Deadline is reporting the death of David R. Ellis, the actor turned stuntman turned director with numerous credits on mostly action-oriented, B-movie fare, but who is undoubtedly best known for making the knowingly campy Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes On A Plane. Ellis died of as-yet-unknown causes in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was preparing to reunite with Jackson on a live-action adaptation of the Japanese anime Kite. He was 60 years old.
Ellis started out doing small bit roles and stunts in films such as Smokey And The Bandit, Scarface, Road House, and Lethal Weapon before breaking into second-unit work. Over the years he served as second or assistant director on movies like Patriot Games, Waterworld, The Perfect Storm, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, and The Matrix Reloaded, where he was primarily responsible for overseeing action sequences. His first solo directing gig, Disney's Homeward Bound II: Lost In San Francisco in 1996, was an unlikely false start to a career that truly took off some seven years later with his assuming control of Final Destination 2. That sequel's franchise-cementing success concurrently confirmed Ellis as a go-to guy for providing reliable thrills (he also directed its fourth installment, The Final Destination), and he followed it soon thereafter with the similarly instantly gratifying Cellular and Snakes On A Plane.
While Snakes On A Plane is often recalled as a casualty of its own hype and a cautionary example of the dangers of Internet meme oversaturation, it bears remembering it would be nothing but a cheap, disposable thriller were it not for Jackson and Ellis' willingness to embrace its unpredictable pre-release cult following. Ellis' reshoots incorporated lines spawned wholly from online jokesters—including the infamous, "I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!"—and thus turned the erstwhile Pacific Air Flight 121 into a lasting cult phenomenon that was in on the joke.
Years later, Ellis argued for a similar strategy when it came to promoting his Shark Night 3-D, which he wanted to call Untitled 3-D Shark Thriller: " The title says everything you need to know: 'We’ve got sharks.' 'It’s in 3-D.' and, 'It’s a thriller,'" Ellis was quoted as saying, in his typically, admirably unpretentious fashion.