The magic of film: from Ghostbusters to Space Jam discover celebrated director and producer Ivan Reitman’s cinematic universe

Reitman made a name for himself directing cult classics and reimagining the Hollywood blockbuster, leaving behind an incomparable comedic legacy in film. This November, his personal collection comes to Christie's

‘Growing up as a Reitman was growing up around magic,’ says Jason Reitman, son of legendary director and producer Ivan Reitman. ‘I was on my first set when I was 11 days old. It was Animal House. I was apparently held by John Belushi.’

Throughout his 50-year career as a director, producer and executive producer, Ivan Reitman was behind many of the most important cultural touchstones of cinema. His directing credits include Ghostbusters, Meatballs and Dave, and he was a producer on films such as Animal House, Space Jam and Up in the Air.

reitman

Reitman and his Chief cameraman Ken Lambert filming Foxy Lady. Photograph by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though Reitman’s creative output remains a major part of the cultural lexicon, he also had a deep appreciation for diverse artistic voices. Beyond film, he was a passionate collector of art, and this November, Christie’s is thrilled to offer the collection of Ivan and Genevieve Reitman in New York. Spanning painting, drawing and monumental sculpture, the impressive collection — led by Pablo Picasso's Femme endormie (1934) — mirrors the joy and innovation of Reitman’s timeless creative vision.

Resilience

Reitman was born in Komárno, Slovakia, in 1946 to Hungarian-Jewish parents. His mother had survived the Auschwitz concentration camp while his father was part of the Czechoslovak resistance. Fleeing communism after the Second World War, the family went first to Vienna — hiding four-year-old Ivan in the hold of a boat — before settling in Toronto, Canada. Reitman later enrolled at McMaster University in Ontario to study music. It was there that he discovered a love of film. He would eventually become one of the most successful comedy directors in history.

Reitman’s tumultuous early life fleeing post-war Czechoslovakia had a profound impact on his creative ethos and passion for comedy. ‘My dad, for having seen the pain he was exposed to, was a nearly unbearably positive person. To understand this optimism, you have to know that he was the descendant of war survivors,’ says his daughter, Catherine Reitman. ‘If I had to use a single word to describe his films, it would be positive.’

reitman

Ivan and Jason Reitman, London, 2021. Photograph by Pal Hansen/Contour by Getty Images

Beyond the many awards his work has garnered — including an Oscar nomination, an Emmy and stars on both Hollywood’s and Canada’s Walks of Fame — his films have had unparalleled staying power. ‘It's hard for me to communicate how frequently someone stops me and says what a particular movie my father made meant to them at some moment in their life,’ says Catherine.

‘A true legend’

After producing National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978, Reitman’s big-screen directorial debut was 1979’s Meatballs, a summer camp comedy that featured Bill Murray in his first starring role. A surprise hit, the film shattered box office expectations and spawned multiple sequels. It also launched Reitman’s career.

From there came a series of popular films starring comedic legends like Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and more. However, none would be bigger than 1984’s Ghostbusters. Defying categorisation, the movie reinvented the idea of genre. Using elements of sci-fi, horror, thriller and humour, Reitman created a model that many in Hollywood still try to replicate today. Ghostbusters went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of the decade. It led to spin-off television shows, video games, comic books and multiple sequels.

reitman

Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray on the set of Ghostbusters, 1984. © Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

On the heels of this mega-hit, Reitman shifted his focus from the paranormal to the fine arts. While directing Legal Eagles, a 1986 comedic thriller about an art world theft starring Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah, he was introduced to the dealer Arne Glimcher. This sparked a love of collecting that Reitman would pursue alongside his wife, Genevieve, for the rest of his life. Together, the couple would build a collection that reflects the wit, whimsy and creativity of Reitman’s body of work.

Reitman’s blockbuster streak continued throughout the nineties, including the 1990 action-comedy Kindergarten Cop, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and 1993’s Dave, where Kevin Kline, a goofy presidential lookalike, stands in for the President of the United States. ‘My father had a beautiful way of putting air around a moment to find the magic, and those moments are what pull you in,’ says Catherine. ‘It's what you remember when you walk away from the theatre. And he was a master at that.’

reitman

Ivan Reitman and Kevin Kline on the set of Dave. Photograph by Francois Duhamel/Sygma via Getty Images

Above all, Reitman made films that resonated across generations and genres and were beloved by filmmakers, comedians and moviegoers alike. ‘A movie like Kindergarten Cop, where a hardened police officer needs to learn how to become a father, or Dave, where a hapless comedian ends up running the country — these were the movies my father loved,’ says Jason. ‘He wanted the audience to walk out of the theatre happier and better for having been there.’

‘Ivan Reitman influenced everything we all love about film comedy,’ comedian and director Judd Apatow wrote after Reitman’s passing in 2022. ‘A true legend.’

A legacy of laughter

Humour, a notoriously difficult genre to get right, is the major through-line in all of Reitman’s projects. Finding the humour in the darkness defines the magic he brought to storytelling. Reitman was not only able to make an audience laugh, but seamlessly weave gravity and humanity into comedic narratives. It’s why his productions continue to resonate with audiences today, decades later.

Using humour as an anchor, Reitman created cinematic universes in which the zany and absurd became believable. He paired his feel for storytelling with a technical mastery of filmmaking that draws the audience into a new world. One area of particular renown was his innovative use of special effects. In Ghostbusters, nearly 200 special-effect shots were included in the script. Reitman and his team employed the use of animatronics, blue screen and a 100-foot-tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

reitman

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny De Vito, Director Ivan Reitman, 1994. © Universal Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection

All these elements were part of Reitman’s commitment to building a credible on-screen world and giving the audience those memorable moments. ‘Storytelling is a kind of magic,’ says Jason. ‘You’re trying to get someone to feel something, and you’re doing it by surprising them, scaring them, by making them laugh…and filmmaking is kind of the ultimate form of that.’

If you’ve ever worn a ‘College’ sweatshirt, asked ‘who ya gonna call?’ or quoted Old School, you’ve been touched by Reitman’s unique brand of magic. This magic threads itself through all of Reitman’s endeavours, including his extraordinary collection of art. ‘My father made people laugh for a living,’ says Jason. ‘Everything he ever owned, everything he ever built, is built on the shoulders of laughter and telling stories.’

Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week

Related auctions

Related stories

Related departments