20 Essential Films For An Introduction To The Cannon Cult Films

11. Barfly (1987) Directed by Barbet Schroder

Barfly (1987)

This is something of a lost gem. A bruising, at times touching and barely fictional portrait of famous American author and poet Charles Bukowski, here renamed Henry Chinaski, “Barfly” is a restrained and beautifully observed character piece detailing the lives of those on the lower rungs of the society ladder.

Featuring raw and fearless performances from both Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway, this is a film that really manages to get under your skin. Love or hate these characters, the unflinching and unsentimental way in which their stories are told will forever stay with you.


12. Invasion U.S.A. (1985) Directed by Joseph Zito

Chuck Norris

Although seen as hysterical, xenophobic and highly over the top at the time of its release, “Invasion U.S.A.” has proved to be eerily pertinent in relation to foreign terrorists invading American soil.

Chuck Norris plays a retired C.I.A. operative obsessed with taking down a Russian terrorist he once had the chance to kill but, on orders from above, was denied that chance. Years later, said terrorist comes to America, causing havoc and mayhem.

Again, tapping into that primal fear of America being destroyed by outside influence and forces, this was a big box office hit for Cannon.


13. The Delta Force (1986) Directed by Menahem Golan

The Delta Force (1986)

In a similar vein to “Invasion U.S.A”, Menahem Golan’s “The Delta Force” looked at terrorism from another angle, this time being a flight hijacked by Lebanese terrorists.

As always with these kind of plots, it’s up to Chuck Norris and his buddies to save the day. Jingoistic in the extreme, “The Delta Force” was a medium sized hit at the box office and went absolute gangbusters on the home video market.

It’s also notable for being the last screen role for Lee Marvin before he passed away. Norris and Marvin. Can’t get much more of a hard man double than that!


14. American Ninja (1985) Directed by Sam Firstenberg

American Ninja (1985)

Martial arts trained American soldier takes on mercenaries in the Philipines. That’s about it for plot on this one! Where “American Ninja” excels, however, are in the fight scenes.

This is one of those films with energy to absolutely burn. This all comes down to its lead actor, Michael Dudikoff. Someone who should have been a somewhat bigger star than he was, he had the all-American boy thing down pat. However, he gave it one hell of a twist with his remarkable skills at martial arts.

While spawning four sequels that kept getting worse as they went, the original “American Ninja” is a rather enjoyable slice of big, dumb fun.


15. Bloodsport (1988) Directed by Newt Arnold

Bloodsport (1988)

An early leading role for another exponent of martial arts, this time Jean- Claude Van Damme AKA The Muscles From Brussels.

“Bloodsport” feels like nothing more than a film martial arts contest with a bare thread of a plot wrapped around it. However, this really seemed to strike a nerve with certain sections of audiences, especially teenage boys.

While others will scorn the way that Golan and Globus continually catered for what could be best described as the ‘lowest common denominator’ in their audiences, in one way or another, they hit their target most of the time to varying degrees.


16. 52 Pick-Up (1987) Directed by John Frankenheimer

52 Pick-Up (1987)

This one screams class from the get go. Directed by veteran John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate”), based on a novel by famous crime author Elmore Leonard (who also wrote the screenplay) and starring Roy Schieder and Ann-Maraget, “52 Pick Up” is one of those films that, for one reason or another, got lost in the cinematic mix.

Featuring one of Schieder’s best performances, this is a stylish and complex thriller in a classic vein and style. Unfortunately, this somewhat underrated film was tarred and feathered, like “Runaway Train” before it, due to the simple fact that it was produced by Cannon Films.

Basically, due to some of the sub-par releases previously from this company, fellow industry types, critics and, more importantly, the public were becoming wary of what came out of this particular studio. In the case of “52 Pick Up” that’s a shame, as this is one of their more focused and accomplished efforts that is well worth hunting down.


17. Cyborg (1989) Directed by Albert Pyun

Cyborg (1989)

Another lead role for Jean-Claude Van Damme, this could best be described as a ‘poor man’s “Terminator”’. Our man from Brussels plays a hired fighter trying to survive in a post-apocalypse America.

Most notable for its atmosphere and sheer attitude, this is a quirky, definitely left of centre view of a world gone wild. “Cyborg” is definitely something of an acquired taste, but it does have its fans.


18. The Forbidden Dance (1990) Directed by Greydon Clark

The Forbidden Dance (1990)

Following an acrimonious split between Golan and Globus, exacerbated by the box office failure of such films as “Superman IV” and “Pirates”, the two ended up competing with each other, both making films based around the late eighties dance craze of the Lambada.

Hoping to recapture the flame of the “Breakin’” films, “The Forbidden Dance” , produced by Menahem Golanwas pretty much dead on arrival when it was released, with the dance in question proving itself to have an even shorter shelf life than breakdancing did.

To add insult to injury, the Globus production “Lambada!” was released on exactly the same day as “The Forbidden Dance” at the American box office, therefore cancelling each other out. The word ‘oops!’ springs to mind!!!


19. King Solomon’s Mines (1985) Directed by J. Lee Thompson

King Solomon’s Mines (1985)

Something Golan and Globus were particularly good at was shoving out cheap knock offs of much better and more profitable films. “King Solomon’s Mines”, starring Richard Chamberlin and Sharon Stone, in one of her first leading roles.

While a watchable action-adventure film that shamelessly rips off the ‘Indiana Jones’ series, this film has one almost fatal flaw at its core. The film tries to aim for some romantic frission between the characters played by Chamberlin and Stone.

Forgetting the noticeable age difference, there’s just one problem with that in the film. Apparently, the two hated each other off-screen. Unfortunately, that shows in the film. To put it another way, these two have the chemistry of a heavily sedated house brick!

While a seriously flawed work, in the right frame of mind, this can be somewhat enjoyable.


20. Lifeforce (1985) Directed by Tobe Hooper

Lifeforce (1985)

With its utterly schizophrenic mood swings between horror, science fiction and end of the world melodrama, this is a classic example of Cannon trying to tick too many boxes in the space of one film.

Basically, nude space vampires (yes, you read that correctly!) found in Hailley’s Comet and brought back to Earth by scientist in space, descend on London, England and seek to infect the populace.

With a gleeful, manic energy to it, not to mention the lovely Mathilda May, who spends most of her screen time minus clothing, “Lifeforce” proves to be one of director Hooper’s better efforts. This is one of those films that, as a viewer, keeps you totally off balance and not quite sure where the hell it’s going to take you.

In that way, it serves as a perfect metaphor for what Golan and Globus and their company Cannon Films were all about.

Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.