Half of the producing tandem behind the most testosterone-laden action flicks, the name Jerry Bruckheimer has become synonymous with explosive pyrotechnics and machine-gun fire. The producer of such hits as Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986), and Days of Thunder (1990), Bruckheimer dissolved his partnership with hard-partying producer Don Simpson in 1995, only weeks before Simpson's death and after 14 tumultuous years together. Despite a reputation for quantity over quality, Bruckheimer has remained one of Hollywood's most successful producers ever, putting his distinctive stamp on such adrenaline-fueled hits as Con Air (1997) and Armageddon (1998).
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The son of German-Jewish immigrants, Bruckheimer was born on September 21, 1945. He grew up poor, living in a tiny house in a blue-collar Jewish section of Detroit. Dropped off at a weekly matinee by his mother and salesman father, Bruckheimer developed a love for the cinema that eventually channeled him toward photography. He won several local prizes before fleeing Detroit for Madison Avenue, by way of the University of Arizona, where he received a degree in psychology, and on the strength of a Bonnie and Clyde spoof he helmed for Pontiac. The future producer left a lucrative advertising job in New York to accept low-paying film work in the early '70s, part of the pursuit of his dream. He worked with director Dick Richards on his first few projects, as associate producer on The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972) and producer on Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and March or Die (1977). Bruckheimer began gaining notice through a pair of Paul Schrader films, the Richard Gere hustler film American Gigolo (1979), and the feline horror flick Cat People (1982). But it was his first pairing with old buddy Don Simpson, on the 1983 surprise smash Flashdance, that kicked off his string of hits, which has continued more or less unabated. The underdog story of a Pittsburgh arc welder with dreams of ballet dancing, Flashdance used a synthesis of music, sex, quick edits, and bold aspirations to rake in 95 million dollars -- an incredible take for an unheralded R-rated film, making it the third-highest box-office haul of 1983. Bruckheimer and Simpson were on the map and then some. Forming Simpson-Bruckheimer Productions and signing a long-term deal with Paramount, Bruckheimer and Simpson complemented each other well, likening their partnership to a strong marriage, but without the sex. Simpson's extensive industry contacts and Hollywood ladder climbing earned him the nickname "Mr. Inside," while Bruckheimer's practical experience with filmmaking, much of it through advertising, qualified him as "Mr. Outside." With both sides covered, the pair could do no wrong. Their popcorn films fed the public's need for the loud and the proud, quickly assuming iconic status and elevating such actors as Tom Cruise (Top Gun) and Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop) to bona-fide superstardom. In 1990, the team dissolved its deal with Paramount "by mutual agreement," and began a non-exclusive, five-year pact with Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures the following year. Initially slowed, but undaunted, Bruckheimer and Simpson had their next big wave of hits in 1995, releasing Dangerous Minds, Crimson Tide, and Bad Boys in quick succession and reaffirming their relevance. However, Simpson's behind-the-scenes drug problems were damaging the partnership irreparably, and Bruckheimer called off the professional union at the end of that successful year, at the close of production on The Rock (1996). Simpson died a month later of heart failure.
As both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Bruckheimer excelled. Con Air was a hit in 1997, and the Bruce Willis asteroid flick Armageddon grossed the second most of any film released in 1998, at just over 200 million dollars. Bruckheimer achieved mid-level success -- but at the cost of ever-growing critical disdain -- with the releases of Enemy of the State (1998), Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), and Coyote Ugly (2000). Hoping to mix Oscar credentials with his traditional blend of wham-bam thrills, Bruckheimer provided the muscle behind Michael Bay's 150-million-dollar-plus World War II action-romance Pearl Harbor (2001). But critics and the Academy were not as receptive to this film as to such epic tragedies as Titanic (1997) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), and issued Bruckheimer across-the-board raspberries. The film was considered an unqualified dud, its 200-million-dollar take well short of expectations. Bruckheimer did achieve a measure of redemption later that year with the release of Black Hawk Down. Ridley Scott's re-creation of an ill-fated U.S. military mission in Somalia, the film scored raves and four Oscar nominations, winning for its editing and sound. Bruckheimer expanded his production empire into television crating the enormously successful SI franchise, as well as Without a Trace, and the multiple Emmy winning reality show The Amazing Race. He continued producing feature films as eclectic as Kangaroo Jack and Bad Company, but in 2003 he helped steer the massively successful Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. That film was so successful Disney agreed to finance two sequels to be produced simultaneously. The first of those to hit theaters, Dead Man's Chest, shattered box-office records for biggest opening day and biggest opening weekend, and was the first film to take in over $100 million in two days. The next film in the franchise, At World's End, was no disappointment either, and another installment, On Stranger Tides, was added in 2011 to the same box office success.
Meanwhile, Bruckheimer's winning streak producing TV continued with shows like Without a Trace, The Forgotten, Take the Money & Run, the CSI family, and more. Additionally, Bruckheimer signed on to produce the big screen adaptation of The Lone Ranger in 2013.
~ Derek Armstrong, Rovi