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Joel Silver: End of an Era as Studios Pull Back from Deluxe Producer Deals

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 25, 2012 at 3:56PM

How are the mighty fallen. After 25 years on the lot, Warner Bros. has unceremoniously kicked producer Joel Silver, of "Matrix" and "Lethal Weapon" fame, to the curb.
Joel Silver
Joel Silver

Just look at Silver's credits. What did he bring to the party on "The Matrix" series or any of the films he produced for the Wachowskis? He has dined on the franchises he was lucky to be part of, from Richard Donner's "Lethal Weapon" series to "Sherlock Holmes," directed by "Rocknrolla" director Guy Ritchie and starring "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" star Robert Downey, Jr., whose wife Susan also produced the series.

But over time, with few exceptions, Silver's films are recognizably of a piece. At the start of his post-NYU career, he worked for Lawrence Gordon on three terrific Walter Hill films: "The Warriors," "Streets of Fire," and "48 HRS.," plus Hill's less successful "Brewster's Millions." With Gordon, Silver also launched Fox's mighty "Die Hard" and "Predator" series. On his own, Silver did strong action work with the relatively lean "Commando," starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, at Fox.

But at Warners, until Silver headed in the direction of low-budget genre fare with his horror label, his big-budget studio films represent the loud, overwrought, costly, cynical audience-pandering formulas that many have been decrying for years. Some of the films he made are laughably bad, from "Road House" and "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane" to "Hudson Hawk" and "Richie Rich." A critics' darling he is not.

Other titles are just mind-numbing, among them "Action Jackson," "Fair Game," "Executive Decision," "Demolition Man," "Conspiracy Theory," "Romeo Must Die," "The Last Boy Scout," "Swordfish," "The Reaping," "The Invasion" and "Whiteout."  (I'll give him "Ricochet," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Book of Eli.")

Will the one-time uber-producer be able to change his stripes outside of the garden of paradise? We'll soon see. 

This article is related to: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.