Director Joel Schumacher: All Films Considered

The incredible shrinking career

Average Metascore 45
Films Directed by Joel Schumacher
Average User Score 6.4
Average Gross $48.1m
Highest-Grossing Film
Batman Forever (1995) 51
Biggest Flop $30.2m
Bad Company (2002) 37
Movie Quality Breakdown
# Great 0
# Good bar 1
# Mediocre bar 8
# Bad bar 3
# Awful bar 1
# Non-scored bar 8

All box office figures are U.S. only.

Joel Schumacher is the consummate director for hire. His penchant for casting future superstars such as Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, and Colin Farrell and photographing them in gorgeous widescreen worked wonders for his career, especially during the 1980s. Lately however, Schumacher has been in what can be best described as director’s jail.

After helping shape ’80s cinema with the Brat Pack-starring St. Elmo’s Fire and vampire classic The Lost Boys, moving to successful John Grisham adaptations A Time to Kill and The Client, surprising here and there with Cousins and Falling Down, and taking over the Batman franchise with Batman Forever (then the highest grossing Batman film), Schumacher was unstoppable. Then Batman & Robin happened.

That colossally misguided film sent Schumacher into an uneasy and unsure period that would see him try his hand at solid character pieces Flawless and Tigerland while moving unsuccessfully into Jerry Bruckheimer territory with the Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock vehicle Bad Company. Audiences didn’t take the journey with him. After helming the acclaimed but little-seen Cate Blanchett-starring Veronica Guerin, he would move on to three films that fail in varying degrees. His version of The Phantom of the Opera helped get Gerard Butler on the map but failed at the box office, as did the Jim Carrey thriller The Number 23 and the budget horror film Blood Creek (which didn't even merit a real theatrical release). His Metascore average for his last five films? A barely passable 42.

Opening this weekend, Schumacher’s latest, Twelve, sees him again working with hot, young up-and-comers like Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl), Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew), and rapper-turned-actor Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (Get Rich or Die Tryin’) in a spoiled rich kids gone wrong flick that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to critical derision. At press time, it doesn't appear that Twelve will be the film to turn around Schumacher's career; the first few reviews published this week aren't good.

Below, we look more closely at the highs and lows of Schumacher's filmography so far. Because many of his older films are not in our database (and thus do not have Metascores), we have slotted them into the lists below where we felt it was appropriate. (Feel free to suggest an alternative list in the discussion section below.)

Joel Schumacher's 5 "Best" Movies
  Movie Year Netflix Metascore Users
1 The Client 1994 n/a n/a
"Schumacher... engineers every moment perfectly, with the help of strong performances from Sarandon, Renfro and Jones."
-- Desson Howe, Washington Post

Schumacher’s first foray into John Grisham novel adaptations was this no-nonsense courtroom thriller about a young boy named Mark Sway (a strong debut from the late Brad Renfro) who witnesses a suicide of a mafia lawyer and hires his own lawyer (Susan Sarandon) to protect him when he unwittingly receives deadly intel. Tommy Lee Jones hams it up as a federal attorney trying to wrestle information out of the boy.

  Budget: $45m U.S. Gross: $92m
2 The Lost Boys 1987 63 9.7
"Schumacher's work in The Lost Boys consists of turning undertones into overtones -- of taking the latent, the implied and the mysterious, and turning them into the loud and the obvious."
-- Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll through the prism of the vampire myth and late ’80s style, The Lost Boys remains a fun romp and arguably Schumacher’s best film. The late Corey Haim (that still pains to write that) stars as Sam, a teenager who moves to Santa Clara, California with his older brother Michael (Jason Patrick) and his mother (Diane Wiest). Blood wine, maggot-ridden Chinese food, and hippie names are all a part of this popcorn classic.

  Budget: $8.5m U.S. Gross: $32m
3 Flatliners 1990 n/a n/a
"Flatliners is a strikingly original, often brilliantly visualized film."
-- Variety

Pretty people in dire straits are the name of the game in this absurd but enjoyably stylish sci-fi thriller. Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and the scene-stealing Oliver Platt star as med students who have way too much time on their hands. How else to explain why they’d want to kill themselves to experience the dreamlike rush of what’s beyond death? As you can imagine, things don’t go exactly as planned.

  Budget: $26m U.S. Gross: $61m
4 Falling Down 1993 56 7.7
"Mr. Schumacher would seem to be both nervy and exceptionally able, effortlessly integrating scenes of carnage with others that have the blithely heedless humor of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch."
-- Vincent Canby, The New York Times

L.A. traffic will make you crazy. That’s how we get into the world of William ‘D-FENS’ Foster (impeccably played by an unhinged Michael Douglas) as he leaves his car in a traffic jam and wreaks violent havoc all over the greater Los Angeles area. The uncharacteristically bleak drama was a nice change of pace for Schumacher, who made one of this best films working outside of his comfort zone.

  Budget: $25m U.S. Gross: $41m
5 Phone Booth 2003 56 5.7
"Without question, the whole thing's absurd -- this is, remember, about a guy stuck in a phone booth -- but for its first 40 minutes or so it's also mildly entertaining, fueled by the nuttiness of the setup and Schumacher's energy."
-- Manohla Dargis, Los Angeles Times

The high-concept thriller from writer Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) stars Colin Farrell (working with Schumacher again after his breakthrough Tigerland) as a New York douchebag publicist who unfortunately picks up a ringing public phone that has a psychopath (Schumacher regular Kiefer Sutherland) on the other end who wants to play mind games and threatens to kill him if he moves. Farrell’s charisma keeps the film from imploding under the weight of an implausible concept.

  Budget: $13m U.S. Gross: $47m
Joel Schumacher's 5 Worst Movies
  Movie Year Netflix Metascore Users
1 8MM 1999 19 5.7
"Even by Schumacher's standards, '8mm' is loathsome crap."
-- Andrew O'Hehir,

The success of Se7en led to this copycat thriller from the same writer, Andrew Kevin Walker. A simultaneously damning and exploitative take on snuff films, 8mm starred Nicolas Cage as a detective hired by a wealthy widow to investigate said snuff film, Joaquin Phoenix as his sidekick, and a sleazy pre-The Sopranos fame James Gandolfini as a sleazy porn recruiter, and was a turgid and laborious bore.

  Budget: $40m U.S. Gross: $37m
2 The Number 23 2007 24 4.8
"Responding to an exceedingly convoluted screenplay with a relatively straight face, Schumacher does no one any favors, least of all his stars."
-- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Schumacher once again indulged his dark thriller fixation with this mystery starring an against-type Jim Carrey as a man who becomes obsessed with the number 23 after reading about it in a foreboding book. As his obsession grows, his mind goes, and you’d be best to check your own head before trying to watch this contrived and boring flick.

  Budget: $30m U.S. Gross: $35m
3 Batman & Robin 1997 28 2.1
"It has none of the minor virtues of Schumacher's other films. It looks bad: cluttered surfaces, production design reminiscent of overblown Broadway musicals, editing too fast for the eye to catch up, poor staging of fast action."
-- Alex Ross, Slate

This is what happens when toy companies dictate how a film is made. Gotham City is turned into a garishly neon-lit, Dutch-angled mess filled with superheroes (George Clooney as Bruce Wayne/Batman) in nipple suits and villains (Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze) who spout nothing but quips. The movie killed the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan saved it with Batman Begins. ‘Ice’ to know you, Batman & Robin!

  Budget: $125m U.S. Gross: $107m
4 D.C. Cab 1983 n/a n/a
"Unfortunately, the sharp one-liners and quickie situation-jokes stop about halfway through, when an attempt at a plot is introduced."
-- Time Out New York

The second feature film directed by Schumacher (after the Lily Tomlin vehicle The Incredible Shrinking Woman) is a bizarre “comedy” about a group of cabbies who band together in an attempt to keep their D.C. Cab company open. When that group includes Mr. T, Gary Busey, Adam Baldwin, and Irene Cara (Fame), you know you’re in for a movie that needs a few drinks to be fully appreciated.

  Budget: n/a U.S. Gross: $16m
5 Dying Young 1991 n/a n/a
"'Dying Young' doesn't really feel any of its emotions - it's a cynically constructed tearjerker that's so artificial and contrived I felt embarrassed watching it. It's also sloppy filmmaking."
-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

This depressing romantic melodrama featured then rising star Julia Roberts as a live-in caretaker for hire who falls in love with her patient (Campbell Scott), who’s battling leukemia. The movie is notable for putting Scott on the map in a big way, but was too much of a downer for Roberts, who went too dramatic in a bid for respectability after crowd pleaser Pretty Woman and schlock thriller Sleeping with the Enemy.

  Budget: $30m U.S. Gross: $34m

What do you think?

Which Schumacher films are your favorites -- or least favorites? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (21)

  • a  

    When are they going to do a "best and worst" for the cast of the Expendables?

  • Jim  

    If he is up for a position as a dog groomer he has a chance. Lost Boys is the only show on the list I would waste my time on. Batman Forever was crap and Phone Booth was boring dreck. those movies gave stardom where it was not deserved and made money for shows that are mediocre at best.

    He is unemployed because he does a ****s up every film he directs. the good movies could be great and the mediocre could be know he is the Tom Cruise of directing....bringing everything he is in down a peg just by his presence.

  • JPAC  

    Tigerland was pretty good

  • David  

    It's funny, cause I thought Lost Boys and Flatliners were so god awful and unwatchable that I can't believe they show up in any kind of list of "best" movies. I'm glad to have not seen any of the bottom 5.

    In his defense, I did vaguely like The Client and Phone Booth.

  • Brandon  

    Nothing could save Batman & Robin, but I thought Batman Forever had the potential to be decent, if you took Schumacher, Robin, and Nicole Kidman's forehead out of the mix.

  • Chad S.  

    He's not a bad filmmaker; he's just a commercial one. To gauge his talents, the moviegoer should look at "Tigerland", because that film was made without any consideration for weekly box office grosses. If "Tigerland" blows; he blows. I like "Flatliners".

  • Tom  

    Check again; Batman Forever was never the highest-grossing film of the franchise.

  • Sean  

    I love Falling Down. Most of the credit probably goes to the script and great performances by the main actors, though. I'm shocked ever time I think that he directed it.

    St. Elmo's fire is god awful. He really deserves a 10 worst list for some of the drivel he's made.

  • Josh  

    This guy is on par with Ed Wood and Uwe Boll. Except worse cuz he had the oppurtunity to work with a real budget and exercise a little bit of artistic vision.

    Just a terrible terrible director.

  • Adverb  

    I think Flatliners is one of the worst movies ever.

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