Ninja Day 2010: Behind the scenes of Cannon’s American Ninja

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And so dawns another Ninja Day.  Take this time to reflect on the awesomeness of a bad ass ninja.  Every year this blog celebrates Ninja Day and has done so since 2006.  Click here to see all my Ninja Day articles.

While today is officially Ninja Day, next week will be Ninja Week on the Cavalcade.  I’ll be reviewing ninja movies next week.  All having to do with the ridiculously deadly ninja, and all are vintage, from the 80s and awesome.  As a matter of fact, at least two of them star one Sho Kosugi.  He was THE 80s icon for the ninja who recently (last year) starred as the bad ass villain in Ninja Assassin.  I’ll be reviewing at least two of the movies in the Sho Kosugi 80s ninja “unofficial” trilogy I discussed in my Unofficial Movie Trilogies article a few months ago.  Want to see what they are?  Tune back in next week; same ninja time, same ninja blog.

Today, though, for Ninja Day, I want to discuss the 1985 movie, American Ninja starring Michael Dudikoff.

American Ninja poster

Specifically, I want to talk about the trouble The Cannon Group had getting it to the big screen.  The movie has an interesting history that I think will make a good tale for Ninja Day.

Cannon Films

The production company, The Cannon Group, made many of the ninja movies back in the day during the big 80s ninja boom.  Their main ninja star was Sho Kosugi.  During post production on Ninja III: The Domination Cannon started pre-production on a movie called American Ninja.  Of course, it was going to star their main ninja, Sho Kosugi, as the villain.  At the time, I don’t think they had cast the title character. Here’s some early promotional art for the Sho Kosugi American Ninja.

Sho Kosugi in American Ninja

However, shortly before filming was to begin, Sho and The Cannon Group had a falling out. Sho left the production and went to make a different movie at a different studio. Cannon was left with a star-less vehicle. So to they campaigned hard to get Chuck Norris (Cannon made The Octagon with Chuck in 1980).  They must have been pretty close to signing him because they created more promotional art for American Ninja, this time replacing Sho Kosugi’s name and image with Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris in American Ninja

However, Cannon couldn’t close the deal with Norris and that, too, fell through. To make matters worse, the movie that Sho Kosugi went to work on with another studio, was also going to be titled American Ninja. And due to Cannon’s casting and production problems, it was going to hit theaters before Cannon could get their movie out. So, they changed the name of the movie to American Warrior. And it stayed American Warrior until a few weeks before release. Cannon would hire unknown Michael Dudikoff to headline the movie and replace Sho Kosugi with another Japanese actor who appeared in the awesome Gymkata as well as the previously mentioned The Octagon.

Then, right before release, Sho Kosugi’s American Ninja would be retitled 9 Deaths of the Ninja.  Cannon, not wasting any time, was happy to revert back to their original title, American Ninja, and did so despite several posters and trailers sporting the newer American Warrior moniker .  Here’s the American Ninja trailer featuring the original title.

The rest is history.  That first American Ninja movie would do very well and would out-perform Kosugi’s horrible 9 Deaths of the Ninja.  It would seem Cannon had a hit on their hands.  Unfortunately, they completely squandered the opportunity and would slash budgets and scripts throughout the production of American Ninja II – V (yes, FOUR f’n sequels) making them four of the worst movies ever seen.

Sho Kosugi would only make a few more movies before retreating to his secret ninja lair awaiting his opportunity to return to the big screen and kick all of our asses into a grainy paste in 2009’s Ninja Assassin.

And that is the tale of how Cannon got American Ninja to the big screen back in 1985.  Hope you enjoyed this little back history.  Stuff like this, original casting and title changes as they pertain to movie productions is endlessly fascinating to me.

Oh, by the way, the promotional images above came from a really kick ass ninja website called They talk about everything from movies to toys to books, and it’s all about ninjas. So, obviously, I love the place. Go check it out and see for yourself. Today is the perfect day to do it (seeing as how it’s Ninja Day and all).

Anyway, like I promised, a plethora of ninja movie reviews next week.  See you there.

8 Responses to “Ninja Day 2010: Behind the scenes of Cannon’s American Ninja”

  1. Samurai Sunday, eh? Now you’ve gone and done it, Pax, I’m on a total ninja kick! 😉

    Great article, it’s funny to hear how screwed up some of these films can be and that Vintage Ninja site is awe-some!

  2. I loved AN 1! I remeber II being something about super ninjas, with steel reinforced tendons and such. And they died like absolute wusses. Apparently missed out on III-V.

    Happy Ninja Day!

  3. OMG I can’t believe I missed Ninja day!! I haven’t been checking GReader and I remember you mentioning a teaser on Twitter, but…wahhhh!

    Your knowledge of pop culture (ie movies) astounds me, by the way.

    • Glad I could astound you. 🙂

      Don’t worry about missing ninja day. That’s why you have this blog, I celebrate it for you then serve it to you on a silver platter. It’s what I do. Plus my wife doesn’t mind that I watch a bunch of ninja movies every year around Dec 5.

      Or she says she doesn’t.

  4. Joe Armstrong Says:

    “American Ninja” is permanently etched in my all-time top 10 favorite movies. It’s a travesty that the DVD lacks special features. I would love to hear more about the behind the scenes goings on. Thanks for filling me in on this classic. Hey, did you know that one shot in the closing credits mentions there’s an American Ninja book? Check this out …

    By the way, that Cannon Films site is beyond fantastic, especially if you’re as much of a ninja fanatic as I am.

    Also, there was a line of American Ninja toys that may have been released domestically for what seems like 10 minutes. I’ve seen some figures going on eBay starting at $50.

    Just a general comment about your blog:


    You write well, and you write well about topics I genuinely care about (e.g., ninja movies from the 80s).

    Keep up the great work, but always know that EVERY DAY is Ninja Day. You never know when evil will lurk and you will be forced to use Ninjutsu.

    “I will honor the code, Father.”

    — Joe Armstrong

    • Thank you, sir. I very much appreciate your comments. It makes me glad that you are enjoying what I do here as I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

  5. Joe Armstrong Says:


    Just as an FYI about this Hollywood masterpiece, I read yesterday that Kurt McKinney (the lead in No Retreat, No Surrender) had auditioned for the lead in American Ninja, but was turned down due to his youth. In addition, he was offered a role in parts III and IV, but turned them down because he didn’t want to travel to the shooting locations.

    See below …

    I love trivia like this, and it kills me that there were never special features released on the DVD.

    An addition, if this next bit is true, it would make my decade! In a recent interview, Michael Dudikoff said there’s progress on American Ninja VI! I’m not holding my breath, but it would be beyond awesome (pun intended for your blog) if it happened.

    Check it out …

    As always, keep up the great work!

    Joe Armstrong

  6. Joe Armstrong Says:


    Hey, one more thing I’d like to add …

    Michael Dudikoff gave a Q&A a few days ago in Germany. He went into great detail about some behind-the-scenes information about the movie (e.g., he almost walked off the audition because there were more than 1,500 guys there; and the names “Mike Stone,” “Chuck Norris” and “Steve McQueen” were all important in the casting).

    In the clip below, it’s from the 5:58 mark to the 10:53 mark.


    Joe Armstrong

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