Renny Harlin

Active - 1986 - 2021  |   Born - Mar 15, 1959 in Riihimäki, Finland  |   Genres - Action, Thriller, Horror

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Finnish director Renny Harlin did not come from an artistically inclined family (his parents were in the medical profession), but Harlin himself had determined his future before he was 12, via extensive use of a home movie camera. Harlin was a twenty-ish film school graduate when he set up his own production company; while he was fairly successful marketing documentaries and commercial shorts, young Harlin could not get anyone in Finland to bankroll him for a feature. He moved to the presumably greener pastures of Hollywood, where he finally realized his goal with the 1986 feature Born American.

Harlan's direction of 1990's Die Hard 2 seemed to bode well for steady work in action films; unfortunately, his next effort (released the same month as Die Hard 2) was the ill-fated Andrew Dice Clay vehicle The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990). The collapse of this enterprise resulted in reams of magazine copy about the "once-promising" and "washed-up" Harlin. But in 1993, he responded with the successful Cliffhanger, which managed the remarkable feat of being an actor's picture (the star was Sylvester Stallone) and a director's picture all in one. Renny Harlin was married to actress Geena Davis, whom he directed in the 1995 swashbuckler Cutthroat Island. Though the couple would re-team the following year for Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight, they separated in 1997 and divorce soon followed. In 1999 Harlin took the action to the ocean with Long Kiss co-star Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea, following in 2001 with the Sylvester Stallone adreno-racer Driven.

Next up, Harlin was called in to rescue the production of the prequel Exorcist: The Beginning after countless problems including a completed film from director Paul Schrader that was virtually scrapped by an unsatisfied studio. Harlin followed this up with the thriller Mindhunters. While neither of those efforts were particularly successful upon release at the box office, in 2006 Harlin had returned to his position behind the camera once again to terrify moviegoers with a tale of four teens forced to do battle with a malevolent supernatural force in The Covenant.

Movie Highlights

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  • As a child, he entertained neighborhood kids by staging plays and puppet shows.
  • First professional job was a 20-minute industrial video for Shell Oil.
  • Came to the U.S. in the early 1980s with an aspiring-moviemaker friend after they had sold their businesses, taken out loans and put a lot of money on their credit cards.
  • Helped make ends meet in Hollywood by writing movie reviews for some Finnish newspapers.
  • Shot Die Hard 2: Die Harder and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane back-to-back and edited them simultaneously; they were released within a week of each other in 1990.
  • His 1993 wedding to Geena Davis was a three-day extravaganza that featured pony, elephant and hot-air-balloon rides, skywriting planes creating aerial artwork; it reportedly cost $700,000. 
  • Cutthroat Island (1995), which he directed, was the movie industry's first $100 million flop.
  • Shooting for 2001's Driven required nighttime filming in Toronto and, at the time, it required the largest police lockdown ever in that city.
  • Despite Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) being a completed film, producers were unhappy with director Paul Schrader's final cut and hired Harlin to reshoot the entire movie.