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|Fate||Bankruptcy, assets and name now owned by StudioCanal|
Andrew G. Vajna
|Headquarters||Boca Raton, Florida,|
|Mario Kassar (Chairman & CEO)|
|Divisions||Carolco Television Productions|
The IndieProd Company
Carolco Pictures, Inc. was an American independent motion picture production company that existed from 1976 to 1995, founded by Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna. Kassar and Vajna ran Carolco together until 1989, when Vajna left to form Cinergi Pictures. Carolco hit its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s, with blockbuster successes including the first three films of the Rambo series, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Stargate. Nevertheless, the company was losing money overall, and required a corporate restructuring in 1992. The 1995 film Cutthroat Island, intended to be a comeback for the studio, instead lost $147 million and brought the company to an end.
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.
Their goal was to focus on film sales, with their first venture being The Sicilian Cross; eventually it went into financing low-budget films. Their earliest films were produced by American International Pictures and ITC Entertainment with Carolco's financial support, and co-produced with Canadian theater magnate Garth Drabinsky. The name "Carolco" was purchased from a defunct company based in Panama, and according to Kassar, "it has no meaning."
Carolco's first major success was First Blood (1982), an adaptation of David Morrell's novel of the same name. Kassar and Vajna took a great risk buying the film rights to the novel (for $385,000) and used the help of European bank loans to cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead character, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo, after having worked with him on the John Huston film Escape to Victory (1981). 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 timed for the 10th anniversary of the United States' exit from the Vietnam War; 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 began a distribution deal with then-fledgling studio TriStar Pictures with the film Rambo: First Blood Part II. TriStar released the majority of Carolco's films from that point on in the U.S. and some other 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 merged with another distributor, Lieberman, and became LIVE Entertainment in 1988.
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.
Vajna sold his share of Carolco in December 1989 for $106 million to Kassar due to increasing disagreement with Kassar over the direction of the company. That November, Vajna formed Cinergi Pictures, with The Walt Disney Company as a distribution partner. Kassar's ownership of the company increased to 62%.
In 1990, Carolco acquired from Hemdale Film Corporation the rights to make a sequel to The Terminator (the company already had the television rights to the original film courtesy of a television distribution deal with Hemdale). The company re-hired Terminator director James Cameron (who had worked as a screenwriter on Rambo II) 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 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, 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 Cameron was keen to produce as a film. Plans fell through, though Columbia Pictures would eventually produce several Spider-Man films. 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 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 Doctor 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 Cameron as co-writers.
Decline and collapse
Though Carolco made several successful films through the 1990s, including Total Recall, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 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 Total Recall and Terminator 2; Stallone also had similar treatment). Losses of partnerships also threatened the studio's stability and drove it towards bankruptcy.
In 1992, Carolco went under a corporate restructuring, invested in by a partnership 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; it was later renamed Artisan Entertainment, which was bought by Lions Gate Entertainment.
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 it 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 Crusade, an upcoming Schwarzenegger vehicle based on a script by Walon Green and with Paul Verhoeven attached as director, in 1994 when the budget exceeded $100 million. However, Carolco was able to complete a merger with The Vista Organization in late October 1993.
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 coming off a string of flops. MGM hoped to advertise Cutthroat Island based on spectacle rather than cast. 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 Last of the Dogmen, Stargate and 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.
A new partnership was formed 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.
2015–2017: Resurrection of Carolco brand
Film producer Alex Bafer purchased the Carolco name and logo years later. On January 20, 2015, Bafer renamed his production company Carolco Pictures, formerly known as Brick Top Productions. Bafer then recruited Mario Kassar as the chief development executive of the new Carolco. However, on April 7, 2016, it was announced that both Bafer and Kassar had left the company, Kassar taking with him one of Carolco's planned projects, a remake of the 1999 Japanese horror film Audition which he was producing. Investor Tarek Kirschen was then inducted as Carolco's CEO. In 2017, StudioCanal and Carolco reached an agreement whereby StudioCanal would have sole control of the Carolco name and logo and the Carolco Pictures company would be renamed Recall Studios. That agreement settled a legal dispute over the Carolco mark brought by StudioCanal. The arrangement took effect on November 29 of that year.
After its bankruptcy, the assets of Carolco were 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. The ancillary rights to Carolco's library (up to 1995) were held by French production company StudioCanal, since its parent company, Canal+ Group, owned a stake in Carolco, eventually buying out its partners.
In 1992, Carolco Pictures licensed television distribution rights to its library to Spelling Entertainment in order to pay off debt. In North America, with certain exceptions, those rights were held by Paramount Television through Trifecta Entertainment & Media as the successor to Spelling Entertainment. All other rights in terms of home video were licensed to Lionsgate under an ongoing deal with StudioCanal. Lionsgate, in turn, licensed those rights in Canada to Entertainment One, although theatrical rights to most of the library were split between Sony Pictures and Rialto Pictures, the latter company acting on behalf of StudioCanal.
StudioCanal itself held full distribution rights in France, Germany, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. In other territories, StudioCanal licensed home video rights to Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
|March 30, 1976||The Sicilian Cross||financing; produced by Aetos Produzioni; distributed by Agora Cinematografica in Italy and American International Pictures in North America|
|July 9, 1976||A Small Town in Texas||financing; produced and distributed by American International Pictures|
|July 28, 1976||Futureworld||financing; produced and distributed by American International Pictures|
|October 8, 1976||The Cassandra Crossing||financing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures|
|March 23, 1977||The Domino Principle||financing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures|
|March 31, 1977||The Eagle Has Landed||financing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by Columbia Pictures|
|August 5, 1977||March or Die||financing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by Columbia Pictures|
|March 30, 1979||The Silent Partner||distributed by EMC|
|May 11, 1979||Winter Kills||financing; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures|
|May 30, 1979||The Fantastic Seven||financing; produced by Martin Poll|
|September 1979||The Sensuous Nurse||financing|
|March 28, 1980||The Changeling||distributed by Associated Film Distribution|
|August 15, 1980||The Kidnapping of the President||financing; distributed by Crown International Pictures|
|September 5, 1980||The Agency||financing; distributed by Jensen Farley Pictures|
|September 9, 1980||Suzanne||financing; distributed by 20th Century Fox|
|September 15, 1980||Shōgun||financing; distributed by Paramount Pictures|
|December 14, 1980||Tribute||financing; distributed by 20th Century Fox|
|February 1, 1981||Caboblanco||financing; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures|
|March 23, 1981||The High Country||financing; distributed by Crown International Pictures|
|April 1981||The Last Chase||financing; distributed by Crown International Pictures|
|July 30, 1981||Escape to Victory||with Lorimar; distributed by Paramount Pictures|
|September 25, 1981||Carbon Copy||financing; produced by Hemdale Film Corporation and RKO Pictures, distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures|
|December 18, 1981||Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid||financing|
|February 12, 1982||The Amateur||produced in association with Tiberius Film Productions; distributed by 20th Century Fox|
|October 22, 1982||First Blood||distributed by Orion Pictures|
|January 1985||Superstition||with Panaria, distributed by Almi Pictures|
|May 22, 1985||Rambo: First Blood Part II||first film under distribution pact with TriStar Pictures|
|March 6, 1987||Angel Heart||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|April 24, 1987||Extreme Prejudice||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|October 23, 1987||Prince of Darkness||with Alive films, Larry Franco Productions and Haunted Machine Productions; distributed by Universal Pictures|
|March 18, 1988||Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw||with The Maltese Companies; distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|May 25, 1988||Rambo III||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|June 17, 1988||Red Heat||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|November 4, 1988||They Live||with Alive films and Larry Franco Productions; distributed by Universal Pictures|
|November 11, 1988||Iron Eagle II||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|December 2, 1988||Watchers||produced in association with Concorde Pictures; distributed by Universal Pictures|
|January 13, 1989||DeepStar Six||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|April 7, 1989||Pathfinder||subtitled version of a film made in Norway|
|April 21, 1989||Field of Dreams||distributed by Universal Pictures|
|May 19, 1989||Food of the Gods II||distributed by Concorde Pictures|
|August 4, 1989||Lock Up||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|September 29, 1989||Johnny Handsome||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|October 27, 1989||Shocker||with Universal Pictures|
|December 15, 1989||The Wizard||with Universal Pictures|
|December 22, 1989||Music Box||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|February 23, 1990||Mountains of the Moon||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|March 30, 1990||Opportunity Knocks||with Imagine Films Entertainment; distributed by Universal Pictures|
|June 1, 1990||Total Recall||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|August 10, 1990||Air America||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|September 21, 1990||Narrow Margin||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|November 2, 1990||Jacob's Ladder||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|December 19, 1990||Hamlet||Foreign distribution with Warner Bros., Icon Productions, and Nelson Entertainment|
|February 8, 1991||L.A. Story||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|March 1, 1991||The Doors||with Bill Graham Films and Imagine Entertainment|
|March 29, 1991||Career Opportunities||with Hughes Entertainment; distributed by Universal Pictures|
|April 25, 1991||The Punisher||home media and television distribution in North America only, distributed by New World Pictures internationally|
|July 3, 1991||Terminator 2: Judgment Day||with Lightstorm Entertainment and Le Studio Canal+; distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|March 20, 1992||Basic Instinct||with Le Studio Canal+; distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|June 26, 1992||Incident at Oglala||Miramax Films|
|July 10, 1992||Universal Soldier||with Centropolis Entertainment; distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|August 21, 1992||Light Sleeper||New Line division Fine Line Features|
|December 25, 1992||Chaplin||distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|May 28, 1993||Cliffhanger||with Le Studio Canal+; distributed by TriStar Pictures|
|August 26, 1994||Wagons East||last Carolco film to be distributed by TriStar Pictures.|
|October 28, 1994||Stargate||with Le Studio Canal+, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|
|September 8, 1995||Last of the Dogmen||with Savoy Pictures|
|September 22, 1995||Showgirls||with United Artists and Chargeurs|
|December 22, 1995||Cutthroat Island||distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|
Seven Arts Pictures
|September 14, 1990||Repossessed||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|September 28, 1990||King of New York||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|February 1, 1991||Queens Logic||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|May 10, 1991||Sweet Talker||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|May 17, 1991||Dice Rules||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|August 23, 1991||Defenseless||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|September 20, 1991||Rambling Rose||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|October 25, 1991||Get Back||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with Majestic Films and Allied Filmmakers|
|November 1991||The Dark Wind||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with Le Studio Canal+|
|June 21, 1992||Aces: Iron Eagle III||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
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- "'RECALL' IN NEW DIMENSION". Variety. January 14, 1997. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
- "Company Town : Carolco May Be Close to Restructuring". LA Times. February 14, 1995. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
- "Kassar signs deal with Paramount". United Press International. January 3, 1996. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
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- Bates, James. "New Carolco Library Bid Sends Fox Running." Los Angeles Times (January 17, 1996)
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