Sometimes you have to love Hollywood. The last time I thought about Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna was in 1996, when Carolco Pictures, the movie company they started, was heading to its final roundup. Burdened with mountains of debt, a slew of bad deals, and a string of flops, such as 1995's Cutthroat Island, the company filed for bankruptcy and was being auctioned off. After a tepid bidding contest, French pay TV channel Canal+ plunked down the relatively paltry amount of $58 million for the remnants of a once-great film studio that had produced such blockbusters as Rambo, Total Recall, and Red Heat.
In most businesses, guys who send companies into bankruptcy with such a thud don't get second chances--except in this town. Today, with a company called C-2 Pictures, Kassar and Vajna are back at it. In one of the most remarkable revivals since Death of a Salesman, they're on the verge of making sequels to two of their biggest flicks--Basic Instinct and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, itself a sequel. Each will likely send accountants screaming for Excedrin as costs soar out of control. Yet, partners are already lining up to go into business with these guys.
Take Basic Instinct. The original 1992 release, starring Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas, generated a nifty $400 million. Today, its rights are held by MGM, which picked them up in a 1993 bailout of the studio. A Basic Instinct sequel seemed dead. So Kassar and Vajna went out and offered $15 million for Sharon Stone, and suddenly they have a hot property again. Forget that most of Basic Instinct's major forces--director Paul Verhoeven, writer Joe Eszterhas, and co-star Douglas--aren't on board.
All that seems to matter is that MGM needs a hot new film as it continues to remake itself. The studio is putting up some money but is turning over to Kassar and Vajna the heavy lifting: finding most of the megabucks the film needs. The two, who got their start selling two-bit films to Hungarian theater owners, seem to be hitting the market while it is receptive. And Lord knows, there are probably investors out there for a film starring Stone as an ice-pick-swinging sex maniac.
PEANUTS. Basic Instinct could be easy, though, compared to getting the next Terminator up and running, with its special-effects-laden budget likely to hit $200 million. During the bankruptcy proceedings, Kassar and Vajna got the rights for a tiny $8 million--peanuts for a film that made more than $500 million worldwide. Director James Cameron insists he won't do a third Terminator flick. The same was supposedly true for co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.
However, Schwarzenegger, as he is so famous for saying, is back. He is said to have read and liked the latest script. More than likely, he took to the notion of pocketing $25 million for reviving his role as a kindly cyborg killing machine. Word around town is that he'll also get about 20% of the film's revenue.
And no matter what they did to Carolco Pictures, Kassar and Vajna know how to put together film deals. These guys are showmen. They were famous for charming foreign film buyers from their yacht off Cannes.
I'm sure investors will line up to be in business with them (Japanese theater chain Toho-Towa has already signed on), since their films have always generated huge buzz and often had grand opening weekends. O.K., so this time around it might be a little different. I'm not too sure that a 53-year-old Schwarzenegger has another Terminator performance left in him, not after heart surgery and a couple of recent box-office bombs. And word has it that to save some bucks, Mario and Andy may want to make two Terminator films back to back. You can only hope that Arnold is in good shape.
But this is Hollywood, the land of big dreams and celluloid magic. Maybe Schwarzenegger does have another boffo performance left in him. Maybe Stone can still swing that ice pick and do that naughty thing she did to make audiences so eager to see her in 1992. Maybe investors in C-2 films will see a huge return on their money. And maybe even studios can have sequels.