Brett Ratner’s rise through the directorial ranks as a helmer of consistent studio hits was swift and immediate. A veteran of the music-video world, his feature debut, “Money Talks,” became a low-budget success in late summer 1997, and would cement his strong relationship with actor-comedian Chris Tucker.
“Chris helped me get my job on ‘Money Talks,’ ” Ratner says. “When the original director left the project, Chris apparently said to the producers that he knew this ‘cool white boy named Brett Ratner’ and that’s how it happened. I knew I could work with Chris and that it would be a lot of fun. ‘Money Talks’ made sense because I had come out of music videos, and it fit with what I had learned. It happened very fast. I was 26 when I got ‘Money Talks,’ and I’d done over 100 music videos, but back then, you had to do commercials and music videos like Michael Bay and those guys, to get really noticed. And I was just known as ‘the music-video guy,’ but I always knew I wanted to direct movies.”
The 1998 buddy-cop action-comedy “Rush Hour” became a surprise blockbuster, with audiences loving the back and forth between co-stars Tucker and Jackie Chan, who was best known on American movie screens through his foreign imports.
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“Before I directed him in ‘Money Talks’ and ‘Rush Hour,’ I met Chris Tucker though Russell Simmons, at one of the comedy clubs in Los Angeles, and he just blew me away with his talent. Then we did a music video together and I knew he was someone to look out for in the future.”
So when the chance came to direct “Rush Hour,” he had this feeling that Tucker and Chan would be a great team. “That’s the magic of great casting. Their chemistry was dynamite on-set,” Ratner says. “I can remember that first test screening. I think it had close to 98% in the top two boxes, and people were literally jumping out of their seats. I’ve never had a theatrical experience like that, and we all knew it was going to be a huge hit.”
|“Brett is the ideal producer, because he’s also a great director.”|
“The Family Man,” Ratner’s 2000 holiday season hit with Nicolas Cage, showed new dimensions to Ratner as a filmmaker, scaling back the action and focusing on the human element at play in the screenplay.
“That’s my favorite film that I’ve had the opportunity to direct,” he says, with a touch of melancholy in his voice. “I was just ending a 13-year relationship, and my life was mirroring this great script, which I didn’t write, but helped to flesh out with some of my own experiences. And I had to make some big decisions in my life, either to continue with my career or get married and it was just a tough time. Working with Nicolas Cage was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had working in the movie industry, and everyone who I know who has seen ‘The Family Man,’ everyone tells me how much they love it and how it reminded them of their own life in some small way.”
Ratner’s sense of warmth mixed with apprehension when discussing “The Family Man” certainly ties into the film, as it explores lives paths taken and not taken.
“That film means a lot to me personally, and it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Another person who thinks highly of the film is legendary filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. “ ‘The Family Man’ is one of the best films of the last 20 years, a film made in that classic Hollywood tradition,” he says.
Ratner and Bogdanovich are collaborating on a project and Bogdanovich says he’s impressed with how Ratner handles both producing and directing. “Brett is the ideal producer, because he’s also a great director, so he knows both sides, and he’s sympathetic to the process and very encouraging.”
Ratner reteamed with Tucker and Chan for 2001’s “Rush Hour 2,” which grossed nearly $350 million worldwide, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year.
|Brett Ratner directs “Rush Hour 2”
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“What can you say, audiences love seeing them together,” Ratner chuckles. “People become familiar with a set of characters, and they get invested in them. We always knew we could expand upon the ‘Rush Hour’ universe and have more fun with it.”
And that sort of appeal isn’t lost on others. Bogdanovich says, “Brett’s an extremely good director, underrated certainly. The ‘Rush Hour’ movies are very well made entertainments, and very funny. They work for audiences and there’s something to be said for that and Brett understands that.”
Ratner switched gears for 2002’s horror franchise entry “Red Dragon,” which earned him some of the best reviews of his career. “That was exciting, stepping into that franchise, which of course had all sorts of expectations, and it was a reimagining of an earlier film,” Ratner says. “So with ‘Red Dragon,’ I tried to not just do one particular thing. It’s as much of a psychological thriller as it is a horror movie, rather than just a straight horror movie. I really like to combine different elements in my films. It’s never just one thing with me.”
“Red Dragon” was a hit, grossing over $200 million worldwide before becoming a staple cable item and best-selling DVD.
“[Producer] Dino De Laurentiis really hammered me on that shoot! But I loved it. I’d try and sneak onto the set, through the back, and he’d catch me and yell at me for something, and it was just great, having a guy like him getting on my case in a good way. I can remember Anthony Hopkins coming to me and saying, ‘Brett, do you want me to get Dino off your back?’ And I told Anthony that Dino could yell at me all he wants! Normally it was over me shooting too much coverage. Dino taught me how to shoot fast. It was such a joy to be yelled at by Dino, because he always supported you, even when I’d disagree with him. There was one shot he wanted in the film, and even though I didn’t keep it in, he respected me for my convictions.”
Ratner’s 2004 neo-noir “After the Sunset” represents one of the more adult-minded entries from the filmmaker, and while not his biggest hit, it certainly stands as his most underappreciated effort.
“That was a ton of fun to shoot. We had a great cast and a good script and it allowed me to do a few different things within the confines of a genre picture. I like how we got to do some comedy, some romance, and some action with that one. The middle has fallen out of the studio picture, so a film like ‘After the Sunset’ would be tough to get made now. And those are the types of films that appeal to me.”
|“Dino De Laurentiis really hammered me on that shoot! But I loved it.”|
In 2006, Ratner’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” broke box office records over its Memorial Day weekend release. “That was such a huge movie, such a huge event for me as a filmmaker, and it really showed me how a movie of that scale gets done at all the various levels. And it was crazy, because [director] Bryan Singer and I, we basically traded projects, traded franchises. I was supposed to direct ‘Superman,’ with J.J. [Abrams] script, and then that didn’t happen. And Bryan decided not to do the third ‘X-Men’ at the time, so he took over ‘Superman’ and did his take on it, which allowed me to get involved on ‘X-3.’ And I loved Bryan’s first two films, so it was a big deal for me to continue on with the franchise that he had started. It’s tough when you start these big franchise engines, because sometimes there’s this sense that you don’t want anyone else to come in and change things from what you started.”
“X-Men: The Last Stand” grossed over $450 million worldwide, becoming the seventh-highest earning picture of that year.
In 2007, “Rush Hour 3” cleaned up at the box office, establishing the trilogy as one of the most successful of its type, even if Ratner thinks that “maybe someone else should have directed that one. Maybe I should have passed off the reins. But it was great reteaming with all of those guys for another round.”
In 2011, his star-studded action caper “Tower Heist” was released during the Thanksgiving holiday, becoming a solid hit.
“That was a joy to make, because we had such a great cast, and I’d wanted to do something with Eddie Murphy for a while.”
And 2014’s “Hercules,” with Dwayne Johnson, became another impressive worldwide box office earner. “That was very exciting, working with iconic material, and again, doing something a bit different than expected.”