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Chris Columbus

Chris Columbus

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Also Known As: Christopher Columbus Died:
Born: September 10, 1958 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Spangler, Pennsylvania, USA Profession: screenwriter, director, producer, aluminum factory worker

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the more successful filmmakers to come from the Spielberg school of genre moviemaking, writer-director Chris Columbus emerged as a specialist in combining a sensitivity for young peopleâ¿¿s feelings with a rousing adventure yarn. Columbus entered Hollywood by way of screenwriting with his script for "Gremlins" (1984) being shepherded by Spielberg, who soon became a mentor to the young scribe. After writing the scripts for "The Goonies" (1985) and "Young Sherlock Holmes" (1985), he made his directing debut with the mild family comedy "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987). Columbus entered the realm of blockbuster filmmaker with "Home Alone" (1990), arguably one of the most successful film comedies of all time. Following the sequel "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992), he had another hit with the Robin Williams vehicle "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), which placed Columbus at the top of Hollywoodâ¿¿s list of commercial hitmakers. Despite his overwhelming commercial success, Columbus struggled to earn the respect of critics, many of whom complained that he tended to overly sentimentalize his work by finding simple happy solutions to complicated problems. He typified such criticisms with "Bicentennial...

One of the more successful filmmakers to come from the Spielberg school of genre moviemaking, writer-director Chris Columbus emerged as a specialist in combining a sensitivity for young peopleâ¿¿s feelings with a rousing adventure yarn. Columbus entered Hollywood by way of screenwriting with his script for "Gremlins" (1984) being shepherded by Spielberg, who soon became a mentor to the young scribe. After writing the scripts for "The Goonies" (1985) and "Young Sherlock Holmes" (1985), he made his directing debut with the mild family comedy "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987). Columbus entered the realm of blockbuster filmmaker with "Home Alone" (1990), arguably one of the most successful film comedies of all time. Following the sequel "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992), he had another hit with the Robin Williams vehicle "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), which placed Columbus at the top of Hollywoodâ¿¿s list of commercial hitmakers. Despite his overwhelming commercial success, Columbus struggled to earn the respect of critics, many of whom complained that he tended to overly sentimentalize his work by finding simple happy solutions to complicated problems. He typified such criticisms with "Bicentennial Man" (1999), which descended into cheap sentiment after a promising start. Columbus next tackled the incredibly difficult task of bring "Harry Potter and the Sorcererâ¿¿s Stone" (2001) to life on the big screen. Faithfully adapting that novel and the sequel "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002), Columbus helped launch what became one of the most commercially successful franchises in cinema history. Though he faded to the background with "Rent" (2005) and "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" (2010), Columbus remained one of Hollywoodâ¿¿s most bankable commercial directors.

Born on Sept. 10, 1958 in Spangler, PA, Columbus was raised in Warren, OH, by his factory worker parents. Having been inspired to become a filmmaker after watching "The Godfather" (1972), Columbus began making Super-8 films while attending John F. Kennedy High School. After graduation, he studied film at New York Universityâ¿¿s Tisch School of the Arts, where he wrote a screenplay called "Jocks" that sold for a cool $5,000, though it remained unproduced. But it was his script for "Gremlins" (1984) that launched his career after grabbing the Steven Spielbergâ¿¿s attention after scores of other directors and producers had passed on the project. A horror comedy with Spielberg producing and Joe Dante directing, "Gremlins" told the fantastical tale of a young man (Zach Galligan) who receives a small furry creature called a Mogwai as a gift, only to accidentally turn it into a menacing gremlin that continually multiplies and wrecks havoc on a small unsuspecting town. Made for a scant $11 million, "Gremlins" became a huge financial success while spawning a sequel as well as numerous knock-offs. Meanwhile, his script for the teen romantic drama, "Reckless" (1984), was turned into an intriguing melodramatic movie starring Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah.

With his first major hit under his belt and a working partnership with Steven Spielberg, Columbus went on to write child adventure classic "The Goonies" (1985) and "Young Sherlock Holmes" (1985). Though he was given the opportunity to write the first draft of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989), Columbus was ultimately fired from the job by Spielberg and producer George Lucas. He did, however, remain close friends with his mentor. Meanwhile, Columbus made his first foray into directing with the engaging teen comedy "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987), which starred Elizabeth Shue as a teenager who takes a presumably dull babysitting job, only to receive a call for help from her frantic best friend (Penelope Ann Miller) that leads to a hair-raising adventure through the heart of Chicago. Columbus next directed his own screenplay for "Heartbreak Hotel" (1988), a whimsical romp set in 1972 about an Ohio teen (Charlie Schlatter) who kidnaps Elvis Presley (David Keith) in an effort to cheer up his divorced Mom (Tuesday Weld). Despite its small budget, the film proved to be a bust at the box office and was left virtually forgotten.

Columbus rebounded from "Heartbreak Hotel" with one of his biggest smash successes, "Home Alone" (1990), arguably one of the most popular comedies in cinema history. Produced and scripted by John Hughes, the sentimental, but side-splittingly hilarious Christmas adventure turned blond tyke Macaulay Culkin into a huge international star. Mistakenly left home by his parents who fly the rest of the family to Paris for the holiday, troublemaker Kevin McCallister (Culkin) uses his wits to fend off two would-be robbers (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) trying to break into his home. Despite some mixed critical reviews, "Home Alone" spent 12 straight weeks as the No. 1 movie, earning around $285 million in domestic box office, making it the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever. With such immense success naturally came the sequel, "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992), a rather implausible comedy that managed to reunite the three main characters to resume their bumbling in New York City. This time, the movie was completely savaged by critics, though again their opinion meant nothing to audiences who came out in droves. In between blockbusters, Columbus discovered a flair for gentle romantic comedy, scripting and directing "Only the Lonely" (1991), an uncharacteristic film for grown-ups from producer John Hughes. John Candy and Ally Sheedy were the romantic leads and the lovely 1940s film siren Maureen O'Hara returned to the screen after an 18-year absence to play Candy's emotionally dependent mother.

Turning his focus on animation, Columbus contributed to the script of the Japanese feature "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland" (1992), inspired by Windsor McCay's celebrated comic strip from the early 1900s. Meanwhile, Columbus again struck box office gold when he directed "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), a heart-felt and amusing family comedy starring Robin Williams as an out-of-work actor and divorced dad who dons drag to become a 60-year-old British nanny so that he can regularly see his kids and circumvent his suspicious ex-wife (Sally Field). Williams was in top form underneath Oscar-winning makeup, while helping Columbus notch another major comedy hit onto his belt. He next directed "Nine Months" (1995), the story of a five-year marriage blindsided by an unexpected pregnancy that proved to be a bit too pat; Hugh Grant's roughish charm and Julianne Moore's radiant beauty were not enough to raise the movie above mediocrity; it was also negatively impacted by the notoriety of Grant being busted for soliciting a prostitute only weeks before he was to promote the film internationally. Having produced the Brian Levant-directed Christmas comedy "Jingle All the Way" (1996) while trying his hand at television with the failed pilot, "For the People" (ABC, 1996), Columbus returned to the director's chair, putting Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts and Ed Harris through their paces in the maudlin "Stepmom" (1998). Despite tear-jerking sentimentality, the film went on to become another box office hit for the director â¿¿ due mainly to Robertsâ¿¿ box office allure.

Columbus followed with "Bicentennial Man" (1999), which reunited him with Robin Williams for this adaptation of the Isaac Asimov novella of the same name. Williams played a household android in the 21st century who has trouble functioning when he starts to feel human emotion. Though it had an intriguing concept, solid source material and a major star in the lead, "Bicentennial Man" became increasingly marred by sentimentality after a promising start, leading to a rash of negative reviews and mediocre box office performance. But none of that mattered when Columbus was brought on to helm the much anticipated "Harry Potter and the Sorcererâ¿¿s Stone" (2001), based on author J.K. Rowlingâ¿¿s hugely successful novel series. While many wanted the directing chores, including his mentor Steven Spielberg, Columbus emerged as something of a surprise victor. It was his dedication and passion for the material that won over Rowling and producer David Heyman. With much riding on the success of the first film, Columbus managed to succeed in the seemingly impossible task of crafting a film that honored its source material in telling the tale of a put-upon British boy (Daniel Radcliffe) who escapes his dreary home life after discovering he comes from a long line of wizards. Despite some critics complaining that Columbus was perhaps too loyal to the original book, "Harry Potter" was a huge critical and box office success that set in motion one of the most financially lucrative film franchises in history.

Within days of the first film's opening, Columbus was back on set shooting the second in the series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002). The sequel was largely received as an improvement on the first installment, brisker and bolder while still exceedingly faithful to the source material. Columbus bowed out of directing the third installment, which led to Alfonso Cuarón taking the reins for the trickier and darker "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004) ⿿ a tone for which Columbus was undeniably ill-suited given his past excursions into maudlin sentimentality. He did, however, remain as one of the producers. While writing and producing "Christmas with the Kranks" (2004) and serving as executive producer on "Fantastic Four" (2005), Columbus returned to surprisingly direct the beloved smash Broadway hit "Rent" (2005), which resulted in a visually uninspired film that lack the pathos and electrifying moments that defined the live version. His failure to translate "Rent" to the big screen was surprising, due to Columbus using performers from the landmark show's original cast.

After "Rent," Columbus retreated from directing for a few years to concentrate on producing "Night at the Museum" (2006), "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (2007) and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009). He returned to the directorâ¿¿s chair for "I Love You, Beth Cooper" (2009), a teen romantic comedy about a high school dweeb (Paul Rust) who finally gets his chance with the pretty girl (Hayden Panettiere), only to discover her meathead boyfriend (Shawn Roberts) is standing in the way. The movie was essentially trashed by critics for its lifeless comedy, wooden performances and unnecessary sight gags, like a character shoving two tampons up his nose to stop it from bleeding. Columbus rebounded well enough with "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" (2010), an adaptation of Rick Riordanâ¿¿s popular book series about an accident-prone teen (Logan Lerman) who learns he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon and is granted supernatural powers he must use to save the world. Though not a big commercial success, "The Lightning Thief" managed to make a respectable run worldwide. The next year, Columbus had a producer credit on the critical and commercial success "The Help" (2011). As a director, Columbus returned to television with "Applebaum" (2012), a pilot for a series based on Ayelet Waldman's comic mystery novels about a stay at home mother turned private detective; it aired as a TV movie when the series was not picked up. After producing the sequels "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" (2013) and "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" (2014), Columbus returned to the director's chair for "Pixels" (2015), a comedy adventure about an alien attack by 1980s video game characters starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Sold first screenplay "Jocks" for $5,000 while at NYU; never produced
1984:
Wrote teen drama "Reckless," starring Matthew Modine.
1985:
Last collaboration with producer Spielberg, the screenplay for "Young Sherlock Holmes"; directed by Barry Levinson
1986:
Created and wrote the first episodes of the animated series "Galaxy High School" (CBS)
:
Fired as the screenwriter of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" by Spielberg and George Lucas
1987:
Formed production company, 1492 Productions
1988:
Wrote and directed "Heartbreak Hotel," a fantasy about Elvis Presley starring Tuesday Weld.
1991:
Wrote and directed "Only the Lonely"; also produced by Hughes
1992:
Helmed sequel, "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York"; scripted and produced by Hughes
1995:
Re-teamed with Robin Williams for the comedy film "Nine Months"
1996:
Produced "Jingle All the Way," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
1998:
Directed the drama "Stepmom," starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris
1999:
Re-teamed with Robin Williams as producer and director of "Bicentennial Man"
2002:
Helmed the second installment in the series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
2004:
Wrote and produced "Christmas with the Kranks," starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis
2005:
Directed the film version of the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning musical, "Rent"
2009:
Produced the sequel, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"
2009:
Directed and produced the comedy film "I Love You, Beth Cooper"
2010:
Directed the film adaptation of "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," the first novel in the series by Rick Riordan
2011:
Produced critical and commercial success "The Help."
2014:
Produced "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters."
2014:
Produced "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb."
2015:
Produced and directed "Pixels," a comedy adventure starring Adam Sandler.
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

New York University: New York , New York - 1980

Notes

When Chris Columbus met with Warner Bros. executives in order to "audition" for the the assignment of directing the Harry Potter movies, he brought along his annotated copy of Steve Kloves' screenplay. As Columbus told the Daily News (November 11, 2001): "I essentially put stuff back from the book and restructured [the script] to show them how I would make the movie, and I made the descriptions much more flowery so they would know what I was trying to do. I said, 'I'm actually so passionate about this that I've rewritten it to show you what I would do for free. I don't think anyone else in Hollywood would do that.'"

"There are a couple of things I WON'T do--you won't find me making a '9 1/2 Weeks', he says, smiling at the very idea. "I would start laughing if I was doing it. Movies like 'Basic Instinct'--I can understand the validity of showing people the ugliness of the world, but I also think there is a place for movies to leave people with a sense of hope for life. If your film isn't going to do that, then I just don't think it's worth making." --Chris Columbus, quoted in "Columbus' New Adventure" by Blaise Simpson, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1993.

As Spielberg's protege, Columbus had an office just down the hall from his mentor. He was welcome to interrupt whenever he pleased to discuss characters and to go over his pages. Their collaboration ended when Columbus was fired as the screenwriter of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989).

"The mistake I made was that Steven asked me to do 'Indiana Jones' and I was scheduled to go into meetings with Steven and George Lucas. Just the three of us in a room. Now if you want to talk about intimidating ... So I went into this room for about eight days in New York and I just took notes on every aspect of the story." Columbus was so awed at working with the two screen legends that he transcribed the notes almost word for word, adding nothing of himself--which resulted in what he calls a "very flat screenplay."

"They tossed me off the project, but I understood," he continues. "I learned a very valuable lesson, which is that if you're going to do something, you always have to do it from your own inspiration, even if you're rewriting someone else's work." He has remained close to Spielberg and says, "I still make my films hoping to please Steven." --quoted in "Columbus' New Adventure" by Blaise Simpson, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1993.

Actor Richard Harris on Columbus' technique on the set of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": "Chris quite rightly concentrated on the kids. He said, 'You guys are pros, you can do it.' He was like the Pied Piper with them. They absolutely worshipped him. He never once lost his cool." --quoted in Daily News, November 11, 2001.

Columbus states that his father gave him Christopher as a first name because, "He thought people would remember it. He had a good sense of humor."

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Monica Devereux. Choreographer. Met at a Halloween party in 1980; Columbus proposed by their third date; married in 1983 in Chicago.

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Irene Columbus. Died of cancer c. 1997.

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