Gerald Potterton, Director of Animated Cult Classic ‘Heavy Metal,’ Dies at 91

Potterton’s science-fantasy anthology film has never stopped inspiring modern filmmakers

Gerald Potterton
"Heavy Metal" director Gerald Potterton has died

Gerald Potterton, who directed the 1981 cult classic animated science-fantasy film “Heavy Metal,” has died, according to the National Film Board of Canada. He was 91.

Potterton died Monday in a Quebec hospital, the film board said.

“Heavy Metal” was a Columbia Pictures project produced by Ivan Reitman and based on the magazine of the same name. John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis and several more up-and-coming stars of the ’80s lent their voices to the movie that modern genre filmmakers still cite as an influence.

Though it was far from the first adult-themed animated feature — mixed-media ‘toons like “Lord of the Rings,” “Watership Down” and “Castle Castigliore,” the first effort from a fledgling filmmaker named Hayao Miyazaki — had broken that ground. But “Heavy Metal” was unique for its blend of sex, nudity, gnarly violence, advanced sci-fi themes, horror and edgy rock music that made it a must-sneak-into movie for teens at the time.

“Heavy Metal” was a modest theatrical hit, grossing more than $20 million on a $9 million budget that included several animation houses working simultaneously to meet timelines. Rock music legend Irving Azoff cobbled together a soundtrack that included a who’s-who of hard rock at the time, including Black Sabbath, Nazareth, Blue Öyster Cult, Sammy Hagar and DEVO.

Potterton was born in London and moved to Canada to pursue animated filmmaking, gaining Academy Award nominations for animated shorts “My Financial Career” (1962) and “Christmas Cracker” (1963).

He also made live-action movies, and directed Buster Keaton in one of his last final films (“The Railrodder,” 1965). He returned to the U.K. to create a sequence for The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”

Multiple big-name filmmakers have flirted with a “Heavy Metal” remake through the years, including James Cameron, David Fincher, Tim Miller, Guillermo del Toro, Zack Snyder and Gore Verbinski. But studio politics and other delays got in the way — ultimately, Robert Rodriguez bough the rights in 2011, and a “reimagining” called “Love, Death & Robots” was released on Netflix in 2014.