Ivan Reitman, OC, film producer, director (born 27 October 1946 in Komárno, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia]; died 12 February 2022 in Montecito, California). Ivan Reitman was one of the most successful Canadian producers and directors to work in Hollywood. He started out in Canada as a producer of grindhouse films, including early films by David Cronenberg. He then produced two of the highest-grossing comedies of all time: Animal House (1978) and Ghostbusters (1984); he also directed the latter. His other movies as director include Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Dave (1993) and Draft Day (2014). An officer of the Order of Canada, Reitman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on Canada's Walk of Fame. He also received a lifetime achievement award from the US National Association of Theatre Owners.
Early Years and Education
Ivan Reitman's family fled Czechoslovakia in 1950 and immigrated to Canada. They settled in Toronto, where Reitman’s parents eventually owned a small chain of dry cleaners and a car wash. While majoring in music and philosophy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Reitman became involved with theatre and film. For a brief while, he headed the McMaster Film Board.
Following a summer course at the National Film Board, Reitman made a short film about campus life, Orientation, which he sold to the CBC and 20th Century Fox. In 1969, he produced a 16 mm soft-core sex feature, Columbus of Sex. After one screening at McMaster, Reitman and his fellow producer, Dan Goldberg, were charged with obscenity. The Ontario Board of Censors (now the Ontario Film Review Board) banned the film from being shown again in the province. (See Censorship.) Goldberg and Reitman were found guilty and fined. However, in a move that would typify his determination to succeed in the business, Reitman had the film re-cut and sold it to an American distributor for a small profit.
Following graduation, Reitman started New Cinema of Canada, a small film distribution company. His first 35 mm feature was the light sexploitation comedy Foxy Lady (1971). It was followed by the horror comedy Cannibal Girls (1973), featuring future SCTV stars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin. Recognizing Reitman's success with low-budget films and his uncanny talent for appealing to the tastes of North American audiences, Montréal's André Link and John Dunning of Cinepix Inc. hired him to produce two films by another young filmmaker, David Cronenberg: Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977). ( See also Tax Shelter Films.) Both films were highly successful on the world market.
Reitman turned to theatre and produced an ambitious magic show put on by fellow McMaster graduate Doug Henning. Spellbound debuted at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre and then moved to Broadway for a successful five-year run under the title The Magic Show. This led Reitman to produce the off-Broadway production of The National Lampoon Show. It evolved into the Universal feature Animal House (1978), directed by John Landis and starring John Belushi. The phenomenal success of that film allowed Reitman to produce and direct his first major Canadian comedy, Meatballs (1979), starring Bill Murray in his film debut. It garnered a best picture nomination at the Genie Awards and received the Golden Reel Award as the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year.
Moving to Los Angeles, Reitman sealed his reputation as a producer of commercial goldmines with Stripes (1981), again with Bill Murray, and, especially, with Ghostbusters (1984). It made $310 million at the box office and became the highest-grossing comedy ever at the time. Co-starring and produced, directed and co-written by Canadians, it has been said that Ghostbusters is the most successful Canadian film made in America. The relative failure of Reitman’s $40-million romantic comedy Legal Eagles (1986), starring Robert Redford and Debra Winger, did nothing to damage his reputation.
Reitman rebounded in 1988 with Twins, pairing the unlikely comic duo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. Ghostbusters II (1989) was followed by the comedy smash Kindergarten Cop (1990), again with Schwarzenegger. Beethoven (1992) and Beethoven's 2nd (1993), about a lovable Saint Bernard, were hugely successful family films and Dave (1993), starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, was a surprise hit. Junior (1994) was his second comedy with Schwarzenegger and DeVito. Although it was critically acclaimed, it did not have a large impact at the box office.
In addition to the Beethoven films, Ivan Reitman's producing credits include the Canadian animated feature Heavy Metal (1981; winner of the Golden Reel Award); Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983); the animated/live-action Space Jam (1996), which teamed Michael Jordan with Looney Tunes characters; Howard Stern's Private Parts (1997); the teen comedy Road Trip (2000); Old School (2003) with Will Ferrell; Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006) and Countdown to Liquor Day (2009, see also Trailer Park Boys); Up in the Air (2009) and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), both directed by his son, Jason Reitman; and Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021).
Personal Life and Family
Ivan Reitman was married to Geneviève Robert from 1976 until his death in 2022. They had three children together: Jason (born 1977), Catherine (born 1981) and Caroline (born 1988). Jason Reitman is the award-winning and Oscar-nominated director of such films as Juno (2007), Up in the Air (2009) and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021). After acting in many of her father’s films as a child, Catherine Reitman went on to appear in such comedies as Knocked Up (2007) and I Love You, Man (2009), as well as such TV series as How I Met Your Mother, Family Guy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Black-ish. She is also the creator and star of the CBC comedy Workin’ Moms (2017–).
TIFF and Reitman Square
A parking lot that Reitman’s father purchased in the 1960s, when it was a car wash, was donated by the Reitman family to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Located in the heart of the theatre district in downtown Toronto, it became the site of the festival’s new year-round headquarters, TIFF Bell Lightbox, which opened to the public in 2010. The area at the base of the building was officially named Reitman Square that year.
Ivan Reitman was given a Special Achievement Genie Award by the Canadian Academy of Cinema & Television in 1985. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997 and on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2001. He was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 2009. In 2014, he received the CinemaCon Lifetime Achievement Award from the US National Association of Theatre Owners.
Following Reitman’s death in 2022, the Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz wrote that Reitman “just might be the most influential Canadian filmmaker of all time.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called Reitman “Hollywood’s master of multiplex comedy… a titan of showbusiness and a master of the impossible task of making people laugh.”