A major figure in international film distribution turned studio head and leading producer of big-budget Hollywood action fare, Kassar is reputed to be the youngest person to ever form his own foreign distribution company, Kassar Films International. Created in 1969 when the future mogul was a mere 18, the firm specialized in the sale, distribution, and exhibition of feature films throughout Asia and Europe. Before long Kassar also boasted successful offices in Rome and Paris. In 1976, he formed Carolco Pictures, Inc. with partner Andrew Vajna, whom he had met while on a business trip to Hong Kong. Kassar and Vajna moved from distribution and sales into production in 1978.
Carolco became a major force among independent production companies due to the immense success of the "Rambo" action series beginning with the relatively modest but compelling "First Blood" (1982). The first sequel, the controversial and influential "Rambo: First Blood II" (1985) was a much bigger hit, grossing over $300 million. Sylvester Stallone's portrait of the sullen Vietnam vet turned secret weapon became a pop icon of the 1980s. Vajna departed Carolco in December 1989, selling his interests in the company to Kassar, who became sole chair.
Though Kassar may be best known for presiding over some of the biggest action blockbusters of the last decade, particularly several of Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest hits ("Total Recall" 1991; "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" 1991), he has also executive produced a number of commercially risky projects. These intriguing features include "Mountains of the Moon" (1990), an account of the adventures of Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke in 19th century Africa; "Rambling Rose" (1991), an evocative family drama set in 30s Georgia; "Light Sleeper", a stylish downbeat film noir from writer-director Paul Schrader; and the lovingly detailed biopic "Chaplin" (both 1992). The notorious erotic thriller "Basic Instinct" (1992) raised some hackles but cleaned up at the box office.
Besides Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Kassar has also collaborated with stalwart action director Walter Hill ("Extreme Prejudice" 1987; "Red Heat" 1988; "Johnny Handsome" 1989). Subsequent credits include the enjoyable Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle "Universal Soldier" (1992), Renny Harlin's slick thriller "Cliffhanger", which restored Stallone to the box-office heights, and Oliver Stone's ambitious misfire "Heaven and Earth" (both 1993). He executive produced the surprise sci-fi hit "Stargate" (1994) and two high profile, critically lambasted efforts in 1995: "Showgirls" and "Cutthroat Island".
In 1995, Kassar entered into negotiations to sell Carolco with Fox emerging as the most interested party. When a deal had not been struck by mid-November, Carolco filed for bankruptcy protection and Kassar resigned as chairman. Fox subsequently purchased Carolco for a reported $50 million. A French company, Chargeurs, had purchased the rights to Adrian Lyne's remake of "Lolita" (1997) which Kassar executive produced. In January 1996, it was announced that Kassar had signed a non-exclusive three-year first-look deal with Paramount.