Happy Birthday today to Joss Whedon, the screenwriter mastermind who has been responsible for some of the most celebrated science fiction and fantasy releases in recent memory. The writer/director of The Avengers, which has already become the third highest grossing film of all time, is like a contemporary George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, a master of his own domain, globally revered for his wit, smarts, penchant for action with snappy narrative, and unabashed love for all things geek.
Whedon was born in New York City on June 23, 1964, to a family of established screenwriters. His grandfather, John, was a writer for the sitcom The Donna Reed Show in the 1950s. His father Tom was an instrumental figure in the writing direction of the classic children’s educational program The Electric Company in the 1970s and had a hand in the writing development of the successful sitcom The Golden Girls in the 1980s. His mom taught history at Riverdale Country School also in New York City, a school that Whedon had attended. His younger brothers Jed and Zack are also writers, usually helping out on Joss’ projects through the years.
Even at a young age, Whedon had his eye on his eventual career, using the irreverent British comedy troupe Monty Python as a springboard to his writing direction. Whedon’s other influences ran the literary gamut with such luminaries as Rod Serling, Stan Lee, Ray Bradbury, Jean Paul-Sartre, and even William Shakespeare. Utilizing these influences and honing his own craft and style, he eventually landed a writing job on another popular sitcom from the 1980s, Roseanne.
Afterwards, Whedon developed Buffy the Vampire Slayer for television, adapting his original theatrical script for the project. That show became a smash cult hit, winning Whedon an Emmy Award for his writing. He then created the show Firefly, which although had had a brief first run life, it also gained cult status. That led to a film adaptation of the series, entitled Serenity. His next TV project, Dollhouse, aired for two seasons before being cancelled.
Whedon followed with a few directing stints, including episodes of The Office and Glee, and also wrote or co-wrote many Hollywood cinematic productions, including the aforementioned Buffy, Alien Resurrection, and Toy Story, which garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. He also wrote Cabin in the Woods, which had been filmed back in 2009 and was released to critical and financial success when it was released earlier this year.
But it wasn’t until his written and directed adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero team The Avengers, which was released in mid April of this year, that Whedon went from major cult hero to major force in Hollywood and the cinematic community by large. Not only was the film an absolute massive success, highly anticipated for a year, but it was also almost universally critically revered, something that usually doesn’t find itself reserved for crackerjack popcorn comic book film adaptations. But what put the film and Whedon over the top was that The Avengers was a smart, sharp, witty, action packed, and highly inspiring and non-pandering to its audience film that almost created a celebration and global collective union of fans not seen since George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. The film is still playing currently in many markets, and upcoming home releases and a rumor of a theatrical director’s cut of the picture will continue to chug The Avengers train full frontally forward for its fans, which is not stretching it to say are in the millions.
So a very happy birthday today to Joss Whedon, who other than just another passing of yearly age, has plenty to celebrate for sure on this day and for the days and years to come. A toast to the master of a genre who stands alone on top of his own summit.