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Carolco Pictures

Carolco Pictures, Inc.
Motion pictures
Industry Entertainment
Successor C2 Pictures
Founded 1976
Founders Mario F. Kassar
Andrew G. Vajna
Defunct 1996
Headquarters United States
Products Motion pictures
Revenue Unknown

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 films of the Rambo series to being bankrupted[1] by box office bombs such as Cutthroat Island and Showgirls. The company's trademarks were purchased by another interest who renamed its established company under the Carolco name.[2]


  • History 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Rise 1.2
    • 1990–1994 1.3
    • Decline and collapse 1.4
    • Resurrection of Carolco brand 1.5
  • Carolco's library today 2
  • Filmography 3
    • 1970s 3.1
    • 1980s 3.2
    • 1990s 3.3
  • References 4
    • Citations 4.1
    • Further reading 4.2
  • External links 5


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.[3] 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.[4]

Their goal was to focus on film sales; 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]


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 $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. 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 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.[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 started a distribution deal with then-fledging production company TriStar Pictures which started with the film Rambo: First Blood Part II. TriStar released a 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.

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 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 Pictures, a distribution company which primarily released much of Carolco's low-budget output.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14] (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.[15][16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20] In 1993, Carolco was forced to sell its shares in Live Entertainment to a group of investors led by Pioneer;[21] 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

External links

Further reading

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Accesswire (January 21, 2015). "Carolco Pictures Label Returns for First Time in 20 Years." Yahoo! Finance.
  3. ^ Prince, p. 143.
  4. ^ Prince, pp. 143-144.
  5. ^ Variety Magazine (search term: "Carolco")
  6. ^ Lambie, Ryan (March 10, 2014). The Rise and Fall of Carolco. Den of Geek!
  7. ^ a b Prince, p. 144.
  8. ^ Prince, pp. 144-145.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Prince, pp. 145-146.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Carolco, New Line in Distribution Agreement
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Prince, pp. 147-148.
  20. ^
  21. ^ History of Artisan Entertainment Inc.,
  22. ^ a b Prince, pp. 148.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Variety Financial Briefs, October 31, 1993
  25. ^ Prince, pp. 148-149.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Bates, James. "New Carolco Library Bid Sends Fox Running." Los Angeles Times (January 17, 1996)
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "AP News Archive" Multimedia Buys Television Programming Assets, Retrieved on October 19, 2013
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^



Release Date Title Notes
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. Pictures, 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 Silver Pictures and 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 planned as a New Line/Seven Arts release; theatrical rights transferred to Miramax
July 10, 1992 Universal Soldier[34]
August 21, 1992 Light Sleeper planned as a New Line/Seven Arts release, routed through New Line arthouse 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+[35]
December 22, 1995 Cutthroat Island distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer


Release Date Title Notes
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 Agency financing; distributed by Jensen Farley Pictures
September 9, 1980 Suzanne financing; distributed by 20th Century Fox
September 15, 1980 Shogun 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
April 24, 1987 Extreme Prejudice
October 23, 1987 Prince of Darkness Foreign distribution
March 18, 1988 Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw with The Maltese Companies
May 25, 1988 Rambo III[32]
June 17, 1988 Red Heat
November 11, 1988 Iron Eagle II
December 2, 1988 Watchers produced in association with Concorde Pictures; distributed by Universal Pictures
January 13, 1989 DeepStar Six
April 7, 1989 Pathfinder subtitled version of a film made in Norway
April 21, 1989 Field of Dreams Foreign distribution[33]
May 19, 1989 Food of the Gods II with New Line Cinema; distributed by Concorde Pictures
August 4, 1989 Lock Up
September 29, 1989 Johnny Handsome
October 27, 1989 Shocker with Universal Pictures
December 15, 1989 The Wizard with Universal Pictures
December 22, 1989 Music Box


Release Date Title Notes
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



The rights to Showgirls are divided between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for North America and Pathé in all other regions.

Films made by Seven Arts Pictures (a joint venture with New Line Cinema) are also owned by StudioCanal, with the same distribution partners as with the Carolco library.

The Orbis Communications library is now held by Peter Rodgers Organization.

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.

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 1992, Carolco licensed television rights to Spelling Entertainment in order to pay off debt.[31] 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 Japan, the rights in terms of home video are licensed to Warner Home Video under an ongoing deal with StudioCanal in 2012 until expired on April 30, 2014.

On September 17, 1991, Multimedia Entertainment 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.[30]

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.[29] 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).

Carolco's library today

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. One of its first projects is a remake of the 1999 Japanese horror film Audition, which is being produced by Kassar.[28][2]

Resurrection of Carolco brand

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 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 of 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.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]


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