercut his own talent and greatness with a huge chunk of humility referring to himself as ‘merely a traffic cop,'” Gibson told Variety. “(Donner) left his ego at the door and required that of others. He was magnanimous of heart and soul, which he liberally gave to all who knew him. If we piled up all the good deeds he did, it would stretch to some uncharted place in the firmament. I will sorely miss him, with all his mischievous wit and wisdom.”
In a series of tweets, British director Edgar Wright discussed his love for Donner’s work, featuring posters from some of his biggest hits, and what made him special.
“Richard Donner’s big heart & effervescent charm shone in his movies through the remarkable performances of his cast, which is no mean feat. You remember all the characters in Superman, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies & more, because Donner knew how to capture that magic onscreen.”