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An Ode to Cannon Films

By: jkatz
Being born in the 90's, I have a very different view of the 80's than others. While people who grew up in that decade associate it with more conventional things like their first love or other glories of their youth, my view of the Reagan era is cobbled together from mostly music, movies, and old photos. It's a bizarre, nightmarish world populated by big poofy hair, Pac-Man, and references to something called "The Iron Curtain". Oh, and movies that seem to be from a time before irony and self-awareness were invented. This is my long-winded way of saying that the 1980's are permanently associated in my mind with old cheesy action movies, and very few studios were better at churning them out than The Cannon Group.

Cannon started out in the 60's making mostly cheapo soft-core flicks. Their one notable movie is Joe, starring a young Peter Boyle as a lean, mean, hippie-killing machine.

I don't remember this episode of Everybody Loves Raymond..

Then in 1980, the company was bought by Israeli cousins Manahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The pair had success with producing movies in their home country and set their sights on making movies in America. Things would never be the same again.

Why was Cannon so successful? There are two main reasons. The first is that they made a hefty profit off of selling their product to foreign countries at a time when very few major studios were interested in that market. Oftentimes they would make sales just on the basis of the poster art before the movie itself was finished or even started! The second is that right around this time, the home video market was starting to take off. Cannon's ability to make entertaining movies quickly meant they could reliably make a killing off this new audience. Another reason for Cannon's success is far simpler. They knew what their (mostly male) audience wanted and they knew how to deliver it. C'mon, don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about..

Boobies under normal circumstances = weak attempt to pad out running time and boost ticket sales.
Boobies under the guise of historical fiction = classy.

Cannon's most consistent stars were the two Chucks, aka Bronson and Norris. Watching Norris in Invasion USA and Missing in Action, it's easy to see where the jokes about him stemmed from. In these movies, he's practically superhuman and virtually indestructible! Cannon's practice of bringing back an elderly Charles Bronson for increasingly violent and ridiculous sequel after sequel to Death Wish was immortalized in a Simpsons episode.

Cannon is often credited with kick-starting the Ninja craze of the 80's with Enter The Ninja. Of all the people to play a master of ninjutsu, Franco "The Original Django" Nero wouldn't be my top pick, but then again, I'm not a movie producer so what do I know? The movie made bank and spawned two sequels while Nero got re-dubbed with a voice over. Everybody wins!

Honorable mention has to go to Cobra and the absolutely insane space vampire yarn Lifeforce!

It'd be grossly irresponsible of me if I wrote about Cannon Films without acknowledging these two. So here you go.

Lest you think Cannon was all explosions and car chases, they released a few movies outside of their usual exploitation realm. Highbrow directors like Godard and Casseventes made films for Cannon, and one year the studio produced and distributed Runaway Train, which even managed to snatch a few Oscar nominations!

Yes, it was a good time to own a VCR. It didn't matter if you were getting action, nudity, or a thinking man's picture; once you saw that logo come up, accompanied by that familiar tune, you were in for a good time. But like George Harrison says, all things must pass, and that sadly includes Cannon's reign.
By the mid 80's, Cannon's engine was starting to run out of steam. With their movies no longer bringing in the numbers they used to and deeply in debt, the cousins took a gamble on buying the rights to Superman and making a fourth movie in the series. If you have to ask how well a Superman movie on a limited budget did, remember that the next one wasn't made until 2005.

You will believe effects can look this bad.
An embarrassing and heavy blow to be sure. But fate wasn't quite finished with Golan and Globus because the very next month after Superman 4 saw the release of..

The movie looked great but couldn't quite make back it's budget. And if this and other nostalgic sites are anything to go by, kids of the 80's loved He-Man! If the power of a child's love couldn't save Cannon, nothing could.

The double impact of having two mega failures so close to each other sealed Cannon's fate. They managed to squeeze out several more movies such as Cyborg, but by the early 90s, the company was in decline and eventually Golan and Globus went their separate ways. They left behind them a legacy of notoriously shallow but entertaining movies and a glut of unmade projects that they were pushing to get made at the last minute. Chances are, any old issue of Variety will have dozens of ads for Cannon movies that never saw the light of day. Having seen some of these ads myself, it's painful thinking about what could have been and what potential trash cinema we were denied. For example, Cannon tried unsuccessfully several times over the years to film Spider-Man, which is an interesting story in its own right.

Tragically (or is it thankfully?), this never happened.

They may have never reached the level of respectability as a legitimate studio, and their taste was certainly questionable, but one thing's for sure: Golan and Globus dreamed of being big time movie makers, and for a while, their dream was a reality. It's hard not to admire the bold optimism and determination the duo had, even if it often crossed the line between audacity/and stupidity.

But hey, isn't that how it always is?
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OldSchool80s Posted on Feb 24, 2015 at 09:12 PM

Nice article! I fondly remember the Ninja trilogy featuring Sho Kosugi. I think I did an issue on those myself once upon a time. But you are right about Cannon being such a big part of cheesy 80s action flicks.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 19, 2015 at 07:08 PM

To just imagine Gary Goddard's original vision for MOTU on screen back then makes me disappointed it never happened. Maybe if Paramount, Universal, or some other big studio could have gotten the rights and budget together, it might have been a real classic.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 18, 2015 at 06:49 PM

Cannon Films are so important to 80's cinema...and video stores. What would have been playing on cable and Sunday afternoon TV with out the violence filled schlock they pushed out on a regular basis? Of course Masters of The Universe is their most special release to me. Yes, they disregarded everything about the cartoon that made us love it, but it's such a fun fantasy/sci-fi hybrid and inter-dimensional dwarves stealing fried chicken makes me happy.

From what I understand Cyborg was created from sets, costumes and script elements planned for the MOTU sequel that never happened. Oh and the Spider-Man movie! I get such a kick out of all the promo materials and costumes they designed for it. It would have been just one step above the 70's live action TV show, but that film would have defined my childhood for sure.

Fantastic article!

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 18, 2015 at 06:33 PM

Ahhh. Golan and Globus. Favorite targets of MST3K.

Great article jkatz. The story of Golan and Globus is SO much like that of John DeLorean that you might think they were related somehow. Big dreams, taking it all the way to the big time, then dying off before the dreams were fully realized.

They had some good films, Cobra and MOTU being two of them (even though MOTU could have been SO much better with a bigger budget). But man, they really loved pumping out crap. Crap that we love today for taking itself so seriously, but just plain crap back then. Sell the renter on the VHS cover (as you've mentioned before) and then hope you make the budget back without too much word of mouth crashing your chances. Without the internet, discussing some crappy movie you watched was far less likely to happen.

My favorite MST3K Golan and Globus disaster? Alien in LA with Kathy Ireland. LOL

echidna64 Posted on Feb 18, 2015 at 06:31 PM

Excellent idea for an article! Thank you for some interesting tidbits of film history! Orion films would also be worthy of consideration!

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