Joseph “Joe” Dante, Jr. (born November 28, 1946) is an American film director and producer of films generally with humorous and science fiction content. His films are well known for their movie in-jokes and their special visual effects.
Dante began his movie career working for Roger Corman, similar to Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron, however unlike those directors, Dante has always maintained hi love of the ‘B’ movie. He worked as an editor on films such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ before codirecting ‘Hollywood Boulevard’ with Allan Arkush.
His films include ‘Piranha’ (1978) and ‘The Howling’ (1981), both from scripts by John Sayles. Though the film has been noted for its semi-humorous screenplay, it began life as a more straight forward 1977 novel by Gary Brandner. After drafts by Jack Conrad (the original director who left following difficulties with the studio) and Terence H. Winkless proved unsatisfactory, director Joe Dante hired John Sayles to completely rewrite the script. Sayles rewrote the script with the same self-aware, satirical tone that he gave Piranha, and his finished draft bears only a vague resemblance to Brandner’s book.
After the release of The Howling, he was noticed by Steven Spielberg for whom he directed the third segment of ‘Twilight Zone: The Movie’ (1983), wherein a woman is ‘adopted’ by an omnipotent child. His first really big hit, Gremlins, which was also produced by Steven Spielberg, was released in 1984. ‘Gremlins’ (1984), his first major hit. The first Gremlins film is about a young man who receives a strange creature—called a Mogwai—as a pet, which then spawns other creatures who transform into small, destructive, evil monsters. Gremlins was a huge commercial success and received positive reviews from critics. However, the film was also heavily criticized for some of its more violent sequences. In response to this, and to similar complaints about other films (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Steven Spielberg suggested that the MPAA reform its rating system, which it did within two months of the film’s release.
He would work with Spielberg again on Innerspace and a Gremlins sequel, ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’, released in 1990. In contrast to the lighter sequel, the original Gremlins opts for more black comedy, which is balanced against a Christmas-time setting. Both films were the center of large merchandising campaigns.
Films of varying success followed, ‘Explorers’ (1985), ‘Innerspace’ (1987), ‘Amazon Women on the Moon’ (1987); ‘The ‘Burbs’ (1989), ‘Matinee’ (1993), ‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994), ‘The Second Civil War’ (1997), ‘Small Soldiers’ (1998), ‘Looney Tunes: Back in Action’ (2003), and ‘Homecoming’ (2005). In 1995–1996, Dante worked on ‘The Phantom’, and when he was removed from the film, he chose screen credit (as executive producer) rather than pay. He was creative consultant on ‘Eerie, Indiana’ (1991–1992) and directed five episodes. He played himself in the series finale.
In 2007, Dante launched the web series, Trailers From Hell, which provides commentary by directors, producers and screenwriters on trailers for classic and cult movies. His last major release was the excellent, ‘The Hole’ (2009) which did quite well in the UK but was otherwise generally overlooked.