Cavalcade of Awesome

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.

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.

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.


(Via VintageNinja.net)

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.


(Via VintageNinja.net)

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 VintageNinja.net. 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.

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