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|Former type||Motion pictures|
|Key people||Mario F. Kassar
Andrew G. Vajna
Carolco Pictures, Inc. was an American independent film production company that, within a decade, went from producing such blockbuster successes as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall, and the first three movies of the Rambo series (First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Rambo III) to being bankrupted by box office bombs such as Cutthroat Island and Showgirls.
The company was founded through the partnership of two film investors, Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna. The two were hailed by Newsweek as some of the most successful independent producers. By the age of 25, Vajna went from wig-maker to the owner of two Hong Kong theaters. Then, Vajna ventured into the production and distribution of feature films. One of Vajna's early productions was a 1973 martial-arts film entitled The Deadly China Doll which made $3.7 million worldwide from a $100,000 budget. Vajna was already a film sales agent in the Middle East by the time he turned 18.
Their goal was to make their new studio as a film sales company; eventually it went into financing low-budget films. Their earliest films were co-produced with Canadian theater magnate Garth Drabinsky.
One of the first Anabasis/Carolco films was First Blood (1982), an adaptation of David Morrell's novel. Kassar and Vajna took great risk to buy the film rights to the novel (for a staggering $385,000), and used the help of European bank loans to cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead character, Vietnam War veteran Rambo after having worked with him on the John Huston film Escape to Victory. The risk paid off after First Blood made $120 million worldwide, and placed Carolco among the major players in Hollywood.
The sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), was perfectly timed for the 10th anniversary of the United States' bailout from Vietnam; that event garnered publicity for the new film, which also became a hit.
The release of the two Rambo films were so instrumental to Carolco's financial success that the studio focused more on big-budget action films, with major stars such as Stallone (who later signed a ten-picture deal with the studio) and Arnold Schwarzenegger attached. These films, aimed at appealing to a worldwide audience, were financed using a strategy known as "pre-sales", in which domestic and foreign distributors invested in these marketable films in exchange for local releasing rights.
Also in 1985, Carolco started a distribution deal with then-fledging production company TriStar Pictures. TriStar released a majority of Carolco's films from that point on in the U.S. and some international countries until 1994.
Carolco entered home video distribution as well. Independent video distributor International Video Entertainment (IVE) was going through financial difficulties and was near bankruptcy. In 1986, Carolco purchased IVE in the hopes of "turning the company around". The deal was finalized a year later. IVE became LIVE Entertainment, later Artisan Entertainment, which was bought by Lions Gate Home Entertainment.
On August 28, 1987, Carolco acquired television syndicator Orbis Communications for $15.4 million and initiated television production and distribution. They also purchased the former De Laurentiis Entertainment Group production facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, and established Carolco Home Video, with LIVE Entertainment as output partner.
Jose Menendez was a member of the Board of Directors of Carolco until August 1989, when he and his wife were murdered by their sons Lyle and Erik Menendez.
After his partnership with Kassar, Vajna created a sister studio to Carolco, Cinergi Pictures, in November 1989. Cinergi started to release films with The Walt Disney Company through Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures.
In 1990, Carolco went on to acquire the rights to the Terminator franchise from Hemdale Film Corporation. The company re-hired Terminator director James Cameron (who had worked as a screenwriter on Rambo) and Arnold Schwarzenegger to star in a multi-million-dollar budgeted sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). It was the highest-grossing film of the year, and as it turned out, the most successful film in Carolco's history. Halfway through the year, Carolco entered into a joint venture with New Line Cinema to start Seven Arts Pictures, a distribution company which primarily released much of Carolco's low-budget output.
Carolco struggled for some years to secure the rights to Spider-Man, a property that James Cameron was keen to produce as a film. Plans fell through, although it would eventually be made as a Sam Raimi film for Columbia Pictures. Toward the end of shooting True Lies, Variety carried the announcement that Carolco had received a completed screenplay from Cameron. This script bore the names of James Cameron, John Brancato, Ted Newsom, Barry [sic] Cohen and "Joseph Goldmari", a typographical scrambling of Menahem Golan's pen name, "Joseph Goldman," with Marvel executive Joseph Calimari. (Golan had previously, and unsuccessfully, tried to produce a Spider-Man film for his own studio, Cannon Films.) The script's text was identical to what Golan had submitted to Columbia the previous year, with the addition of a new 1993 date. Cameron stalwart Arnold Schwarzenegger was frequently linked to the project as the director's choice for Dr. Octopus. As late as 1995, Internet industry sources such as Baseline Hollywood still listed both Neil Ruttenberg (author of one of the 1990 "Doc Ock" variations submitted to Columbia), and James Cameron as co-writers.
Decline and collapse
Though Carolco made several successful films through the 1990s, including Total Recall, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (T2), and Basic Instinct, the studio was gradually losing money as the years went on. Carolco mixed blockbusters with small-budget arthouse films which were not profitable. In addition, the studio was criticized for overspending on films through reliance on star power and far-fetched deals (Schwarzenegger received then-unheard-of $10-14 million for his work on Recall and T2; Stallone also had similar treatment). Losses of partnerships also threatened the studio's stability and sent it teetering towards bankruptcy.
In 1992, Carolco went under a corporate restructuring invested by a parnership of Rizzoli-Corriere della Sera of Italy, Le Studio Canal+ of France, Pioneer Electric Corporation of Japan, and MGM. Each partner helped infuse up to $60 million into the studio's stock and another $50 million for co-financing deals. MGM also agreed to distribute Carolco product domestically after a previous deal with TriStar expired. In 1993, Carolco was forced to sell its shares in Live Entertainment to a group of investors led by Pioneer.
Cutbacks at Carolco also forced the studio to make a deal with TriStar over the funding of the Stallone action film Cliffhanger: Carolco would have to sell full distribution rights in North America, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and France to TriStar in exchange for half of the film's budget. Although a major box-office success, Carolco saw little revenue from Cliffhanger since they ended up becoming a minority owner in the film. Carolco's attempt to make more of its specialties proved to be more strenuous: the studio had to shelve an upcoming Schwarzenegger vehicle in 1994 when the budget exceeded $100 million.
Carolco attempted a comeback with the big-budget swashbuckler Cutthroat Island, with Michael Douglas in the lead. Douglas dropped out early in its production, and was replaced by the less-bankable Matthew Modine. Geena Davis, cast as the female lead through her ties with then-husband, the director Renny Harlin, was already an established A-lister, but was already coming off of a string of flops. MGM hoped to advertise Cuthhroat Island based on spectacle rather than the actors. In an attempt to raise more financing for the projected $90-100 million film, Carolco sold off the rights to several films in production, including Showgirls. In November 1995, Carolco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Cutthroat Island was released that Christmas, and became a box-office disaster. Carolco agreed to sell its assets to 20th Century Fox for $50 million. But when Canal+ made a $58 million bid for the library in January 1996, Fox, which by then lowered their purchase price to $47.5 million, dropped their deal.
Out of the ashes rose a new partnership between Carolco's owner (Mario Kassar) and Cinergi's owner (Andrew G. Vajna) in 1998. The duo formed C2 Pictures and produced Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Basic Instinct 2 among other films.
Carolco's library today
After its bankruptcy, the assets of Carolco were later sold off to other companies, most already sold during Carolco's existence. In March 1996, Canal+ purchased the library in bankruptcy court for a value of approximately $58 million. Today, the ancillary rights to Carolco's library (up to 1993) are held by French production company StudioCanal, since its parent company, Canal+ Group, owned a stake in Carolco (eventually buying out its partners).
On September 17, 1991, Multimedia acquired assets of Carolco's television distribution unit Orbis Communications. Included were first-run syndication rights to The Joker's Wild and John Davidson's hosted version of The $100,000 Pyramid and TV movies.
In 1992, Carolco licensed television rights to Spelling Entertainment in order to pay off debt. In the United States and Canada, with certain exceptions, television rights are now held by Paramount Pictures, with distribution handled by Trifecta Entertainment & Media. All other rights in terms of home video are licensed to Lionsgate under an ongoing deal with StudioCanal. Lionsgate, in turn, licenses those rights in Canada to Entertainment One, although theatrical rights to most of this library are currently split between Sony Pictures and Rialto Pictures (the latter company acting on behalf of StudioCanal).
In Europe, StudioCanal themselves hold full distribution rights in France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom, in other territories, StudioCanal licenses those rights to various local distributors.
In Asia, Africa and Oceania, Universal Studios who jointly own StudioCanal with the Canal+ Group, own all the distribution rights in those regions or license them out to their local distributors.
The Orbis Communications library is now held by NBCUniversal Television Distribution, with the exception of the Orbis-distributed Live Aid concert, whose rights are currently held by Warner Music Group and Movin' On, which is now owned by the Peter Rodgers Organization.
|The Silent Partner||March 30, 1979||distributed by EMC|
|The Changeling||March 28, 1980||distributed by Associated Film Distribution|
|First Blood||October 22, 1982||distributed by Orion Pictures|
|Superstition||January 1985||with Panaria, distributed by Almi Pictures|
|Rambo: First Blood Part II||May 22, 1985||first film under distribution pact with TriStar Pictures|
|Angel Heart||March 6, 1987|
|Extreme Prejudice||April 24, 1987|
|Prince of Darkness||October 23, 1987||Foreign distribution|
|Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw||March 18, 1988||with The Maltese Companies|
|Rambo III||May 25, 1988|
|Red Heat||June 17, 1988|
|Iron Eagle II||November 11, 1988|
|Watchers||December 2, 1988||distributed by Universal Pictures|
|DeepStar Six||January 13, 1989|
|Pathfinder||April 7, 1989||subtitled version of a film made in Norway|
|Field of Dreams||April 21, 1989||Foreign distribution|
|Food of the Gods II||May 19, 1989||with New Line Cinema; distributed by Concorde Pictures|
|Lock Up||August 4, 1989|
|Johnny Handsome||September 29, 1989|
|Shocker||October 27, 1989||with Universal Pictures|
|Music Box||December 22, 1989|
|Mountains of the Moon||February 23, 1990|
|Total Recall||June 1, 1990|
|Air America||August 10, 1990|
|Repossessed||September 14, 1990||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|Narrow Margin||September 21, 1990|
|King of New York||September 28, 1990||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|Jacob's Ladder||November 2, 1990|
|Hamlet||December 19, 1990||Foreign distribution with Warner Bros. Pictures, Icon Productions, and Nelson Entertainment|
|Queens Logic||February 1, 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|L.A. Story||February 8, 1991|
|The Doors||March 1, 1991||with Bill Graham Films and Imagine Entertainment|
|Sweet Talker||May 10, 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|Dice Rules||May 17, 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|Terminator 2: Judgment Day||July 3, 1991||with Lightstorm Entertainment and Le Studio Canal+|
|Defenseless||August 23, 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|Rambling Rose||September 20, 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|Get Back||October 25, 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with Majestic Films and Allied Filmmakers|
|The Dark Wind||November 1991||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with Silver Pictures and Le Studio Canal+|
|Basic Instinct||March 20, 1992||with Le Studio Canal+|
|Aces: Iron Eagle III||June 12, 1992||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|Universal Soldier||July 10, 1992|
|Light Sleeper||August 21, 1992||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|Chaplin||December 25, 1992|
|Cliffhanger||May 28, 1993||with Le Studio Canal+|
|Wagons East!||August 26, 1994||last Carolco film to be distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|Stargate||October 28, 1994||with Le Studio Canal+, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|
|Last of the Dogmen||September 8, 1995||with Savoy Pictures|
|Showgirls||September 22, 1995||with United Artists and Le Studio Canal+|
|Cutthroat Island||December 22, 1995||distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|
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