Andy Vajna is dead. He died at 74. According to THR, the Hungarian producer behind the Rambo franchise and who also oversaw a revival of Hungarian cinema as a government film commissioner, died Sunday at his home in Budapest.
“Vajna’s life had all the elements of the American dream. A child immigrant — he fled Hungary when he was just 12 — Vajna operated several successful businesses in the U.S. and Hong Kong, including a photography studio, a chain of movie theaters and even a wig-design business, before teaming with the Lebanese-born Mario Kassar to form Carolco Pictures in 1976,” THR writes.
Adding that Vajna and Kassar’s first project was The Sicilian Cross, a 1976 Italian film starring Roger Moore. They later moved on to work on other genre films. In 1980, they paid Warner Bros. a reported $383,000 for the option rights to David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood, which resulted in the epic 1982 movie starring Sylvester Stallone as troubled Vietnam veteran John Rambo. The movie cost $14 million to make and went on to gross $125 million worldwide.
The duo went on to do greater things, and in 1989, Vajna left Carolco in 1989, selling his interest to Kassar and setting up his own venture, Cinergi Pictures.
The company had a number of hits, including Die Hard With a Vengeance and the Madonna musical Evita. The latter also won three Golden Globes — including best motion picture, comedy or musical and an Oscar for best original song. He shutdown the company in 1998.
Vajna remained connected to his Hungarian homeland his entire life. He pushed for several of his films — including Red Heat and Evita — to shoot in Budapest and, in 2002, founded the visual effects firm DIGIC Pictures in Hungary.
From 2011, when he was appointed the government commissioner for the Hungarian film industry by Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban, Vajna oversaw a revival of the local film business. Under his management, the money spent on film production in the country nearly doubled from $144 million to $260 million within three years. He is credited with cleaning up what many viewed as a corrupt and inefficient funding system and helping to spark a renaissance in Hungarian cinema.