Mario F. Kassar|
Andrew G. Vajna
|Headquarters||Boca Raton, Florida, United States|
|Divisions||Carolco Television Productions|
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 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 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. 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' 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 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.
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. 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, 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 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 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 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 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.
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. 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 will be renamed to Recall Studios. This settles a legal dispute over the Carolco mark brought by StudioCanal. 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. 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. 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. 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. This film is now distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the parent company of United Artists) for North America and Pathé (the successor of Chargeurs) internationally.
|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||Foreign distribution|
|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 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||Foreign distribution|
|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|
|June 1, 1990||Total Recall|
|August 10, 1990||Air America|
|September 14, 1990||Repossessed||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|September 21, 1990||Narrow Margin|
|September 28, 1990||King of New York||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|November 2, 1990||Jacob's Ladder|
|December 19, 1990||Hamlet||Foreign distribution with Warner Bros., Icon Productions, and Nelson Entertainment|
|February 1, 1991||Queens Logic||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts; with New Visions Pictures|
|February 8, 1991||L.A. Story|
|March 1, 1991||The Doors||with Bill Graham Films and Imagine Entertainment|
|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|
|July 3, 1991||Terminator 2: Judgment Day||with Lightstorm Entertainment and Le Studio Canal+|
|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+|
|March 20, 1992||Basic Instinct||with Le Studio Canal+|
|June 21, 1992||Aces: Iron Eagle III||distributed by New Line/Seven Arts|
|June 26, 1992||Incident at Oglala||Miramax Films|
|July 10, 1992||Universal Soldier|
|August 21, 1992||Light Sleeper||New Line division Fine Line Features|
|December 25, 1992||Chaplin|
|May 28, 1993||Cliffhanger||with Le Studio Canal+|
|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 Le Studio Canal+|
|December 22, 1995||Cutthroat Island||distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|
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