In 1993, he signed on to direct the next installments of Batman film series. Schumacher-directed Batman films Batman Forever (1995) and particularly Batman & Robin (1997) received negative reactions from both public and critics. After Batman films, Schumacher pulled back from blockbusters and returned to making minimalist films such as Tigerland (2000) and Phone Booth (2002), both earning positive reviews. He also directed The Phantom of the Opera (2004), The Number 23 (2007) and several episodes of House of Cards.
Known for casting young actors, Schumacher helped actors like Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, and Matthew McConaughey to launch careers.
Schumacher was born in New York City, the son of Marian (née Kantor) and Francis Schumacher. His mother was a Swedish-Jew, whereas his father was a Baptist from Knoxville, Tennessee, who died when Joel was four years old. Schumacher studied at Parsons The New School for Design and The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. After first working in the fashion industry, he realized his true love was in filmmaking. He moved to Los Angeles, where he began his media work as a costume designer in films such as Woody Allen's Sleeper and Interiors and developed his skills with television work while earning an MFA from UCLA.
Schumacher's first screenplay was for the musical drama Sparkle in 1976, which Schumacher had developed with Howard Rosenman before moving to Los Angeles. He also wrote the screenplays for the 1976 low-budget hit movie Car Wash, 1978's The Wiz — an adaptation of the stage play of the same name — and a number of other minor successes. His film directorial debut was The Incredible Shrinking Woman in 1981, which starred Lily Tomlin.
The Brat Pack film St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys were two of Schumacher's biggest hits. Their style impressed audiences and their financial success allowed studios to trust him with ever-larger projects. He states in the director's commentary for St. Elmo's Fire that he resents the "Brat Pack" label, as he feels it misrepresents the group.
Schumacher has directed two adaptations of John Grisham's novels: The Client (1994) and A Time to Kill (1996). Grisham personally requested that Schumacher return to direct A Time to Kill.
Schumacher replaced Tim Burton as the director of the Batman film franchise when he directed Batman Forever in 1995. Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton in the title role. At the time, Schumacher attempted to cast Corey Haim as Robin, however Haim was too deep into his drug addiction to even give a full audition, so Chris O'Donnell got the part. Despite a lukewarm critical reception, the film scored the highest-grossing opening weekend of 1995. It finished as the second highest-grossing film of the year in North America, and sixth-highest worldwide.
After this success, Warner Bros. hired Schumacher to direct a sequel, Batman & Robin, in 1997. The film did not perform as well at the box office as its predecessors, and was a critical failure; it is frequently considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Warner Bros. subsequently put the Batman movie series on hiatus for several years, canceling Schumacher's next planned Batman movie, Batman Unchained. On the DVD commentary, Schumacher has admitted that his movie disappointed fans of darker Batman adaptations, saying that the film was made intentionally marketable (or "toyetic") and kid-friendly. He claims to have been under heavy pressure from the studio to do so; however, he admits full responsibility and, at one point, apologizes to any fans who were disappointed. Schumacher is a devoted Batman fan himself, and has said he would have personally preferred an adaptation of the comic Batman: Year One.
Schumacher also served as the director for the music videos of two songs appearing in the franchise: "Kiss from a Rose", by Seal, and "The End Is the Beginning Is the End", by The Smashing Pumpkins, which he co-directed with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
After back-to-back Grisham and Batman films, Schumacher decided to reinvent his career with darker, lower-budget fare like 8MM with Nicolas Cage, and Flawless with Robert De Niro. 8MM was entered into the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.
In 1999, Schumacher also directed the music video for "Letting the Cables Sleep" by English rock band Bush. In 2000, Schumacher directed the Vietnam-era boot camp drama Tigerland, which introduced Hollywood to a young Colin Farrell. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film as such: "Tigerland lands squarely in the top tier of best movies about America's Vietnam experience."
Schumacher returned to big-budget Hollywood with Bad Company starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock. The film was originally slated to be released in November 2001, but after the September 11 attacks it was pushed back to the summer of 2002 because of its theme about terrorist attacks in New York City. The film was panned by most critics and was a box office failure. In 2003, he released the controversial Phone Booth, in which he once again worked with Farrell. The film - about an unseen gunman tormenting a publicist - was also delayed for months due to the Beltway sniper attacks. It received generally positive reviews, earning a 71 percent "Fresh" rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Buoyed by Farrell's recently found fame, the film would earn $98.7 million worldwide.
In 2002, he directed Cate Blanchett in the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced biopic Veronica Guerin. The film is about the eponymous Irish journalist, who was murdered by drug dealers in 1996.
Schumacher directed a film version of the musical The Phantom of the Opera in 2004, an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's original stage musical. Despite mixed reviews, the film earned $154.6 million worldwide (Schumacher's biggest hit of the 21st century to date) and was nominated for three Academy Awards, as well as three Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy.
Schumacher directed The Number 23 in 2007, which was a critical flop but a financial success. His next project was the vampire thriller Blood Creek, which was filmed in the spring of 2007 in rural Romania. It took a limited release.
In August 2008, Schumacher directed the music video for American rock band Scars on Broadway, for their single "World Long Gone".
In October 2011, Schumacher released his latest film, Trespass. The action-thriller reunited Schumacher with stars Nicole Kidman and Nicolas Cage.
He was slated to next direct the film The Hive, but left the project for an undisclosed reason, replaced by Brad Anderson.
Joel Schumacher is friends with David Fincher, and directed two episodes of the first season of House of Cards, which Fincher produced.
Schumacher has been openly gay throughout most of his career. According to Schumacher, this fact has been purposely reflected as a statement in many of his films.
When asked by the BBC if he believed in God, Schumacher said:
I'm sort of in that school of that quote from Hamlet. 'There's more in heaven and earth, Horatio.' If you live long enough you will definitely get to understand that the universe is a profound mystery and I didn't create it. We're on this mud ball rolling around and I don't know where we are, and nobody knows where we are. I definitely believe that I'm not the highest form of intelligence in the universe. But I don't like to use the word God because it's so overused in the United States – not so much in Europe – but it's become politicized and has this ugly meaning now. Like asking someone if they believe in God has become an attack – like if you don't believe in Jesus you're not one of us! I loathe the use of God or any kind of spirituality as a form of discrimination or separation because that's a total misuse of it.
Schumacher often casts the same actors in different films. Nicole Kidman, Jim Carrey, Michael Paul Chan, Nicolas Cage, John Diehl, Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Colin Farrell, and Shea Whigham are among his more frequent acting collaborators.
Harry Gregson-Williams often composes the music for his films and Mark Stevens often serves as editor.Play It as It Lays (1972)
The Last of Sheila (1973)
Blume in Love (1973)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)