Jerry Bruckheimer on Thursday became the first producer ever honored by the American Cinematheque, feted by some of the biggest names in show business who joined together to pay tribute a man whose name has become synonymous with big-box-office action movies. And because of it, he’s also one of the few filmmakers who has the distinction of being an international brand.
“No one is more shocked than myself that I am standing here tonight just having received this prestigious award, surrounded by Hollywood royalty not to mention a dame and a knight,” said Bruckheimer, referring to two of his presenters Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ben Kingsley, who celebrated the evening with him. The producer thanked his former partner, the late Don Simpson, and also Tony Scott, “a true visual genius whose energy and unique vision set the standard for high-voltage filmmaking.”
The evening at the Beverly Hilton was interspersed with clips from so many of the movies that has defined his career and contributed to his phenomenal $11.2 billion in worldwide box office: American Gigolo, Flashdance, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys, Remember the Titans, Black Hawk Down, and franchise hits Beverly Hills Cop and Pirates of the Caribbean, to name a few.
Jon Voight, who has been in five of his films, pointed out how many thousands of people in the entertainment industry Bruckheimer has employed during his 40 years of moviemaking, something not lost on the audience. “What I really can’t believe is that it’s been 40 years,” said Bruckheimer, the 27th recipient of the award, who gave credit to all the people he had collaborated with over the years.
Bruce Willis, star of the Bruckheimer-produced and Michael Bay-directed 1998 hit Armageddon, presented the award after a heartfelt thank you to “a generous and gracious man.” Willis, Voight, Cuba Gooding Jr., hockey greats Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille, Armie Hammer, Marg Helgenberger, Jon Turteltaub, Hans Zimmer, and Diane Warren came onstage one by one to introduce clips.
One of the evening’s highlights was when Terri Nunn of the band Berlin sang “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun. Warren introduced the array of other unforgettable hit music from Bruckheimer films that became synonymous with the films they appeared in, including “Danger Zone” (Top Gun), “Call Me” (American Gigolo), “Maniac” and “What a Feeling” (Flashdance), “The Heat Is On” (Beverly Hills Cop), “Gangsta’s Paradise” (Dangerous Minds).
Those who spoke on tape, including Depp, Cruise and Cage, spoke about Bruckheimer’s fierce loyalty.
“From the very beginning when it felt like Vesuvius was about to come down on us and all this hellfire and brimstone from the very hoity-toity kind of type or two at Disney, Jerry was right there for me and protected me,” said Pirates of the Caribbean star Depp. “Basically, a number of Disney types or two would have liked to see me replaced at Disney … fired … and were talking about putting in subtitles in for Captain Jack and couldn’t understand what the character was or who he was or why he was and why I was playing it that way, and they were quite upset. Jerry stuck by me the whole way, as did Dick Cook at Disney. He’s the great protector. He’s quite a force to experience and a very creative force as well. If I had my druthers, I’d just work from Jerry from now to doomsday.”
Several celebs talked about Bruckheimer’s intense work ethic, and National Treasure director Turteltaub poked fun, saying: “I remember one day when we were making National Treasure , he let me come into the editing room,” which got a big laugh. “He taught me how to make a $200 million movie … you start with $100 million. … Oh, the Paramount table just threw up a little bit.”
Bruckheimer just signed a three-year first look deal with Paramount Pictures last week, leaving his Disney home to return to the studio where he and Simpson started together.
Bay thanked Bruckheimer for taking him under his wing at age 26 and said he had the greatest moments in his career with him. He jokingly blamed Jerry’s wife Linda for the idea he had to write film critic Peter Travers when Travers slammed his movie. “Linda called him a hack and demanded that I write Travers a letter,” said Bay. “Thank you, Linda. Since then I’ve won the worst director of the decade.” Gretzky also poked good fun at Linda Bruckheimer remembering, “In 1988, Jerry came to his first hockey game and Jerry watched the game … and Linda read a book.”
Cruise talked about the characteristic calm that Bruckheimer is known for. He talked about their first day of shooting on the 1990 racing film Days of Thunder and how he and director Tony Scott and Bruckheimer were watching the scene, getting wide shots of the first race. There were about 30 cars going around the track at 180 mph; they rounded the bend and suddenly there was a multi-car crash. “And half of the cars were totaled, and this was before CGI and special effects” so there was no way easy fix … “and you, me and Tony were standing there in silence. And you just turned to me and said, ‘It’s OK. We’ll figure it out.’ ”
Of course, car chases, explosions and blowing things up are characteristic of his films. In accepting his award, even Bruckheimer joked about it, quoting Winston Churchill: “We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed,” which got a laugh. He went onto describe some of the things and cities he has demolished in his films: Grand Central Station, the Eiffel Tower, the Las Vegas Strip, Alcatraz, Shanghai, Paris – “and that just covers three films.”
Helgenberger introduced a clip of Bruckheimer’s successful television programs, saying that “when CSI debuted, no one had any idea he was going to change the face of television. After 14 seasons, it’s the most-watched television show on the planet.” That introduced a series of clips that included the many incarnations of the CSI shows, The Amazing Race, Cold Case, and Hostages.
Cage noted that he has done seven films with Bruckheimer “and only one was a sequel, so no one can accuse us of sequelitis.” Gooding led a moment of silence for the troops abroad before showing a clip of military movies. More than once, actors cited Bruckheimer’s close ties with the military and even “a five-star general.”
Bruckheimer ended by thanking his old studio and his new studio bosses Robert Iger and Brad Grey, his wife and his daughter Alexandra.
Established in 1981, the American Cinematheque is a nonprofit, viewer-supported film exhibition and cultural organization dedicated to the celebration of the Moving Picture in all of its forms.