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‘Snakes on a Plane’ Director David R. Ellis Dead at 60

David R. Ellis
Robert Mora/Getty Images

Stuntman turned director David R. Ellis has passed away at the age of 60. He was prepping his next movie when he died suddenly of unknown causes. Though Ellis would never be considered an auteur, his no-nonsense approach and eye for good schlock made him one of the best B-movie directors in the business.

Ellis got started as an actor but as a champion surfer he quickly segued into stunt work where he spent time with Hal Needham — one of the greatest stuntmen turned directors — and he worked steadily with Needham and Burt Reynolds during their heyday. Looking through his body of work, it’s impossible not to be impressed with his resume as he did stunts in many of the classic 1980’s action movies, including ‘To Live and Die in L.A.,’ Lethal Weapon,’ ‘Scarface,’ and ‘Road House.’

His skills and smarts led to work as a stunt coordinator, and then being the 2nd unit director on films like ‘Clear and Present Danger’ and ‘The Matrix Reloaded.’ Eventually he moved into directing (though he was still doing 2nd unit work on films like ‘Cop Out’ and the upcoming ‘47 Ronin‘) and though his first film (‘Homeward Bound 2: Los tin San Francisco’) was the definition of a for hire job, he found his way with his next feature, 2003’s ‘Final Destination 2.’ The first ‘Final Destination’ felt like it couldn’t have a sequel, but Ellis and company took the premise of death’s design and turned each murder into a Rube Goldberg splatter machine. This led to more work, some more inspired than others, but Ellis knew that his movies had to be fun and never pretentious. And though a film like ‘Snakes on a Plane’ was doomed to be more of a meme than blockbuster, Ellis delivered what that movie should be.

Ellis was working on an adaptation of the anime ‘Kite’ during his passing, and IMDb suggests he was attached to a number of projects. He will be missed.

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