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A Hollywood craftsman who helmed many hit features of the 1980s and 1990s after making a name for himself in 1970s-era television, director John Badham unobtrusively directed slick entertainment that occasionally touched upon such topical social issues as euthanasia, nuclear disarmament and the dangers of the police state. Following a brief but successful career directing episodes of popular 1970s shows like "The Senator" (NBC, 1970-71) and "The Streets of San Francisco" (ABC, 1972-77), Badham made a huge splash as a featured director of "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), a massive commercial hit that became the iconic movie of the latter part of the decade while turning John Travolta into a superstar overnight. Just a few years later, he touched another cultural nerve with "WarGames" (1983), which tapped into both the fear and fascination with global thermonuclear war. After turning his attention toward lighthearted sci-fi comedy with the popular "Short Circuit" (1986), Badham displayed a knack for pitch-perfect casting when he brought together Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez for the popular action comedy "Stakeout" (1987). But once he entered the next decade, the director had a string of tough near-misses like "Point of No Return" (1993), "Drop Zone" (1994) and "Nick of Time" (1995) that led to a prolonged absence from film in order to helm episodic television. Though mostly flying under the radar for the duration of his time working for the small screen, Badham remained one Hollywood's more workman-like directors.
Born on Aug. 15, 1939 in Luton, England, Badham was raised by his father, Henry, a former U.S. Air Force general who became president of the Bessemer Coal, Iron and Land Company, and his mother, Mary, an actress. When he was a young boy, Badham moved with his family to the United States, settling in Birmingham, AL, before becoming a naturalized citizen. A little later in life, he would earn his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Yale University in 1961, followed by his master's in film from Yale's School of Drama in 1963. Soon after, Badham was inspired to go to Hollywood after his younger sister, Mary Badham, received an Oscar nomination for her unforgettable performance as Scout Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). Once in Hollywood, he landed a job in the mailroom at Universal Studios and worked his way up through jobs as a studio tour guide and casting director to become an assistant to veteran producer William Sackheim. From there, Badham was given the chance to associate produce the omnibus television movie, "Night Gallery" (1969), on which he also served as assistant director to neophyte filmmaker Steven Spielberg on a segment starring Joan Crawford.
Badham became a full-fledged television director, helming "The Bold Ones" episode of the acclaimed but short-lived series, "The Senator" (NBC, 1970-71) starring Hal Holbrook. More directing gigs on television soon followed, as he helmed such diverse fare as the detective series "Cannon" (CBS, 1971-76), the courtroom drama "Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law" (ABC, 1971-74), the horror anthology "Rod Serling's Night Gallery" (NBC, 1971-73), "Kung Fu" (ABC, 1972-75) and "The Streets of San Francisco" (ABC, 1972-77). Badham's most celebrated television work at the time was the Emmy award-winning TV movie, "The Law" (1974), starring Judd Hirsch. The brisk and biting dramatization of the workings of a big city's criminal justice system also won the Peabody and Humanitas awards. Badham graduated to the big screen when Spielberg, basking in the big money afterglow of "Jaws" (1975), decided not to direct "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" (1976), a period baseball comedy involving the old Negro National League. Starring Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor, the movie boasted smooth direction, excellent performances, glossy production values and a sharp, intelligent screenplay.
Badham finally achieved his major breakthrough with one of the signature films of the 1970s, "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), which starred John Travolta as Tony Manero, a working-class Brooklynite looking for a way out of his dead-end existence. His escape comes in the form of ruling the disco dance floor on weekends, leading to a partnering with a talented, but stuffy Manhattan secretary (Karen Lynn Gorney) in order to win a dance competition. Arguably the defining movie of the second half of the decade, "Saturday Night Fever" was a huge commercial success that crossed over to the music world, where the soundtrack - headlined by the Bee Gees - became the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time. The movie also launched Travolta from a mildly known television personality to full-blown superstar, while Badham had carte blanche for his next picture. His next movie turned out to be "Dracula" (1979), a surreally gothic take on the old vampire tale which starred Frank Langella as one of the most debonair counts to have appeared on screen. With Laurence Olivier as vampire hunter Van Helsing, Badham's version offered an interesting, if somewhat over-stylized take on the classic story.
Badham moved on to direct "Whose Life is it Anyway?" (1981), a triumphant drama that starred Richard Dreyfuss as a quadriplegic sculptor who goes to court to fight for the right to end his own life. Though little seen, the film made a convincing argument for such action, thanks in large part to Dreyfuss' powerful performance. Badham next turned to action flicks with "Blue Thunder" (1983), a high-octane, but rather farfetched yarn starring Roy Scheider as an LAPD-helicopter pilot who tries to stop his old Vietnam War nemesis (Malcolm McDowell) from using a high-tech helicopter for an armed takeover of the United States. Returning to more grounded fare, Badham helmed the techno thriller "WarGames" (1983), which focused on a young computer game enthusiast (Matthew Broderick) who almost unleashes World War III after hacking into NORAD's supercomputer and playing an all-too-realistic game of "Global Thermonuclear War." With another hit that had a cultural ripple effect - particularly the line "Shall we play a game?" - Badham cemented his standing as a bankable filmmaker capable of producing time-capsule worthy entertainment.
Badham's next movie was "American Flyers" (1985), an overwrought drama about two feuding brothers (Kevin Costner and David Marshall Grant) who come together after being pushed to their physical and emotional limits during a grueling three-day bicycle race. He quickly regained his footing as a purveyor of popular movies with "Short Circuit" (1986), an amusing sci-fi comedy about a pleasant robot named Number 5, who escapes from a lab, only to take refuge with an animal lover (Ally Sheedy) who thinks that he is an extraterrestrial. Though not groundbreaking or as culturally relevant as "Saturday Night Fever" or "WarGames," the movie fared well at the box office amidst a positive round of reviews. Badham moved on to direct arguably his most memorable comedy, "Stakeout" (1987), a slick vehicle starring Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez as two wisecracking cops tasked with watching from afar the former girlfriend (Madeline Stowe) of an escaped convict (Aidan Quinn). Playing off of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (1954), the buddy comedy crackled with chemistry between the three leads and went on to become yet another commercial hit for the director.
Following the critical and commercial disappointment of "Bird on a Wire" (1990), starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, Badham showcased Michael J. Fox as a slick Hollywood actor and James Woods as a hardboiled cop partnered together to track down a notorious serial killer (Stephen Lang) in "The Hard Way" (1991). Both movies proved that Badham occasionally struggled with choosing the right projects for his obvious talents. As a change of pace, he next helmed the spy thriller, "Point of No Return" (1993), a virtual shot-for-shot remake of Luc Besson's French art-house smash, "La Femme Nikita" (1990), which starred Bridget Fonda as a drug-addicted murderer trained to become a government assassin. A decent enough copy of Besson's original, "Point of No Return" received mild praise despite its lack of originality. After failing to recapture old glory with the far more inferior "Another Stakeout" (1993) sequel, Badham helmed "Drop Zone" (1994), a rather ordinary and uninspired action thriller starring Wesley Snipes as a U.S. marshal in hot pursuit of renegade stunt skydivers. He stumbled even further with the thriller "Nick of Time" (1995), in which a mild-mannered accountant (Johnny Depp) is forced to participate in a political assassination after his daughter (Courtney Chase) is kidnapped by Christopher Walken.
Badham continued to struggle in the feature world with "Incognito" (1998), a crime thriller about an art forger (Jason Patric) hired to recreate a famous Rembrandt to trick experts, and "Floating Away" (1998), a redemptive drama about an alcoholic woman (Rosanna Arquette) who goes on a cross-country trek with two other recovering drinkers (Paul Hogan and Judge Reinhold) in order to regain custody of her son. The director left features behind in order to return to television, where he maintained steady, albeit anonymous employment. After helming made-for-cable movies like "The Jack Bull" (HBO, 1999) and "The Last Debate" (Showtime, 2000), Badham became a hired gun for many popular television shows, including the "Dead Soldiers" episode of "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08). He moved on to become the executive producer and showrunner on "Blind Justice" (ABC, 2005), a police procedural centered on a blind cop (Ron Eldard) who remains an effective investigator despite his disability. Following that show's quick demise, Badham returned to helming episodes of "Crossing Jordan" (NBC, 2001-07), "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010), "Psych" (USA Network, 2006-14), "In Plain Sight" (USA Network, 2008-12) and "The Event" (NBC, 2010-11).
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Moved to US
Served as associate producer of omnibus TV movie and unofficial pilot, "Night Gallery"; assistant director on Steven Spielberg-directed segment
TV directing debut with an episode of "The Senator" starring Hal Holbrook
TV-movie directing debut, "The Impatient Heart"
Feature co-directing debut (with Daniel Haller, Leon Benson, Robert Day and Joseph Sargent), "Sunshine Part II" (sequel to the 1973 TV-movie made up of episodes from the short-lived TV series)
Solo theatrical feature directing debut, "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings"
Directed the blockbuster, "Saturday Night Fever"
Directed two of the highest grossing films of the summer season, "War Games" and "Blue Thunder"
First film as producer (also director), "Stakeout"
Formed the Badham/Cohen Group with Rob Cohen