August 1, 1944
January 20, 2019
Andrew Vajna began his entertainment career in film exhibition by purchasing theaters in the Far East. He later moved into acquisition and distribution, mainly through his Panasia Films Limited, which he founded in Hong Kong. While in business there, he met Mario Kassar, with whom Vajna would make the move to the big time in Hollywood. In 1976, Vajna sold Panasia to Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest Company, and he and Kassar founded Carolco Pictures.At first, Carolco specialized in the financing, distribution and sales of films, doing especially well in foreign markets. Vajna and Kassar also began collaborating with other producers, making their debut working with Joel Michaels and Garth Drabinsky on two fairly worthy Canadian films, the cat-and-mouse crime drama, "The Silent Partner" (1978) and the horror film "The Changeling" (1979). They tried for something bigger with their first full-fledged US credit, but the war drama "Escape to Victory" (1981), in which they first worked with Sylvester Stallone, was not one of director John Huston's better efforts. After a few more minor efforts, Carolco hit the box-office jackpot with "First Blood" (1982) and even more so with its sequel "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (1985), both violent, hyper-macho Vietnam War genre fare which struck a chord with action- mongering fans if not with critics. Vajna and Kassar continued in a similar vein with greater and lesser degrees of success, working with stars like Nick Nolte, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Louis Gossett Jr on such films as "Extreme Prejudice" (1987), "Rambo III" (1988), "Red Heat" (1988), "Iron Eagle II" (1988) and "Total Recall" (1990). Two of the duo's best and least typical films were a return to horror for the surprisingly haunting "Jacob's Ladder" (1990) and the compelling historical biopic of explorer Sir Richard Burton, "Mountains of the Moon" (1990).Although Vajna served as producer on all of these films, he sold his share of Carolco in 1989 and ended his collaboration with Kassar. By 1990, Vajna had set up a new company, Cinergi Productions, and had arranged an exclusive five-year distribution deal with Disney to handle the two or three pictures per year his boutique-sized operation would create. He also set up the Summit Group, a joint venture among Cinergi, Bernd Eichinger's Constantin Films and Arnon Milchan's Regency International to handle foreign sales and distribution on their own and selected other projects. Vajna's first Cinergi production through Disney was "Medicine Man" (1992); it was not especially well received by critics but Sean Connery helped boost it to modest box-office success. Vajna has produced his films in a grand manner somewhat atypical for the careful budgeting style of Disney. He has also tried to broaden the range of his films' subject matter. Vajna missed, though, with the erotic thriller "Color of Night" (1994), Oliver Stone's biopic "Nixon" and a misguided remake of "The Scarlet Letter" (both 1995). Indeed, his most popular Cinergi film was an example of his old mainstay, the action sequel, "Die Hard with a Vengeance" (also 1995).