A onetime communications major at Boston University, producer/director Joe Roth worked as a production assistant with several San Francisco-based film companies. Utilizing several of the improvisational comics who had worked with him at Los Angeles' Pitchel Players (he ran lights while they got laughs), Roth produced an inexpensive "TV of the future" spoof called Tunnelvision. The film did well on its first release in 1976, and even better in later years by virtue of its stars-in-the-making cast, which included Chevy Chase, Betty Thomas, Howard Hesseman, and Ron Silver. After several years' worth of low-budget but high-grossing films like Bachelor Party (1984) and Moving Violations (1986), Roth made his directing bow with Streets of Gold (1986). Forming Morgan Creek productions with partner Jim Robinson, Roth continued his winning box-office record with such films as Young Guns (1988) and Dead Ringers (1989). In 1989, Roth made Coupe de Ville. That same year, he became chairman of 20th Century Fox's theatrical film division, toting up more hits (White Men Can't Jump, Die Hard 2, Sleeping With the Enemy) than misses (Barton Fink). His last months at Fox were marred with disappointments like Toys (1992) and Hoffa (1992), but Roth had gained a strong reputation for having the uncanny knack for attracting and mollifying some of the biggest and most difficult talents in Hollywood; one magazine characterized him as "filmmaker friendly." From Fox, Roth moved to Disney's Caravan Pictures unit, raking in the bucks with productions like Angels in the Outfield (1994). In September of 1994, Joe Roth replaced Jeffrey Katzenberg as Disney CEO, and in so doing became the first director ever to hold that position in a major studio; he proved his worthiness for that position almost instantly with the smash Yuletide release The Santa Clause (1994).
Producing a number of moderately successful films through the latter 1990s, Roth returned to the director's chair in 2001 with America's Sweethearts. Scripted and produced by Billy Crystal, America's Sweethearts spun the humorous tale of a movie star couple's bitter split on the eve of embarking on a press junket to promote their latest film.