This is a guest post by Ronan Moloney
As the craze from Star Wars eases somewhat, sci-fi fans turn their attentions to the upcoming Batman v Superman movie. A movie that has already divided opinion before it has even been released. Will Batfleck be as good as Michael Keaton (the best Batman. There! I said it!)? Could he Gigli the whole thing? Will the special effects be up to scratch? Will the movie have as much individual soul-searching, religious references, brooding as in recent superhero movies and will our hero’s respective troubled childhoods manifest themselves in some sort of Freudian Oedipus Complex of action? We can only wait and hope.
Whatever happens however, we must never forget how bad it did get in the mid 80’s. We must never forget that there was once a time when the rights to some of the biggest superhero franchises were owned by the extremely ambitious yet delusional Cannon Group Inc.
Cannon Group was a production company taken over by two Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, with more ambition than sense in 1979. At the time, the company was in pretty bad shape financially until Golan and Globus turned things around. Cannon was synonymous with ridiculous sequels, action B-movies and exploitation – but man, what a ride. In 1980’s USA, there was a market for it. Such cinema classics as Invasion USA, the Delta Force movies, Missing in Action and Missing in Action II: The Beginning all came from Cannon. If there was a bad, over-the-top sequel to a once great movie in the 80’s or a movie that was a blatant rip off of another successful franchise it was probably made by Cannon. They also dared to create a new film genre, arm wrestling. Yes, they made a drama about arm wrestling. In the horrific and aptly named Over the Top starring Sylvester Stallone, truck driver and pro arm wrestler Sly sets out to win an arm wrestling tournament to raise money for child support, or was it money to get custody of his son, or whatever, he arm wrestles. In a film that made little sense anyways, Sly spends a lot of the time drowned in baby oil arm wrestling other giants of the sport. How can they maintain a grip to arm wrestle if they’re covered in baby oil? Stallone found a way…
The list goes on! Cannon made 4, yes 4, sequels to Death Wish, wheeling out Charles Bronson at the age of 72 for the last one, Death Wish V: The Face of Death (not just a joke in the Simpsons, but damn it real life!).
Menahem Golan was himself a director and would make ridiculous statements, like how Sharon Stone would win an Oscar for her role in the India Jones rip-off King Solomon’s Mine or how Sly Stallone’s Over the Top would move audiences to tears. The man dreamt big, a little too big as taking a new and ambitious direction would change the future of the company forever, as well as the future of some of the biggest superhero franchises in Cinema history.
In the mid 1980’s, Cannon decided to invest in big budget projects. They bought the rights to Superman from original producers the Salkinds. Christopher Reeve had said he would never do another Superman movie after the below par Superman III, but Cannon offered him a deal that he couldn’t turn down. They offered to fund his own movie project Street Smart, gave him a bucket load of cash, creative control of Superman IV and the plot of the film would revolve around an issue he was very concerned about, the arms race. Not done there, Cannon also obtained the rights to Spiderman. They actually issued a teaser trailer for Spiderman in 1986 featuring the music from Superman IV, despite the fact they had no script or cast for the film! Next franchise in their sights was He-man, the extremely popular kids tv show and toy-line. They and toy manufacturer Mattel were anxious to cash in on its popularity. A script was written and the movie would see He-man battling his arch nemesis Skeletor in Masters of the Universe. In typical over promotion by Cannon, they dubbed it ‘The Star Wars of the 80’s’. It was the beginning of the end.
Cannon planned to shoot both Superman IV and Masters of the Universe at the same time. Problems arose even before filming. After having spent so much money on obtaining the rights to the franchises, Christopher Reeve’s More Money than God contract and Street Smart bombing in theatres, there was little left to actually fund the movies. Superman IV’s budget was halved to $17 million, and Masters of the Universe’s plot line was changed to Earth to cut costs. The result was two pretty bad movies, and two massive flops in the box office.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is cited as the worst Superhero movie ever and it does take some beating to that award. It would be Christopher Reeve’s last Superman movie and a sad end to the man who had re-invigorated the character and single handily made it his own. The special effects in the film are extremely bad. They use the same flying shot of Superman over and over again to cut costs (see the fantastic Honest Trailer for Superman IV to see just how many times) as well as ridiculous miniatures and comical over dubbing. In one scene, a woman is carried into space where she can breathe and in another Superman re-builds the Great Wall of China with his eyes! It bombed badly and killed the franchise for 19 years.
Masters of the Universe was to suffer a similar fate, though director Gary Goddard did a remarkable job to actually complete the film. Towards the end of the shoot, he would have to convince both Cannon and his crew to finish the movie after Cannon had run out of money and informed the crew they wouldn’t be paid. It was a daily occurrence and Goddard would plead with Producer Elliot Schick to find the cash to pay the crew. The popularity of He-man began to wane during shooting and toy manufacturer Mattel made several demands, changing the script regularly. Dolph Lungren was given the lead role as He-man even though the director wanted to go with another actor. He had major concerns over Lungren’s ability as an actor and his poor English accent. In fact, according to a former Cannon exec, Sly Stallone took time out from Over the Top to visit the set and on seeing his Rocky IV co-star remarked to the director ‘you actually gave this guy lines??’, Masters of the Universe turned out not to be the “Star Wars of the 80’s” and failed to recoup its budget.
There would not be another Superman movie for 19 years and the He-man franchise would never recover. The rights to the Spiderman franchise would run out in 1990, and went back to Marvel (the teaser trailer done by Cannon is still available online).
Cannon Group would continue to lose money and never really recovered. In 1986, they had over 80 films in production in contrast to Warner Bros for example who had only 6. It was all too much for Globus and Golan, and by 1989 Cannon Films were taken over by Pathe Communications.
However Batman vs Superman turns out, remember the 1980’s. Cannon Films may have killed off Superman for 19 years and He-man entirely, but hey, they did make Delta Force 2: Operation Stranglehold. You have to give ‘em that right?