Longtime film critic and former Times columnist Jack Mathews dies at 80

Jack Matthews
(Family photo)

Film critic and columnist Jack Mathews, who covered the world of movies for more than 30 years for such publications as USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News, has died at his home in Oregon.

Mathews, who had been living in Waldport, Ore., since retiring in 2008, died Wednesday evening after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, his wife, Cindy, confirmed. He was 80.

A devoted newspaperman, Mathews was known not only for his witty film criticism but also his seemingly endless supply of stories about rubbing elbows with film luminaries, which included playing golf with Clint Eastwood, singing with Rod Steiger in a restaurant in Mexico and getting certified as a scuba diver so he could swim in the Bahamas with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah as they filmed underwater scenes in the comedy “Splash.” Fellow reviewer Roger Ebert called Mathews the most-traveled film critic in America.

Mathews grew up in Los Angeles and earned his bachelor’s degree at San Jose State and a master’s in journalism at UCLA. By the late 1970s, he was working as an entertainment feature writer for the Detroit Free Press when he was sent to Los Angeles to open a bureau in Hollywood, which was amid seismic change and creative ferment.


A longtime cinephile (favorites included “Casablanca,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Godfather” and “Jaws”), Mathews turned to reviewing movies, going on to stints as senior film critic at USA Today and, from 1985 to 1991, film columnist and movie editor at The Times.

In 1987, Mathews wrote the book “The Battle of ‘Brazil,’ ” chronicling the behind-the-scene clashes between director Terry Gilliam and Universal Pictures during the making of Gilliam’s gonzo 1985 dystopian sci-fi epic “Brazil.” Relocating to the East Coast, he continued to review films for Newsday and the Daily News before retiring 12 years ago.

Even after stepping away from the newspapers he loved, Mathews kept a hand in writing about the movie business, contributing Oscar predictions and analysis to the Hollywood awards blog Gold Derby up until this year.

“Jack was not only one of the greatest Oscarologists ever but one of the first,” Gold Derby editor Tom O’Neil told The Times on Thursday. “When he was working for the L.A. Times, he’d have the guts to write about the Oscars all year long, handicapping movies as they rolled out to theaters. Lots of readers must’ve thought he was crazy, but we Oscar fans everywhere ate it up all and we loved Jack for it.”

In addition to his wife, Mathews is survived by his son Darren, daughters Shelby Marchese and Valerie Nunemacher and five grandchildren.

Times staff writer Glenn Whipp contributed to this report.