Charles Bronson: The Cannon Years
Bronson's 1980's Career Revisited
The Bronson Films of the 1980's
He debuted in the classic horror film House of Wax under his real name of Buchinsky and later gained wider recognition in the short lived and now forgotten television series Man with a Camera. He turned down Eli Wallach’s role in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. With his role in The Dirty Dozen, he became a star and he cemented that stardom in Death Wish. His name was Charles Bronson and he was among the top box office attractions of the 1970’s.
Charles Bronson’s many classic films may not have gained the great second look and appreciation they deserve because his career ended on a dire B-movie note. He was able to continue his career in the 1980’s based on his past fame although his 1980’s output was mostly drive-in, grindhouse, and direct to video fare. Bronson did star in a few decent films in the 1980’s such as The Border but they were not huge hits. When he revived his role of Paul Kersey in the horrifyingly exploitative and sleazy Death Wish II, the film’s box office success showed that Bronson still could draw in audiences. While some sources list Death Wish II as a flop, that is not the case. The excruciatingly violent film - considered by many to be Bronson’s worst -- inexplicably earned tens of millions in worldwide box office.
Among those paying attention to the success of the film were the powers that be at Cannon Films. Cannon Films produced Death Wish II and the film would be the first of 8 pictures Cannon would make with Bronson.
As fans of 1980’s action films will remember, Bronson appeared in a series of low budget films made by Cannon. Cannon was the premiere B-grade production house which proudly proclaimed “A Golan-Globus Production” named after two masterminds that ran the operation. In the 1980’s, Cannon released some of the best (and some of the absolute worst) action films of the era. Chuck Norris’ flagging career with the studios was revived by a series of Cannon hits starting with Missing in Action. Jean Claude Van Damme’s first three films were profitable successes with Bloodsport and Kickboxer remaining cult classics. Cannon would suffer a series of bombs such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and after investing $50 million in Tobe Hooper’s three picture deal (Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) hoping to cash in on the director’s success with Poltergeist was a disaster. Changing times and tastes in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s really did not have much of an appetite for low budget action films and Cannon went into bankruptcy.
During both its peak and its waning days, Cannon produced a series Charles Bronson films that were a mixed bag at the box office but made huge money on video. Probably the most popular of the Cannon Bronson films was Death Wish III. Death Wish III was neither the serious character study of the first film nor the sleazy exploitative endeavor of the second film. It was a bizarre mix of Rambo and The Warriors with a few rip-off elements of the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact thrown in. A complete mess of a film Death Wish III was enough to give audiences what they wanted - Bronson taking on the bad guys and dishing out final justice. Having seen the film in a sold out Philadelphia grindhouse in which the screen was held together by a hunk of duct tape, your author can attest the audience was roused by the film.
A Rebirth for Bronson
Charles Bronson probably got a very lucrative deal for the films he made for Cannon. While The Murphy’s Law and Assassination are not well remembered, they sold Platinum figures on home video. The absurd Death Wish 3 and the sleazy Kinjite: Forbidden Secrets did rise to cult status and play on cable quite frequently.
Critics may refer to Bronson's Cannon years as being the fall from grace of a great actor. The truth is, for the aging star, Cannon was really the only viable production company for Bronson to maintain starring roles.
Actually, during the 1980’s Bronson’s films were popular on both cable and syndicated television. Perhaps the success of the Cannon Films was an attempt for fans to relive the theater experiences they had viewing the classic Bronson outings of the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s. Bronson was no longer a legitimate major international star but he was still Bronson. He could still draw an audience because if he couldn’t, those Cannon Films never would have been made.