Universal Soldier: International Hit

Producer Daniel Melnick took the script of “Universal Soldier”–a violent, action-packed twist on the Frankenstein story–to Mario Kassar, the flamboyant Lebanese born co-chair of Carolco Pictures, producer of such films as “Rambo” and “Terminator.”

Kassar suggested casting Jean-Claude Van Demme and Dolph Lundgren, two Karate-chopping guys with accents who had “B movie” reputations in the U.S. Without including giant marquee names, the producers minimized risks: the movie was budgeted for below-average cost of under $20 million. A director who tried to make the film too heavy with political themes was removed. The intent from start was to march the film across borders.

Production financing came from film distributors in territories spanning the globe, including Japan, France and Italy, where Carolco has “strategic partners” who also own a piece of the company. The stars are Belgian and Swedish. The director, cinematographer and production designer are German. The film’s U.S. distributor, Tri-Star, is owned by Sony.

Kassar’s formula worked: “Universal Soldier” grossed a healthy $35 million in the U.S., but its big take was overseas, where it sold another $70 million worth of tickets. And it will more than double its theatrical revenue with home video and TV sales.

“The scenario that caused it to be made was based on the expectations of how it would do worldwide,” says Craig Baumgarten, one of the film’s producers. Yet “Universal Soldier” remains a Hollywood product. The deals were cut, the script written, and the production supervised just a local call away from Sunset Boulevard. Melnick and Baumgarten are both former studio executives.