- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
Ivan Reitman was a legendary comedic director and producer responsible for some of Hollywood’s most popular comedies, particularly during the 1980s when he had a streak of blockbuster hits. News broke Sunday that Reitman died in his sleep at the age of 75, but his legacy lives on with a library of titles that were known for their irreverent-bordering-on-anarchic style, which drew from Reitman’s ability to evolve a comedy beyond its script on the fly.
As Reitman said in a 1993 profile, as a director his approach was “very controlled,” but he also gave his actors the option to run free for a take to see what they came up with. “There’s a moment when the actors can say anything they want, and then, part of the fun for me as a director is to take that raw work and just structure it and rework it and make it conform to the character work and to the plot, which is evolving as well,” Reitman said. “It’s a way of being a co-writer of a movie as it’s being shot.”
Below are five of Reitman’s best films.
5. Dave (1993)
Dave is not a film you hear much about these days, yet only Ghostbusters was more critically acclaimed among Reitman’s directed features upon release. The Clinton-era political comedy about a small-business owner (Kevin Kline) who abruptly becomes president seems rather innocent by today’s political standards. Yet it proved Reitman could deliver a grown-up, warmhearted hit comedy beyond his best-known teen-audience fare, and it reunited the director with his Ghostbusters star Sigourney Weaver as the film’s imposing female lead.
4. Stripes (1981)
The late critic Roger Ebert called Stripes an “anarchic slob movie, a celebration of all that is irreverent, reckless, foolhardy, undisciplined and occasionally scatological.” It was a rave review, and one that could be used to describe several of Reitman’s films. Stripes is “the military one” with Bill Murray in full Bill Murray mode as a cab driver who enlists in the Army, and also features the great Harold Ramis and John Candy in supporting roles. Stripes stumbles a bit upon rewatch, but it was considered somewhat subversive in the hawkish Reagan era.
3. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
There’s plenty about this 1962-set movie following a college frat house’s raunchy antics that would make a modern audiences wince. And it’s the only film on this list Reitman did not direct. But Reitman developed Animal House and produced it (he’s said in interviews that John Landis was handed the directorial reins due to his own lack of experience at the time). And Animal House is such a clear, pioneering template for Reitman’s future hits — from its youthful ensemble spirit, to its post-SNL star (John Belushi), to Reitman’s frequent collaborator Ramis (who co-wrote the film). Animal House feels — more than Reitman’s other producer-only titles — like very much an essential part of his oeuvre.
2. Meatballs (1979)
Meatballs was famously a shaggy production. Star Bill Murray reportedly threw the script in the trash when he showed up on set, the cast was full of inexperienced unknowns and Reitman has said that even the title was chosen at random without any reason beyond “instinct.” Yet Reitman pioneered his ability on Meatballs to turn on-set chaos into comedy, and also knew when to let his actors do their own thing. The film’s famous “it just doesn’t matter” speech was Murray improvising one of cinema’s greatest pep talks and, perhaps, it’s a mantra for Reitman’s seemingly carefree style of comedy as well.
1. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters never should have worked. An over-the-top mix of comedy, horror and special effects (some terrible, even for the time), the film is a masterpiece of getting a unique tone just right that helped viewers take the film’s world and characters seriously enough to fully invest in the story (Reitman daringly lit and shot the film like a drama), but not so seriously that a panting slime monster and giant marshmallow man weren’t hilarious. It also helped, of course, that the film starred Dan Aykroyd and Murray at the top of their post-SNL improv game, just radiating comedic confidence, along with a winning Ramis, Weaver and Ernie Hudson. The film spawned three subsequent sequels that all tried to (but couldn’t quite) recapture the spirit of the original. There was something about Reitman’s film and approach that was just lightning in a bottle — or a poltergeist in a ghost trap.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day