Legendary director and producer Richard Donner, who helmed 1978’s Superman and took the buddy comedy genre to new heights with the Lethal Weapon franchise, has died at the age of 91.

The filmmaker, who was born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in 1930 in the Bronx to Russian Jewish parents, died on Monday, said a spokesperson.

Donner first came to the public’s attention in 1976 with his first major film, The Omen. Making a name for himself, he was offered $1 million to direct Superman, an astonishing salary for a director at the time. Released in 1978, the film was a huge success, propelling its star Christopher Reeve to fame and the director to further hit films such as the Lethal Weapon movies and the classic kids adventure film The Goonies, produced by Steven Spielberg.

Donner is credited with being an early proponent of the superhero blockbuster that dominates modern box offices. The heads of both Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment – where the majority of today’s superhero films are produced – are Donner alumni, having worked for the director at the start of their Hollywood careers.

In a statement, Spielberg lamented the passing of his friend.

“Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres,” said Spielberg. “Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favourite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and – of course – the greatest Goonie of all. He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always.”

Sean Astin, one of the stars of The Goonies, also paid tribute to Donner on Twitter.

“Richard Donner had the biggest, boomiest voice you could imagine. He commanded attention and he laughed like no man has ever laughed before. Dick was so much fun. What I perceived in him, as a 12-year old kid, is that he cared. I love how much he cared,” he said.

Marvel Studios said in a statement that Donner believed “comic characters could be brought to life on the big screen with heart, humor (and) humanity.”

Donner's other film credits included directing Scrooged (1988), Radio Flyer (1992), Maverick (1994), Conspiracy Theory (1997) and his final film, 16 Block (2006) starring Bruce Willis.