Known within the industry as an actor’s director, Lumet’s string of critical and commercial successes included such classics as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict. Lumet’s work combined gritty realism with social commentary, and featured unforgettable performances from such important actors as Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, and Peter Finch.
Born in Philadelphia in 1924, Lumet studied acting at Columbia University. His directorial career began with off-Broadway theatrical productions, but soon became known as for his efficient, high-quality television direction. His debut film, 1957’s 12 Angry Men, remains one of the most influential of all courtroom dramas; the tale of a jury tasked with deciding the fate of an impoverished murder suspect, it showcased both Lumet’s way with actors and his ability to make “issue movies” that didn’t feel overly preachy.
Lumet’s career hit its peak in the 1970s. He teamed with Al Pacino for Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, two gritty New York dramas that reflected the malaise of the period. His most honored film was 1976’s Network, a satire of TV news and media-abetted demagoguery that was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning four. Lumet received an Honorary Oscar for his body of work at the 2005 Academy Awards.
Highly prolific, Lumet directed a film every year until the early 1990s. His pace slowed in recent years, but Lumet still was capable of surprises, including the legal comedy Find Me Guilty (2006) with Vin Diesel and the heist drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei; Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman wrote that Devil offered “proof that Sidney Lumet’s talent is, in every sense, timeless.”
Lumet was married four times. He is survived by his wife Mary Gimbel, a stepdaughter, and two daughters from a previous marriage.