Flash Gordon (1980)
With Star Wars lighting up box-office tills across the globe, De Laurentiis’ answer was a remake of old sci-fi serial Flash Gordon.
It fizzled on release, failing to earn back its budget. But with its synth-vamped Queen score, big-booted camp style and – sweet Jesus – Brian Blessed in full-beard-and-shouty form, it’s become a cult hit.
Conan The Barbarian (1982)
Conan made a star of Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in the context of early-‘80s Hollywood seemed to come from nowhere.
But for De Laurentiis there must have been a clear link back to the mythical peplum epics that ruled the Italian cinema in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Schwarzenegger was hand-picked as a modern day Steve Reeves , and triumphed in this heavy-handed but successful vehicle.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Hungry for raw material, De Laurentiis struck a deal with Stephen King that would see him produce several films based on the author’s work including Firestarter, Cat’s Eye, and the awful but still awesome Maximum Overdrive.
The best – all right, only good one – was The Dead Zone, not least because De Laurentiis coaxed a fresh-from-Videodrome David Cronenberg into directing. Cronenberg reshaped the script and formed a very effective partnership with shock-faced hero Christopher Walken.
A full-blown fiasco that nearly de-railed the career of true original David Lynch and has given us one of the strangest and most beautifully flawed films ever.
Again it’s De Laurentiis hunting the Star Wars crowd, this time with an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s multi-million selling sci-fi novel. But Lynch was the wrong man for the job, obsessing over details (the wonderfully crafted Harkonnen homeworld) but losing his grip on the monster project, leaving us with a fractured snowglobe of a potential epic.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Dino and David: the return fixture. Having recovered from his creative miasma following the wreckage of Dune, Lynch reteamed with De Laurentiis on the condition he be given final cut on his new, suburban drama.
The resulting film more than makes up for Dune’s shortcomings. Blue Velvet is a bona fide masterpiece, a uneasy Freudian inspection of white picket Americana, a Hardy Boys adventure that descends into perversion and obsession.
After Dune, De Laurentiis set up his own small studio, not just producing films but distributing them. This meant a down-shift in budgets and led the producer to work with some of Hollywood’s most interesting new filmmakers.
Among them was Michael Mann, who delivered his often overlooked precursor to Silence Of The Lambs starring Brian Cox as cinema’s first Dr Hannibal Lecktor in a film brimming with blue-shadowed style and menace.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Yes – De Laurentiis really got around in the ‘80s. Sam Raimi and friends were struggling after the poorly received Crimewave, only for Dino to dig them out of a hole.
The way star Bruce Campbell remembers it, a crew member happened to mention to Stephen King they were short of money for a sequel. “With that, Stephen called Dino, Dino called us, and we found ourselves in his gigantic office. Twenty minutes later, a deal was in place.”
This Sly Stallone versus Antonio Banderas action flick might be unremarkable summer box-office grist, but it also showed that half a century after he started producing movies, De Laurentiis could compete at the very top.
Stallone’s popularity was cresting, but he was still a superstar with enough heft to drag the film into the red overseas. And the film’s screenplay was an original by the soon-to-be-huge Matrix creators, the Wachowski brothers.
By the late ‘90s De Laurentiis was beginning to ease off the production pedal. But he still found time to unearth this criminally unsung kidnapping B-movie.
Written and directed by Terminator 3 helmer Jonathan Mostow, the film’s big asset is Kurt Russell, on hugely watchable and determined form as the husband whose wife disappears after a roadside breakdown. The low-budget thriller is tight, tense, and comes with a crunchingly satisfying pile-up conclusion.
Red Dragon (2002)
After Manhunter’s poor box-office De Laurentiis passed up the opportunity to make Silence Of The Lambs – and regretted it for years.
Three times he would return to Thomas Harris’ series and the character of Hannibal Lecter in an attempt to correct his mistake, and the best of the resulting films is a remake of his own Manhunter under its original title, Red Dragon. It lacks the edge of Mann, but offered a strong cast of Ed Norton, Ralph Fiennes and Anthony Hopkins.