Menahem Golan dies at 85; producer of ‘80s action films

Director Jean-Luc Godard, left, and Israeli producer Menahem Golan at a news conference in Cannes, France, in May 1987 after the screening of Godard's "King Lear," which Golan produced.
(Pierre Gleizes, Associated Press)

Producer/director Menahem Golan, whose prolific output of schlock action movies and occasional prestige projects made him a force to be dealt with in 1980s Hollywood, died Friday in Tel Aviv, according to Israeli and other news sources.

He was 85. Details concerning his death were not available.

He built a short-lived U.S. film empire with his cousin Yoram Globus, with whom he had a relationship that varied from close-knit to non-speaking. In Hollywood, before their film production company imploded in the late 1980s, the enterprising pair was known as “the Go-Go Boys.”

In their heyday, they turned out more than 30 films a year, including action flicks such as “Bloodsport,” “The Delta Force,” “Missing in Action” and sequels to “Death Wish.”


Although Golan referred to his low-budget fare as his “action boutique” movies, he didn’t shy away from the term “schlock.” “Schlock is entertainment for the masses,” he told the Associated Press in 1985. “It’s fantasy. Storytelling without challenging the mind too much.”

He cast action stars — such as Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Jean-Claude Van Damme — who helped pre-sell films to foreign distributors. “Menahem’s faith in me as an actor was the real reason for the breakthrough of my movie career,” Norris told the Israeli Ynet news site.

Golan also leaped on 1980s trends such as breakdancing, the centerpiece of his films “Breakin’ ” and “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” both released in 1984.

Critics often despaired at the films, but many found favor with audiences.

Golan was born in 1929 in Tiberias as Menachem Globus, according to the Jerusalem Post. He changed his name during his time in the Army, which included service during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

He studied theater in London and returned to Israel, where he directed his first film, “El Dorado” (1963), starring Topol, who went on to appear in several films in the U.S., including “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1974.

In 1964, Golan and Yoram Globus founded a film production company and made several movies that were hits in Israel.

They moved to Hollywood in the late 1970s and bought the fledgling Cannon Films. In addition to their action flicks, they backed prestige projects such as “That Championship Season” (1982), based on a play by Jason Miller; an adaptation of “King Lear” (1987) directed by Jean-Luc Godard; and “Barfly” (1987), based on the life of poet Charles Bukowski.


But in the late 1980s, financial troubles mounted as they suffered some commercial flops on films that were relatively high budget, including “Superman IV” (1987) and “Over the Top” (1987), starring Sylvester Stallone as a competitive arm wrestler.

Golan left a severely cut-back Cannon in 1989, according to Variety. He continued to make movies and produced a live staging of “The Sound of Music” in Israel, but legal challenges dogged him, and many of his biggest announced films never came to be.

Still, he accumulated a bountiful number of credits. According to the Internet Movie Database, Golan was listed as a producer on 209 films.

Survivor information was not available.


Twitter: @davidcolker