Ivan Reitman has died, and the film world has lost another legend.
Ivan Reitman was born in Komárno, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), on October 27, 1946. His parents were both Hungarian Jews; his mother had survived Auschwitz and his father was a member of the underground resistance. The family arrived in Canada as refugees when Ivan was four years old; they eventually settled in Toronto. Reitman attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where he earned a BA in Music in 1969. While attending McMaster, Reitman discovered a love for filmmaking.
Reitman found work at a Toronto television station, CITY-TV, where he met Dan Aykroyd (at the time, Aykroyd was the station’s announcer), a professional relationship that would last for decades. Reitman found work as a theater producer and eventually moved to New York City to work on a musical called The Magic Show. Reitman produced two early films directed by David Cronenberg, Shivers and Rabid, before segueing into comedy with National Lampoon’s Animal House.
In 1978, Reitman got his first directing gig. The resulting film, Meatballs, starred Bill Murray in his first leading role. Meatballs started life as a raunchy teen sex romp but morphed into something else: the sweet story of a 12-year-old boy named Rudy (My Bodyguard‘s Chris Makepeace, in his film debut) and his friendship with Camp North Star head counselor Tripper Harrison (Murray). Post-production, some additional scenes were filmed that played up the touching father-son dynamic between the two. Meatballs was a surprise hit, and Reitman had his ticket to Hollywood. Reitman reunited with Murray for his second feature, Stripes, the story of a misfit platoon of Army recruits. Reitman’s concept for the film was “Cheech and Chong join the Army”. Stripes was the fifth most popular movie of 1981, and allowed Reitman more creative control as well as a bigger budget for his next feature.
Next up was Reitman’s most successful film ever and a pop-culture juggernaut: the deliriously entertaining and endlessly quotable Ghostbusters. It’s impossible to overstate the extent to which Ghostbusters dominated pop culture in 1984. It was the second-highest-grossing film of the year (behind Beverly Hills Cop) and yielded a #1 single. There were Ghostbusters action figures and Ghostbusters Lego sets and Ghostbusters lunch boxes and Ghostbusters Halloween costumes. Ghostbusters was nominated for two Oscars, Best Original Song (it lost to “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Woman in Red) and Best Visual Effects (it lost to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), but its cultural reach is far greater. Ghostbusters launched a franchise that includes two sequels and a reboot, an animated television series, theme park attractions, video games and comic books.
Although Ghostbusters represents Reitman’s commercial peak, he continued to direct solidly entertaining and financially successful comedies throughout the ’80s and ’90s, among them Twins, Ghostbusters II, Kindergarten Cop and Dave (a personal favorite of mine).
Reitman only directed four movies in the 21st century: Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, No Strings Attached and Draft Day. He also served as producer on a number of other notable films, including Space Jam, Oscar nominee Up in the Air (directed by his son Jason), 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot and 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife (also directed by Jason).
In 1976, Reitman married Geneviève Robert. The couple had three children: Jason, Catherine (who is a writer, actor and producer in her own right), and Caroline. On Saturday, February 12, Reitman died in his sleep at his Montecito, California home at the age of seventy-five. May his memory be a blessing.