Carolco Pictures

Carolco Pictures, Inc.
Industry Entertainment
Founded 1976
Founders Mario F. Kassar
Andrew G. Vajna
Headquarters Boca Raton, Florida, United States
Products Motion pictures
Divisions Carolco Television Productions
Subsidiaries Orbis Communications
The IndieProd Company

Carolco Pictures, Inc. was an American independent motion picture production company that, within a decade, went from producing such blockbuster successes as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and the first three films of the Rambo series to being bankrupted[1] by box office bombs such as Cutthroat Island and Showgirls.


Early years

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.[2] 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.[3]

Their goal was to focus on film sales, with their first venture being The Sicilian Cross;[4] 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,[5] 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."[6]


Carolco's first major success was First Blood (1982), an adaptation of David Morrell's novel. 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.[7]

The sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), was 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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9] IVE merged with another distributor, Lieberman, and became LIVE Entertainment in 1988.[10]

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,[11] 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.

Vajna sold his share of Carolco in 1989 due to increasing differences between Kassar over the direction of the company. That November, Vajna formed Cinergi Pictures, with The Walt Disney Company as a distribution partner.


In 1990, Carolco acquired 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 the most successful film in Carolco's history.[12] 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.[13]

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, 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.[14] 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.[15] (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.[16][17] 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.[18]

Carolco also attempted to make Bartholomew vs. Neff, a comedy film that was to have been written and directed by John Hughes and would have starred Sylvester Stallone and John Candy.[19]

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.[20]

In 1992, Carolco went under a corporate restructuring invested 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.[21] In 1993, Carolco was forced to sell its shares in LIVE Entertainment to a group of investors led by Pioneer;[22] 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.[23] Although a major box-office success, Carolco saw little revenue from Cliffhanger since it ended up becoming a minority owner in the film.[24] 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.[23] However, Carolco was able to complete a merger with The Vista Organization in late October 1993.[25]

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 Stargate and Showgirls.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

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.

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.[29][30] 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.[31] 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 will be renamed to Recall Studios. This settles a legal dispute over the Carolco mark brought by StudioCanal.[32][33] The arrangement took effect on November 29 of that year.

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.[34] Today, the ancillary rights to Carolco's library (up to 1995) 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 Entertainment acquired selected assets of Carolco's television distribution unit Orbis Communications, which included Orbis' made for television movie production unit and first-run syndication rights to The Joker's Wild and John Davidson's hosted version of The $100,000 Pyramid.[35] The rights to the programs which Orbis Communications distributed have either reverted back to their original owners or are now owned by other companies.

In 1992, Carolco Pictures licensed television distribution rights to its library to Spelling Entertainment in order to pay off debt.[36] Nevertheless, in North America, with certain exceptions, these rights are now held by Paramount Television through Trifecta Entertainment & Media as the successor to Spelling Entertainment. 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 such as Universal Studios.

Carolco sold the rights to Showgirls to Chargeurs during pre-production, with United Artists distributing the film in North America.[37] This film is now distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the parent company of United Artists) for North America[38] and Pathé (the successor of Chargeurs) internationally.[39]



Release Date Title Notes
March 30, 1976The Sicilian Crossfinancing; produced by Aetos Produzioni; distributed by Agora Cinematografica in Italy and American International Pictures in North America
July 9, 1976A Small Town in Texasfinancing; produced and distributed by American International Pictures
July 28, 1976Futureworldfinancing; produced and distributed by American International Pictures
October 8, 1976The Cassandra Crossingfinancing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
March 23, 1977The Domino Principlefinancing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
March 31, 1977The Eagle Has Landedfinancing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by Columbia Pictures
August 5, 1977March or Diefinancing; produced by ITC Entertainment; distributed by Columbia Pictures
March 30, 1979The Silent Partnerdistributed by EMC
May 11, 1979Winter Killsfinancing; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
May 30, 1979The Fantastic Sevenfinancing; produced by Martin Poll
September 1979The Sensuous Nursefinancing


Release Date Title Notes
March 28, 1980The Changelingdistributed by Associated Film Distribution
August 15, 1980The Kidnapping of the Presidentfinancing; distributed by Crown International Pictures
September 5, 1980The Agencyfinancing; distributed by Jensen Farley Pictures
September 9, 1980Suzannefinancing; distributed by 20th Century Fox
September 15, 1980Shōgunfinancing; distributed by Paramount Pictures
December 14, 1980Tributefinancing; distributed by 20th Century Fox
February 1, 1981Caboblancofinancing; distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
March 23, 1981The High Countryfinancing; distributed by Crown International Pictures
April 1981The Last Chasefinancing; distributed by Crown International Pictures
July 30, 1981Escape to Victorywith Lorimar; distributed by Paramount Pictures
September 25, 1981Carbon Copyfinancing; produced by Hemdale Film Corporation and RKO Pictures, distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
December 18, 1981Your Ticket Is No Longer Validfinancing
February 12, 1982The Amateurproduced in association with Tiberius Film Productions; distributed by 20th Century Fox
October 22, 1982First Blooddistributed by Orion Pictures
January 1985Superstitionwith Panaria, distributed by Almi Pictures
May 22, 1985Rambo: First Blood Part IIfirst film under distribution pact with TriStar Pictures
March 6, 1987Angel Heartdistributed by TriStar Pictures
April 24, 1987Extreme Prejudicedistributed by TriStar Pictures
October 23, 1987Prince of DarknessForeign distribution
March 18, 1988Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Pawwith The Maltese Companies; distributed by TriStar Pictures
May 25, 1988Rambo III[40]distributed by TriStar Pictures
June 17, 1988Red Heatdistributed by TriStar Pictures
November 11, 1988Iron Eagle IIdistributed by TriStar Pictures
December 2, 1988Watchersproduced in association with Concorde Pictures; distributed by Universal Pictures
January 13, 1989DeepStar Sixdistributed by TriStar Pictures
April 7, 1989Pathfindersubtitled version of a film made in Norway
April 21, 1989Field of DreamsForeign distribution[41]
May 19, 1989Food of the Gods IIdistributed by Concorde Pictures
August 4, 1989Lock Updistributed by TriStar Pictures
September 29, 1989Johnny Handsomedistributed by TriStar Pictures
October 27, 1989Shockerwith Universal Pictures
December 15, 1989The Wizardwith Universal Pictures
December 22, 1989Music Boxdistributed by TriStar Pictures


Release Date Title Notes
February 23, 1990Mountains of the Moon
June 1, 1990Total Recall
August 10, 1990Air America
September 14, 1990Repossesseddistributed by New Line/Seven Arts
September 21, 1990Narrow Margin
September 28, 1990King of New Yorkdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts
November 2, 1990Jacob's Ladder
December 19, 1990HamletForeign distribution with Warner Bros., Icon Productions, and Nelson Entertainment
February 1, 1991Queens Logicdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures
February 8, 1991L.A. Story
March 1, 1991The Doorswith Bill Graham Films and Imagine Entertainment
May 10, 1991Sweet Talkerdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures
May 17, 1991Dice Rulesdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts
July 3, 1991Terminator 2: Judgment Daywith Lightstorm Entertainment and Le Studio Canal+
August 23, 1991Defenselessdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures
September 20, 1991Rambling Rosedistributed by New Line/Seven Arts
October 25, 1991Get Backdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with Majestic Films and Allied Filmmakers
November 1991The Dark Winddistributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with Le Studio Canal+
March 20, 1992Basic Instinctwith Le Studio Canal+
June 21, 1992Aces: Iron Eagle IIIdistributed by New Line/Seven Arts
June 26, 1992Incident at OglalaMiramax Films
July 10, 1992Universal Soldier[42]
August 21, 1992Light SleeperNew Line division Fine Line Features
December 25, 1992Chaplin
May 28, 1993Cliffhangerwith Le Studio Canal+
August 26, 1994Wagons East!last Carolco film to be distributed by TriStar Pictures.
October 28, 1994Stargatewith Le Studio Canal+, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
September 8, 1995Last of the Dogmenwith Savoy Pictures
September 22, 1995Showgirlswith United Artists and Le Studio Canal+[43]
December 22, 1995Cutthroat Islanddistributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer



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  2. Prince, p. 143.
  3. Prince, pp. 143-144.
  4. "The Rise and Fall of Carolco | Den of Geek". Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  5. "Variety Magazine (search term: "Carolco")".
  6. Lambie, Ryan (March 10, 2014). The Rise and Fall of Carolco. Den of Geek!
  7. 1 2 Prince, p. 144.
  8. Prince, pp. 144-145.
  9. "History of Artisan Entertainment Inc. – FundingUniverse". Retrieved 2016-09-11.
  10. Prince, pp. 145-146.
  11. Hammer, Joshua (8 March 1992). "Total Free Fall". Newsweek. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
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  13. Carolco, New Line in Distribution Agreement
  14. Moerk, Christian (1993-09-01). "Cameron Delivers Spider-Man Script". Variety. p. 3. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
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  22. History of Artisan Entertainment Inc.,
  23. 1 2 Prince, pp. 148.
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  26. Prince, pp. 148-149.
  27. Business, Bloomberg (1995-11-11). "COMPANY NEWS;CAROLCO PICTURES FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY PROTECTION". New York Times.
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  29. Accesswire (January 21, 2015). "Carolco Pictures Label Returns for First Time in 20 Years." Yahoo! Finance.
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  31. Lambie, Ryan (4 April 2016). "Carolco: studio co-founder Mario Kassar leaves company". Den of Geek. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
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  33. "Carolco Pictures, Inc. Form PRE 14C, September 28, 2017".
  34. "Other News". Los Angeles Times. March 6, 1996.
  35. "AP News Archive" Multimedia Buys Television Programming Assets, Retrieved on October 19, 2013
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  38. Staff and agencies (27 July 2004). "In brief: MGM launches tongue-in-cheek 'VIP' edition of Showgirls". the Guardian.
  39. "Watch: NSFW New Re-Release Trailer for Paul Verhoeven's 'Showgirls'".
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