Here’s a quick rundown of the rise and fall of the studio that produced trashy, video store classics like The Delta Force and Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey longed to be successful film producers…but didn’t want to work within the Hollywood system. So in 1967, they started their own company, Cannon Films, with a simple business plan: Produce every movie for $300,000 or less. Despite cranking out B-movies like Joe and The Sorcerers, Cannon was on the verge of collapse in 1979, and the company was sold for $500,000 to two Israeli businessmen, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. That’s when things at the company really started to get interesting.
Golan and Globus (who are also cousins) bought up ridiculous scripts and put them into production as quickly and cheaply as possible, aiming to make profits with action and “youth oriented” movies. They made millions, because it was also a matter of right-place, right-time: The home video age had just begun, and Cannon was one of the most eager film studios to put its films into video rental shops around the world.
The cousins bought the rights to produce inexpensive sequels to Death Wish, Charles Bronson’s popular 1974 revenge film, and started bankrolling Chuck Norris flicks like Missing in Action. Their scheme worked out pretty well and in 1986 their company hit its peak with a whopping 43 films produced in just one year. However, Cannon Films ran into serious financial trouble once more after the cousins nabbed the rights to produce Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. They slashed the initial budget by half but it was a decision that had a disastrous impact on the final product. The film, which received terrible reviews, was a flop that killed the Superman franchise. After suffering major losses, the cousins had to nix their plans for a Spider-Man movie, and a big-screen version of Masters of the Universe became a cheaper, easier to make Jean Claude Van Damme movie called Cyborg. Cannon shuttered for good in 1993; MGM bought its assets.
Despite the studio crumbling, it definitely left a mark on the film industry. Many cheapo direct-to-video movies owe their very existence to Cannon Films and it helped give rise to independent studios like Miramax. It has also inspired two recent documentaries about its history, including Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.