Cannon Films:
The Life, Death, and Resurrection
by Patrick Runkle
 

The year was 1979, and Menahem Golan (born Menahem Globus; he took his name from the Golan Heights) and Yoram Globus, two cousins with graying, curly hair, had just moved to the United States and bought controlling interest (for 20 cents a share) in Cannon Films, a foundering production company that had several minor B-movie hits in the early seventies, most notably Joe, starring Peter Boyle.

The two had almost single-handedly revitalized the Israeli film business in the seventies with films like 1974's Kazablan, Golan's Israeli retelling of West Side Story, and Operation Thunderbolt, Golan's torn-from-the-headlines story of Israel's 1976 raid on Entebbe, both starring hunky Israeli actor Yehoram Gaon. Lemon Popsicle, an irreverent youth comedy set in the fifties, was produced by Golan and Globus and directed by their friend Boaz Davidson. It was a big hit in Israel and in several territories around the world.

Operation Thunderbolt had been nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1977, so Americans apparently didn't know what was in store for them when the cousins hit the States. Almost immediately, Golan and Globus landed a distribution deal with MGM and started producing and putting out some of the most exploitative fare ever to get a wide release.

But the movies were unique and well marketed, and on the whole made quite a bit of money. After the early hits Death Wish 2, Enter the Ninja and The Last American Virgin, in the 1981-1982 period, Cannon rapidly expanded its production slate and its aggressive marketing and promotional campaigns. Cannon solidified its reputation with Breakin', Death Wish 3, and Bolero with Bo Derek, as well as Missing In Action, The Delta Force and Invasion U.S.A. with Chuck Norris, all produced between 1984 and 1986. 

With product like this, Golanís dream to create the seventh ďmajor" film studio seemed a little lofty. But even if Cannon was viewed only as an independent that put out bad movies, it looked like the two cousins from Israel were around to stay, much to the chagrin of critics. The Cannon Group was extremely prolific, far outpacing the majors and producing almost 125 movies in 10 years. In 1986 alone, when Cannonís stock reached its high of $45.50, they produced 43 movies!

Cannonís business model was novel for the time, and it made the company extremely successful for a small studio. Golan was an aggressive salesman, and he sold the rights to his films to different theatrical and video distributors in many territories before the film was finished, and sometimes, before it was even started. In this way, he was able to guarantee a certain amount of income if the film could be made for a fixed amount of money.

Golan and Globus also expanded into other arenas. They bought a large international theater chain from Lord Lew Grade, thereby guaranteeing captive screens for Cannon movies to play on, and they also invested heavily in the video market, buying the international video rights to several classic film libraries, presumably in order to reap huge profits from releasing the titles overseas.

Just when Cannonís star seemed to be rising higher, there were rumblings that it was overextended and on the rocks. The company had overstepped its bounds and wasted its money by producing some of the least successful would-be big-budget blockbusters of the latter half of the eighties. Tobe Hooper's comically overblown Lifeforce, a 1985 science-fiction flick based on the pulp novel Space Vampires, was a $30 million investment that barely cracked $10 million in returns when it was released in America. 

It was a sign of things to come from Cannonís big productions. In 1987, Cannon gave audiences a triple whammy of expensive, heavily promoted and critically savaged big films: Golan's own Over The Top, an arm wrestling movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, the lowest-grossing and most misguided film in the whole series, and Masters of the Universe, a live action version of the "He-Man" cartoon starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella.

But bad, expensive movies were only part of the Cannon Groupís troubles. It was the eagerness of Golan, his willingness to take anything on and his attempts to surmount any show business obstacle that really sent the companyís finances southward. When the company needed more studio space, Golan and Globus used Cannonís enhanced valuation to purchase the British entertainment company EMI-Thorn, which included Elstree Studios and a huge video library. And Cannon also bought two more international theater chains.

Globus said this in 1987 when the Cannon Group took a $25 million cash payment from Warner Bros. in exchange for some of its video assets, in a move designed to prop up the company: "Our only crime is that we love cinema. You don't see us at the Polo Lounge, on the tennis court or at parties. You see us at the office seven days a week.'' Indeed, their desire to make movies and love of the cinema set Golan and Globus apart from other B-movie kings. 

Director Tobe Hooper, who directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, was a Cannon regular who made Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce for Cannon during the 1985-86 period. As he said recently in an interview with The A.V. Club, "Cannon was really a good company to work for, actually. They made hundreds of movies. They did not have that many hit films, but both Yoram and Menahem just loved movies. They loved films and loved the filmmakers and really treated them well. It seemed more, when I was there, like maybe what the old system was like. I miss it. I miss that kind of showmanship and chance-taking."

And it was chance-taking that got Cannon into trouble. In other words, Golan and Globus seemed to love making Masters of the Universe just as much as one of their art movies, but the problem was that neither made the company any money.

"Cannon art movies" is probably thought of as an oxymoron in some circles. But although the Cannon Group is best remembered for films like Missing In Action and Death Wish II, Golan took chances on many art films. He always hoped to find mainstream critical success, and finally cast off Cannonís exploitation-only image. 

Cannon financed Andrei Konchalovskyís 1985 Oscar-nominated Runaway Train, as well as Konchalovskyís 1986 drama Shy People, for which actress Barbara Hershey won several awards, including the Cannes Best Actress prize. Cannon also released Barbet Schroederís Oscar-nominated and critically acclaimed Barfly, Jean-Luc Godardís version of King Lear, and Norman Mailerís Tough Guys Donít Dance, among others.

Film critic Roger Ebert said in 1987, "No other production organization in the world today has taken more chances with serious, marginal films than Cannon." Ebert does admit, however, the specter of Cannonís huge-budget failures and mid-budget exploitation pics formed the dominant perception of the company at that point, and it continues to this day. 

Cannonís yearly appearance at the Cannes film festival was a thing of legend, especially as the eighties drew to a close. The company took out every kind of ad in every newspaper, threw parties for the stars, and spent millions to promote its upcoming slate of films. Golan desperately wanted to win the Palm díOr, Cannesí highest prize, and he wanted Cannon to be taken seriously. Ebert charts Golanís obsession with the Cannes Film Festival in his 1987 book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: "Cannonís historical failure to win the Palm díOr was not through a lack of effort. The company has always been cheerfully schizo, announcing its art films with the same gusto it uses for its exploitation product ... For years [Golan] has arrived at Cannes with at least one film he announces as a good bet for the Palm díOr, and every year he has been disappointed ... People wonder how the same company could remake King Solomonís Mines and film Verdiís Otello in the same year."

Golanís overzealous business decisions caught up to the company in 1989, when critics wouldnít have Cannon to kick around anymore. As the decade of greed came to a merciful end for the beleaguered company, it faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, as well as an investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission over mistakes and omissions in its financial records. Golan left the company, and blamed Globus for the financial problems. The two wouldnít speak to each other again until several years later.

At this point, Cannon was taken over by MGM and became Pathe Communications, which was run by an Italian financier named Giancarlo Parretti, who would later be charged with numerous SEC violations of his own in relation to the Cannon deal. Globus was given the Cannon Ďimprint,í as it were, and under his Global Pictures banner, production continued only in a limited capacity. Golan almost immediately formed the 21st Century Film Corporation to continue his dream.

*****

Cannonís numerous show business hustles have become legendary in Hollywood. It was during the 1986 Cannes film festival that Golan signed a contract with Jean-Luc Godard to direct King Lear on a napkin that Golan proudly displayed at the press conference announcing the film. (Golan told the London Independent in 1997 that he was offered $10,000 from a museum in New York for the napkin in question.) A few years before that, Cannon had announced a film starring both former James Bonds, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Golan had to eat his words when it turned out the two stars had never agreed to such a thing, although Connery and Moore did appear in separate Cannon productions -- Connery in the amateurish 1982 fantasy Sword of the Valiant and Moore in the laughably dead-on-arrival 1984 thriller The Naked Face.

But no hustle was better than what happened with the Ďlambadaí movies after Cannon fell; itís quite possibly the only time in history that a family rivalry from Israel has played out through dance fad B-movies released in American theaters.

As the rival cousins prepped production slates with their own independent film companies, the lambada craze swept America. The single "Lambada" by the group Kaoma was a #1 hit, and the sensual, body-grinding dance made its way to almost every radio station and club in the United States.

Needless to say, the lambada dance was classic Golan - Globus material. The two had a major hit in 1984 with Breakin', which was produced in about a month for $1 million, and collected a hefty $35 million at the box office. They tried to do a repeat six months later with Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo to limited success. Likewise, Cannon's Rappin' from 1986 and Salsa from 1988 didn't make too many waves.

But the lambada dance was white-hot and ripe for the picking. As the craze peaked near the end of 1989, the two rival cousins went in for blood. Globus announced Lambada for a release on May 4, 1990; he took a Stand and Deliver rip-off script he had sitting around and commissioned the screenwriter to add a lambada element to it. Director Joel Silberg (the veteran musical auteur of Breakiní and Rappiní) was put at the helm of the quickie production.

Golan, not to be outdone, announced Lambada: The Forbidden Dance, to be released on April 6. His film, to be directed by Greydon Clark (an Ď80s schlock film staple, the director of It Came Without Warning and Joysticks), would be shot and edited in a month. The screenwriters say they came up with the premise on the way to Golanís office to pitch the film.

Globus pushed up production on Lambada to get it out to compete with Golanís movie.

Unfortunately for Golan, Globus beat him in registering the title "Lambada" with the MPAA. Lambada: The Forbidden Dance had to officially drop lambada from its title. It became The Forbidden Dance with "is Lambada" as its tagline. 

As was the norm, Golan and Globus took out ads in all the trade papers trumpeting their quickie productions. Globus filed a complaint with the MPAA several weeks before the films came out over the use of the word lambada in Golanís advertising copy; the MPAA ruled that Golan did have the right to use the word, just not in the filmís title.

Golanís film did have one big thing going for it, however. The Forbidden Dance production secured exclusive film rights to the actual "Lambada" single, a fact that Golan trumpeted in huge type on all of the ads and posters.

Suddenly, in February it became clear that The Forbidden Dance might actually be done before its original April 6th release date. Golan announced, in a memorable two-page Variety ad on March 8th, that the film would come out on March 16th, and said "I am proud and honored to have had the opportunity to create the one and only original Lambada film that truly depicts the lambada dance."

The Forbidden Dance had wrapped shooting on February 17th; Lambada, now subtitled "Set The Night On Fire," had finished shooting on March 5th, just days before Golanís announcement.

The two cousins had a decade of experience in putting out bad movies quickly and cheaply. They had already learned (like the rest of Hollywood did only recently) to edit movies while they were still filming. In this way, both movies were practically done when they finished shooting. So, as hard as it is to believe, Globus pushed his post-production team even harder, and Lambada: Set The Night on Fire, which had finished shooting only 11 days earlier, was also ready for a March 16th release.

On Friday, March 16, 1990, Cannon Films released Lambada, starring J. Eddie Peck, Alfredo "Shabadoo" Quinones, and Melora Hardin. The 21st Century Pictures Corporation released The Forbidden Dance (is Lambada), starring Laura Herring, Jeff James and Richard Lynch.

No two wide-release 'competing' movies had ever been released on the same day. Even when two studios are working on similar films and racing to come out first, the marketing departments never release on the same day (take Mission To Mars and Red Planet for a recent example) because the potential box office will always be split between the two flicks. But the family rivalry of Golan and Globus prevented them from even making sound fiscal decisions.

As Golan told Premiere magazine in March 1990, right before the movies came out: ''I'm already doing the sequel, Lambada 2: The Forbidden Quest. We have also created 'How to Lambada, ' an instructional videotape. All our company, the whole 21st Century Film production company, is now busy with one thing -- lambada.''

Perhaps this wasnít the wisest business priority for 21st Century. Amid a firestorm of critical disapproval, Globus won a pyrrhic victory; Lambada - Set The Night On Fire grossed $2 million in 1,117 theaters, while The Forbidden Dance scared up a measly $720,000 in 637 theaters. 

******

The two lambada movies are cinematic marvels: The most amazing aspect of both is that they exist at all. Most films take more than a year to plan and execute. These movies took two months from start to finish. And they represent everything lovable and endearing about Golan-Globus movies.

The Forbidden Dance is the more satisfying film of the two. Greydon Clark crafted a masterful international tale of corporate greed, environmental destruction, and lambada. The film tells the story of Nissa (Herring), a princess from a Brazilian tribe whose land is being threatened by an evil corporation. With no money, Nissa travels to the United States to find a way to save her land.

Thankfully, Nissa has one marketable skill -- lambada.

She dances in a Los Angeles club and wins the attention of Greg, a rich Hollywood playboy played by Jeff James. Nissa and Greg endeavor to win a "National Lambada Contest" during which Nissa can speak on national television and inform the American people about the plight of her tribe.

Of course, the evil corporate goons, one of whom is memorably portrayed by Cannon regular Richard Lynch, conspire to stop Nissa and Greg from winning the contest. No prizes for guessing the ending, although Clark does give us a touching freeze-frame at the end of the film telling us that "this movie is dedicated to the preservation of the rain forest." Maybe they were sincere.

Lambada: Set The Night On Fire, on the other hand, is a more standard Cannon Stand and Deliver rip-off movie, with a few lambada elements thrown in for good measure. Hunky soap opera staple J. Eddie Peck plays Kevin Laird, mild-mannered Beverly Hills high school teacher by day, East L.A. lambada dancer by night.

He takes some of the kids who dance at the lambada club and starts teaching them math. They have a rather predictable face-off with the snooty Beverly Hills teenagers at the end of the film, followed by a "lambada-off" where everyone joins together on the dance floor.

The most exciting part is when Peck tearfully explains at the end that he was born with the name Carlos Gutierrez, and he wanted to use education to help some of his fellow Hispanics get out of the barrio. Apparently, knowing how to lambada is also a big help in this regard, at least in early 1990.

Golanís and Globusí successful B-movies have a level of hipness to them that transcends all conventional notions of cinematic quality. Cult movies come and go, but films like Death Wish 3 and The Forbidden Dance are forever; they exist as an affront to art cinema and critics, but also as an affront to the big studio film, as it manages to take chances that most pictures wouldnít.

Audiences and reviewers get lost in the obvious critiques of these films without seeing this internal beauty. Cannon films have an ambition that far surpasses most other films of the day. By achieving some of that ambition, and leaving the rest to the fertile, thrill-soaked (and often Reaganite, right-wing fantastical) imagination of the 1980ís, these films have become for some a very precious cultural document of the time.

*******

The 21st Century Film Corporation and Global Pictures didnít last very long. Although both companies put out some notable products other than the lambada films -- Albert Pyunís Captain America was an almost universally derided 21st Century release, and Global Picturesí American Cyborg Steel Warrior was a thin Cyborg rip-off that was the last film to play theatrically under the Cannon banner -- it was clear that the Cannon Groupís fall had left them both quite damaged. 

The two reconciled, appropriately, at the 1992 Cannes film festival. They hadnít spoken since 1989. Globus told Daily Variety, "Golan came to my table and started to talk, so I talked to him. We are cousins, we are family. We have not made friends exactly, and I never really fell out with him. I wish Mr. Golan all the best from my heart. We went our separate ways because we had separate points of view."

Even though they could perhaps sell some B-movies overseas and turn a small profit, the days of 1,300-screen releases of Sylvester Stallone flicks were way in the past.

But the Cannon story doesnít end with these withered production companies. After a few years of minimal bottom-basement product for other independent, direct-to-video companies, the two cousins descended back into Hollywood in December 1997 to run First Miracle pictures -- together.

Globus said as a guest of CNNís Showbiz Today in early 1998, "We divorced us after making between us almost 300 movies and after nine years we agreed both together we're stronger, wiser and we can serve the industry better."

On the same program, Golan announced Speedway Junkie, a film he and Globus were making, would star Daryl Hannah and be produced by "Van Gast [sic], the director of ĎGood Will Hunting.í" The host helpfully pointed out that the name is "Gus Van Sant."

Among the other titles on the First Miracle slate was the $3 million Cattle Call, directed by Martin Guigui, with Dom DeLuise in talks to star. The company also was interested in acquiring another film by Guigui called Wedding Band, made for less than $1 million and starring singer Debbie Gibson in a comedy about a wacky Jewish wedding.

Before any First Miracle product appeared, Golan and Globus quickly left to form yet another company, a subsidiary of First Miracle called Magic Entertainment. Magic announced some higher-profile projects, none of which have been released, and Globus left the company in early 1999. After putting out three unsuccessful movies, including Speedway Junkie, the First Miracle deal fell apart, and Golan was fired from the company amidst charges of fraud and breach of contract filed in the New York Superior Court by First Miracleís owners. 

Globus returned to Israel; Golan, unfazed, continued -- even during the 1998-1999 tumult at First Miracle -- to churn out low-budget fare on several fronts. He directed Armstrong, a low-grade thriller filmed in eastern Europe and produced by Nu Image, an company run by Israelis making direct-to-video movies. 

Golan also gave auteur theory a kick in the pants by writing and directing The Versace Murder, starring Franco Nero as the late fashion designer and Steven Bauer as the FBI agent trying to track down Andrew Cunanan. The Versace Murder generated a significant amount of press during filming due to its subject matter, but barely got a release in any English-speaking territory upon its completion due to its inaccuracy and general shoddiness. It is currently available to hardcore Golan fans as an import VCD from Southeast Asia.

Golan showed up with yet another production company in late 1999, and the familiar pattern of overhyped, non-released product has followed him. Film World Inc. made waves at Cannes in May 2000 with the announcement of Elian: The Gonzales-boy Story [sic]. Not only was Elianís last name misspelled on the announcement, the poster featured a recreation of the famous Ďhouse raidí photo -- this time, the FBI agentís rifle is pointed directly at Elianís head.

Golan claimed the movie was filming "in a secret location," and that it would be "ready for delivery in September," but the film has yet to appear. Golan also announced at Cannes that he had signed actress Sean Young to a three-picture deal, starting with a drama called The Wooden Dish, to co-star Martin Landau.

Film Worldís slate also included Crime and Punishment, Golanís adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel shot for 21st Century Films in the mid-nineties starring Crispin Glover and John Hurt, Kumite, a "marshal-art [sic]" film starring Olivier Gruner, and Death Game, a thriller to star Michael Dudikoff. (Dudikoff was the star of Cannonís American Ninja series launched in 1985.)

In December 2000, Film World Inc. underwent a corporate "re-organization" which resulted in it getting out of the film business. It became SulphCo, a company devoted to producing environmentally friendly petrochemical products. Investors were apparently not convinced of the potential of the film division.

Without missing a beat, Golanís film company became New Cannon Incorporated, with a shiny new version of the Cannon logo and the same old production slate. Golanís partner in this company is young Israeli filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky. 

At the beginning of May 2001, Afineevsky talked to me about one of New Cannon's tentpole releases. 

"It is basically the same concept as Death Wish, which Menahem produced [sic] with Charlie Bronson," Afineevsky said from New Cannonís L.A. office. "It is with much smaller names, but good actors like Joe Lara, who played Tarzan on TV, Billy Drago and Richard Lynch, all of whom Menahem has been working with many times before." Menahem actually didn't produce Death Wish, only its sequels, and Dudikoff is no longer in the cast.

Of Kumite, Afineevsky says, "It is the same concept as Bloodsport, the first movie Menahem made with Jean-Claude Van Damme."

Reflecting on the legacy of the Cannon name, Afineevsky said, "We are doing a remodeling and reconstruction of the old [Cannon] stuff, with new beautiful stories of our time. Menahem wants to use the same concepts of low-budget movies with great stories and slowly rebuild Cannon to make it New Cannon."

Globus has formed another production company as well; itís called Frontline Entertainment, and it has an ambitious slate that sounds some classic Cannon themes. Treasures of the Red Sea, to be directed by Dan Wolman, has a synopsis which reads, "When a young boy discovers the ancient crown belonging to the Queen of Sheba, then loses it, he's in for the adventure of a lifetime." Other films include the Hebrew-language Time of Favor (Hahesder), which is about an Israeli army officer falsely accused of planting a bomb in a mosque, and M.I.A.: Rescue At All Costs, in which a Gulf War veteran returns to the Middle East to rescue a kidnapped friend in a high stakes ransom deal. 

Globus has also produced Lemon Popsicle: The Party Goes On, the eighth sequel to 1979ís Lemon Popsicle, which promises to show "how things really were growing up in the sixties." In true Cannon fashion, The Party Goes On is currently the subject of a lawsuit in Israel from original Lemon Popsicle director Boaz Davidson, who claims to own the rights to the series. 

Globusí movies are being released primarily to a chain of theaters he owns in Israel; Afineevsky promises that one of New Cannonís titles, most likely Death Game, will play in theaters internationally this fall. Of New Cannonís dometic theatrical chances, Afineevsky said, "If we make a good movie, you never know. Menahem is talking to people; I am talking to people. He has done it before, and you never know what can happen."

******

The only lesson to glean from the hundreds of movies Golan and Globus have made --most now forgotten and unavailable -- is that these two producers remain undaunted by short shooting schedules, weak production values and shoddy scripts. In fact, Golan and Globus have become like B-movie superheroes themselves; as long as funding exists for bad exploitation films to be made in the world, they will not rest.

UPDATE: New Cannon Inc. has become New Generation Films.

www.newcannoninc.com


Golan and Globus took over existing movie franchises
and contributed to 1980s sequel-mania, releasing films like 
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (above) and
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


An early American hit for Golan-Globus was the teen sex comedy The Last American Virgin, a remake of an Israeli film of theirs. 
They have since reused the same scenes numerous times.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


What happens when you mix 2001 and a zombie movie? You get Lifeforce, a high-budget sci-fi film about naked women from space who turn out to be vampires.

It features a soundtrack by Henry Mancini and a
small role by Star Trek's Patrick Stewart.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Based on the popular action figures, Masters of the Universe
is a fish-out-of-water story about a warrior from a magical kingdom (Dolph Lungren) who ends up on Earth and amazes teenagers.

Strictly from a box office perspective, it was not
the "Star Wars of the '80s"...and marked the beginning of the end for Golan-Globus.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

After a falling out, Golan and Globus released competing Lambada movies: Lambada: Set The Night On Fire and The Forbidden Dance (above), a film dedicated to "the preservation of the rain forest."