Joel Schumacher’s directorial career is perhaps best remembered for putting nipples on the Bat suit in his campy mid-90s silver-screen adaptations of the famous comic book character, Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), but throughout the years he has also been responsible for a number of well known thrillers like Phone Booth (2002) and Falling Down (1993) as well as his fair share of era-shaping outings at the helm of the likes of Flatliners (1990) and St. Elmo’s Fire (1985). In this list, I’ve been tasked with selecting just 10 of Schumacher’s 23 feature length releases for this, the Top 10 Joel Schumacher Movies.
Fear not, there shall be no Bat-nipples here…
10. The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
If ever there was a stage production that was perfect for a director as visually focused as Joel Schumacher, it was the vibrantly coloured melodramatic musical “The Phantom of the Opera”, which he adapted for Warner Bros. in 2004.
Starring Gerard Butler as The Phantom and Emmy Rossum (‘Shameless’), this stage adaptation was widely accepted as a good big screen musical, though it didn’t seem to blow many people’s socks off. Like much of Schumacher’s catalogue, The Phantom of the Opera seems very much a film of its time despite its setting, and as such it probably isn’t going to be as enjoyable for first-time viewers in the current day (nearly 15 years later) as it will be for those who managed to catch the film at the time.
9. Flatliners (1990)
Arguably as iconic of a late-80s/early-90s movie as there is, this star-studded movie about some college students attempting to discover what awaits on the other side of death is the sort of thinly veiled anti-drugs lesson that most people actually enjoy.
Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon headline this thriller that has gone down as somewhat of a cult classic; a movie that may only be number 9 in terms of quality but is certifiably one of this director’s top 3 most famous releases.
8. Veronica Guerin (2003)
This true-to-life story of an Irish crime reporter established a move away from the hyper-visual tendencies of this somewhat iconic director into a much less varnished production that felt considerably less Hollywood than Schumacher’s other work.
Starring Cate Blanchett in the lead role as supported by a cast including Colin Farrell, this movie wasn’t particularly well received in the UK due to its political leanings and perception of its protagonist, but it certainly remains a moving, gritty venture that must be considered among Schumacher’s very best.
7. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
When thinking about the famous Brat Pack of 80s teen cinema, St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) is right up there with The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty In Pink (1986) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) as one of the most iconic of the films they starred in.
Representing the 80s like only the Brat Pack can, this who’s who of the era’s most archetypal teen stars deliver a moving drama through Schumacher’s lens that remains a memorable and enjoyable experience over 3 decades later, even to those who never experienced the 80s the first time around.
6. Phone Booth (2002)
Phone Booth is one of Schumacher’s more divisive films (Batman movies not included), with thoughts on it ranging from “intense and thrilling” to “stupid and nonsensical”, but in locking Colin Farrell in a small box for 90 minutes, there is no denying that Schumacher at least attempted something original and more art-house than most of the rest of his work, introducing the mainstream to a concept more like theatre than cinema, and featuring excellent performances from Colin Farrell and scary hostage taker Kiefer Sutherland.
Much like Schumacher’s 1993 release Falling Down, this tale of a day spiralling out of control and teaching the protagonist many valuable lessons under the blanket of consumer capitalism critique is a thrilling ride worthy of a watch if you’ve never seen it before. At least then you can make up your own mind regarding the ongoing debate of whether it’s good or not…
5. Tigerland (2000)
Widely accepted as being the breakthrough role for Irish heart-throb turned off-kilter comedy leading man Colin Farrell, Schumacher’s Vietnam war movie Tigerland was the first of three collaborations between Farrell and Schumacher in as many years at the turn of the century, thus christening a successful artistic partnership that realised the likes of Veronica Guerin (no. 8) and Phone Booth (no. 6).
Perhaps the most underrated film on this list, Tigerland is a gritty exploration of the mindset of young men training for battle towards the end of the Vietnam War and has a sense of unpredictability that in many ways mirrored the war itself. An oft-forgotten war movie released in the midst of a slew of war films after the success of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), this is certainly a Joel Schumacher that deserves more eyes.
4. A Time To Kill (1996)
Sandwiched between Joel Schumacher’s two Batman movies is A Time To Kill starring Matthew McConaughey as a lawyer defending a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) accused of the murder of the two white men who raped his daughter, a premise that proves the foundation for a violent response from the Klu Klux Klan.
This is the sort of movie that most directors would have avoided in the midst of a run at the mainstream with major Warner Bros property Batman, but in bringing A Time To Kill to the big screen, Schumacher reinforced how capable he is of presenting moving critique on the silver screen even within the shackles of Hollywood’s studio system.
Watch this one for the qualities of McConaughey’s and particularly Jackson’s acting work, but hold a thought for a director who was brave enough to tackle real issues in between making the two worst Batman movies ever.
3. The Client (1994)
In 1994, Joel Schumacher pitted the acting talents of Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon against one another in his court-room drama about an innocent kid projected into a world of tension and violence after witnessing the suicide of a member of the mafia.
The Client, like much of Schumacher’s best work, featured his somewhat signature presentation of moral ambiguity and his ever-present critique of social, political and cultural norms, all the while maintaining a fast and exciting pace ripe for Hollywood.
Sarandon is a powerhouse under Schumacher’s watchful eye, yet the whole cast feels involved if not important, and the picture painted by the film’s end is one of darkness for the innocent young boy at its centre, leaving you ponderous as to the nature of your own allegiances and all that you take for granted.
2. The Lost Boys (1987)
If Flatliners is “one of” Schumacher’s most iconic movies, then The Lost Boys (1987) is certainly taking the cake. This archetypal 80s movie, starring the likes of Alex Winter (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Kiefer Sutherland (of whom Schumacher would collaborate with again on the likes of Flatliners and Phone Booth), Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, is a vampire movie unlike any other yet hugely influential to the vampire movies that followed it.
This “not very Twilight” 80s vampire picture is somewhat timeless in how attached to the 80s it is, and though that seems like a contradiction in statements, The Lost Boys is just one of those movies you have to see to believe. There’s a reason Schumacher headed into the 90s with a lot of New Hollywood steam…
1. Falling Down (1993)
Undisputedly the greatest movie directed by Joel Schumacher is 1993 capitalist critique Falling Down starring late-80s/early-90s megastar Michael Douglas as a man so overcome with the inconveniences of modern life that he sees his mental state, and life prospects, spiral over the course of an overwhelming day in Los Angeles.
This is a start to finish rollercoaster of a thriller that features all of Schumacher’s most iconic traits, not least the moral ambiguity on offer in following a desperate man as he steals and murders his way into notoriety. As sad as it is tense and unmissable, Falling Down is about as underrated of a gem as there gets and is the crown jewel of Schumacher’s filmography; the number one movie of his long and established career.
So there you go, 10 utterly watchable films from a director who is perhaps unfairly associated only with his work on the mid-90s Batman atrocities Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, but; what do you think? Have we unfairly left off any of your favourites? Would you have chosen a different order? Let us know in the comments below!