Genre B-movie king Menahem Golan dies at 85

Menahem Golan

The film producer who first brought Captain America, Nuclear Man and Skeletor to the screen has died at 85.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, legendary B-movie entrepreneur Menahem Golan lost consciousness and died as he strolled outside his home in Jaffa, Israel, on Friday (Aug. 8). While considered a film pioneer in his native country, Golan was perhaps best known to film geeks around the world as one of the masterminds behind Cannon Films, the company he ran for a decade with his cousin and partner, Yoram Globus. 

Golan was born on May 31, 1929, in the Israeli city of Tiberias and studied filmmaking in London and New York before working for Roger Corman in the early '60s. He directed his first film in 1963 (El Dorado) and, with Globus, started a company called Noah Films that eventually produced several Oscar-nominated Israeli movies before they moved on to purchase Cannon and make their way to Hollywood. 

The pair bought the company, which originally launched in 1967, for $500,000 in 1979 and produced more than 200 films during their run. The rise of the company dovetailed with the explosion of home video, and many Cannon releases -- low-budget action thrillers and exploitation films -- found new life and cult success as VHS rentals.

While Cannon was especially well known for the Death Wish sequels and '80s action favorites like Cobra with Sylvester Stallone and the Chuck Norris movies Missing in Action, Delta Force and Invasion U.S.A., the company also dabbled a lot in sci-fi and fantasy -- even if the results did not exactly become genre classics.

Their most famous sci-fi release was probably Tobe Hooper's bonkers Lifeforce (1985), although Cannon was also behind Hooper's Invaders From Mars remake (1986), Cyborg (1989) with Jean-Claude Van Damme and such epic misfires as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) -- featuring the infamous villain Nuclear Man -- and the toy-based Masters of the Universe (1987), which starred Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor.

You can't say that Golan and Globus didn't have some highbrow tastes, however: Cannon also released films from acclaimed directors like John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard and Franco Zeffirelli, and even won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1986 for The Assault.

Cannon hit rough times financially in the late '80s and Golan left the company to start 21st Century Film Corp. Under that banner, he produced a 1990 version of Captain America that was released straight to video (it recently re-emerged on Blu-ray). For many years, Golan also held the rights to Spider-Man and tried repeatedly to get a movie version of the comic book off the ground until eventually giving up and losing his option.

He spent the last two decades working on local films in Israel, where he also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Israeli Film Academy and the government's Israel Prize for his contributions to cinema.

A documentary on the history of Cannon, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, is currently touring festivals and chronicles the rise and fall of the company under Golan and Globus. Despite the company's less than savory reputation, if you ever watched a crazy '80s action grinder or marveled at the lunatic delights of Lifeforce, Menahem Golan and his movies probably touched your life.

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