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Ron Underwood (born 1953) is an American film director who kicked off the Tremors Franchise by directing the first Tremors films.
Underwood was born in Glendale, California but spent some of his teenage years living as an exchange student in Sri Lanka. After graduating from high school he briefly attended medical school, but dropped out after finding the courses too dull. After this he decided to follow a career in the film industry; film having been a passion of his since childhood. He enrolled at University of Southern California's prestigious film school, and upon graduation began working as a staff director and cameraman for Barr films, a company specializing in the production of educational films.
One of the first motion pictures Underwood worked on was Futureworld (1976) as a production assistant. The film starred Blythe Danner and Peter Fonda, actors he would later direct himself in 2004. During the filming of Futureworld, one of his tasks was to babysit a young Gwyneth Paltrow. Another early job was acting as an assistant director to first-time director David Schmoeller on Tourist Trap, a low-budget horror film. However, after this he continued to produce educational films for the next seven years. In 1986 Underwood established himself as a director when he won a Peabody Award for his animated special The Mouse and the Motorcycle, which was followed two years later by the sequel Runaway Ralph, for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination.
Following his critically acclaimed venture into television, Underwood decided to have a go at directing feature films. His first effort was Tremors starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and Reba McEntire in her acting debut. Written by his friends Brent Maddock & S. S. Wilson, it was released by Universal Studios in 1990. The film was well received by the critics and later established itself as a cult classic.
Underwood received his first taste of commercial success with 1991's City Slickers, which starred Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Jack Palance, who won an Academy Award for his performance. The film made $179m worldwide with a budget of only $27m. It was the tenth most successful film released in 1991 (the fifth most successful in the US). His next film, Heart and Souls (1993), was again well-received by critics but struggled at the box office (making a total of $16m). He followed this with Speechless (1994), which made just over $20m over the Christmas period.
Given the opportunity to direct a big-budget film by Walt Disney Pictures in 1998, he was asked to direct Mighty Joe Young, a remake of the 1949 RKO film. The film, starring Charlize Theron in her first lead role, was nominated for the Academy Award for Visual Effects and featured some of the most sophisticated and expensive special effects seen in film up to that point, paving the way for later ape films like Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005). The special effects drove production costs to around $90m, and ultimately global box-office takings fell short by about $20m.
Following Mighty Joe Young, Underwood began work on Eddie Murphy fronted The Adventures of Pluto Nash. The film also starred Rosario Dawson and was filmed in Montreal, Canada. Unfortunately for Underwood, the film was to prove an even larger box-office failure than Mighty Joe Young. The film cost over $100m to produce and market, took only $7m from the global box office and was quickly pulled from theaters.
Underwood has recently returned to his roots, directing both low-budget films and television. He has directed Stealing Sinatra (2003) for Showtime, Back When We Were Grownups (2004) for Hallmark Hall of Fame which garnered star Blythe Danner nominations for the Golden Globe and the Emmy, and In the Mix (2005), starring R&B singer Usher and Emmanuelle Chriqui for Lions Gate Entertainment. His past three films have been holiday themed: Santa Baby, a TV movie for ABC Family Channel, a live-action version of The Year Without a Santa Claus, based on the 1974 ABC special, and another TV movie for ABC Family, Holiday in Handcuffs, which was the most watched show in ABC Family history. He has also ventured into television drama, directing episodes of Monk, Boston Legal, Reaper, Ugly Betty, Eli Stone and Heroes.