Menahem Golan, Producer of 1980s Action Movies, Dies at 85

Menahem Golan - P 2014
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Menahem Golan - P 2014

UPDATED: As the head of Cannon Films with cousin Yorum Globus, he was behind such films as "The Delta Force," the "Death Wish" sequels, "Masters of the Universe" and "Bloodsport."

Legendary filmmaker Menahem Golan, co-founder of The Cannon Group production company and Israeli cinema pioneer, has died. He was 85.

According to multiple Israeli news outlets, Golan lost consciousness while strolling outside his house in the city of Jaffa with family members in the early hours of Friday evening. Ambulances rushed to the scene, and following attempts of more than an hour to resuscitate him, paramedics pronounced him dead.

With cousin and partner Yoram Globus, Golan ran Cannon Films for a decade, releasing more than a dozen films a year in its prime. They bought the ailing company, which was launched in 1967, for $500,000 in 1979 and fueled an appetite for B-films that was created by the invention of the VCR. For a time, Cannon was on the brink of becoming the seventh Hollywood “major” studio.

"I'm in complete and utter shock; I cannot come to grips with the news", Globus told THR from his home in Tel Aviv.

“Menahem lived, breathed and ate cinema, and he is undoubtedly a founding member of the Israeli cinematic landscape, locally and all of its appeal internationally,” he added. “We both managed to make our mark in Hollywood in our years working there and had the great fortune in life to make a living from our one and only hobby — not something that a lot of people get to do.”

Golan produced more than 200 films including the action hits The Delta Force (1986) starring Chuck Norris and the Death Wish sequels toplined by Charles Bronson.

He also produced such high-octane fare as Missing in Action (1984), also starring Norris, and its sequels; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986); the lightly regarded Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), which effectively disabled the franchise for years; Masters of The Universe (1987), starring Dolph Lundgren; and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport (1988).

In the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, which played this month at the Melbourne International Film Festival, THR critic David Rooney noted that music supervisor Richard Kraft likened the Cannon product pipeline to bowel movements dumped onto the international market with scant concern for quality or plot coherence: “You flush it. You make another one.”

Cannon, though, also was behind much loftier fare, like John CassavetesLove Streams (1984), which won Berlin’s Golden Bear, Robert Altman’s Fool for Love (1985), Franco Zefferelli's Otello (1986), Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear (1987) and Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987).

Born Menahem Globus to Polish immigrants on May 31, 1929, in the Northern Israeli city of Tiberias, he changed his surname for patriotic reasons to the Hebrew name of Golan upon serving in the Israeli Air Force during the country’s 1948 War of Independence. After finishing years of filmmaking studies at the Old Vic School, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and New York University, he returned to Israeli and directed for the stage.

In the early 1960s, Golan started working for cult film producer Roger Corman on The Young Racers, which led to his own 1963 directorial debut of Israeli film El Dorado. A year later, he served as producer of Sallah Shabati starring noted Israeli actor Chaim Topol, which went on to win the Golden Globe for best foreign film and became the first Israeli feature to be nominated at the Academy Awards in the category.

Golan co-founded local production company Noah Films; named after his father, it was his first business endeavor with his cousin Yoram. Noah Films was behind Academy Award nominated films 1972’s I Love You Rosa and 1973’s The House on Chelouche Street. In 1977, Golan directed Operation Thunderbolt, based on the previous year’s real event of the Israeli raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda, a movie that was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language Film and led the way for the cousins to try and conquer Hollywood.

By 1989, Golan had resigned from Canon, which folded altogether four years later, while still courting Stan Lee's Marvel Comics and managing to produce a 1990 version of Captain America under the 21st Century Film Corp. His longtime efforts to produce a Spider-Man film fell short. Golan soon returned to Israel and to theater in the early 1990s and directed local adaptations of such musicals as Annie and The Sound of Music.

21st Century Film Corp. went bankrupt in 1996.

The trials and tribulations of the cousins also were the recent focus of the Israeli documentary The Go Go Boys by director Hila Medalia, which premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where Golan was in attendance for the last of many, many times.

"He made it to Cannes relying on a wheelchair and a walker [after injuring himself in a fall] but still went out every single night, just to talk about cinema," Globus said.

He noted that Golan also attended a recent screening of Go Go Boys at the Jerusalem Film Festival and was pleased with the reception the film had received there.

During the past two decades, Golan focused on local productions and was the recipient of Israeli Film Academy’s Ophir Award for Lifetime Achievement and The Israel Prize, given annually by the government for excellence and contribution to cinema.

Aug. 8, 4:30 p.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Golan as a producer on Kickboxer. THR regrets the error.