Oscar-winning film producer Dino De Laurentiis, who started out working with Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini in his native Italy before moving to America and producing hundreds of films ranging from Serpico to Conan The Barbarian to Blue Velvet, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 91.
De Laurentiis began producing movies in 1940 and in his early days, alongside prestigious Italian producer Carlo Ponti, backed the Fellini classics Nights Of Cabiria and La Strada, for which he won an Oscar in 1957. (The Academy also gave him the Irving Thalberg Award in 2001.) In Italy, De Laurentiis also became notable for knock-offs of popular blockbusters—such as the James Bond imitation Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die and The Valachi Papers (meant to capitalize on The Godfather)—and his sleek and sexy comic-book adaptations Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella, the successes of which would come to dictate the direction of his career.
Throughout the 1960s, he produced films out of his own studios, but after these failed financially, he relocated to the U.S.—specifically Wilmington, North Carolina, where he created the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) and immediately got to work. The DEG’s list of films numbers over 150; here are just a few: Serpico, Death Wish, Mandingo, Three Days Of The Condor, The Shootist, Conan The Barbarian, Flash Gordon, Blue Velvet, Manhunter, Maximum Overdrive, Halloween II, Evil Dead II, Army Of Darkness, Near Dark, Tapeheads, Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Dead Zone, Cat’s Eye, Hannibal, and Red Dragon.
Among De Laurentiis’ most famous American productions was the controversial—yet ultimately commercial successful—1976 remake of King Kong, which he followed in 1986 with a less successful sequel, King Kong Lives. De Laurentiis also oversaw the long, troubled production of Dune, re-negotiating the rights and commissioning endless script revisions over the years while working with his daughter, fellow film producer Rafaella De Laurentiis, and taking responsibility for hiring director Ridley Scott and then eventually David Lynch.
Given his predilection for big-budget spectacle, De Laurentiis occasionally wandered into the expensive flop (like 1979’s disaster-in-both-senses-of-the-word film Hurricane), and with a few notable exceptions, the great majority of his movies were critically lambasted. (Harry and Michael Medved once nicknamed him “Dino De Horrendous” in their book, The Golden Turkey Awards.) And in truth, yes, a lot of his films were big, dumb, and loud. But as his record for enduring cult classics attests, few producers in the history of cinema took as many chances as he did, and outside of Roger Corman, rarely has a name promised “entertaining schlock” like his own.