Cannon Films wants respect. Badly.

Sure, the company has long been financially successful: It made its name by making profitable, low-budget exploitation films, distributing the likes of John Derek's "Bolero" and raising the sales of foreign, video and other ancillary rights to an art form. (The company made enough selling those rights, for example, to pay for all of its 1986 movies.) But now, Cannon is making more prestigious movies -- starting with "Runaway Train" and "Fool for Love" -- and signing big-name stars and directors.

And then Cannon is making sure everybody knows.

That's where the problems started. Cannon signed Dustin Hoffman to star in Hal Ashby's film of the Elmore Leonard novel "La Brava," luring him with what is reportedly the biggest paycheck ever given an actor. (The previous record: the $12 million Cannon is paying Sylvester Stallone to star in the arm-wrestling saga "Over the Top.") Then, as is its wont, Cannon trumpeted the Hoffman signing in a series of double-page ads in the Hollywood trades. The ads, which Cannon runs virtually every time it makes a prestige signing, were headlined, "Welcome to The Cannon Family, Dustin Hoffman."

But the notoriously demanding Hoffman didn't like the ads. Stories vary on whether Hoffman's contract gives him approval of all ads or simply entitles him to be a consultant; whatever his status, he was upset enough to terminate his contract with Cannon.

At least, that's what Hoffman's attorney and production company say.

Cannon has a different story: Last week company President Yoram Globus said the Hoffman deal was still on, though a few details might still be unresolved; early this week he said he was discussing the matter with Hoffman's representatives and expected the actor to make the film. But that seemed optimistic to most industry figures. "It's nice that Yoram Globus is so positive, but if Hoffman's not comfortable with the company he's not gonna make the movie," said one source familiar with the situation. "And it's pretty clear that Hoffman is not comfortable with the company anymore."

Meanwhile, Cannon marches on. On Monday, for example, the company took out two more "Welcome to The Cannon Family" ads: One announced the signing of Diane Keaton for "Housekeeping," which begins shooting this September; the other welcomed Peter Boyle in the upcoming "Citizen Joe."

Cannon also has made deals with everyone from John Travolta to Norman Mailer to Paul Schrader to Franco Zeffirelli to Jean-Luc Godard to Al Pacino, who will star in two upcoming Cannon films. One of those will be "The Investigation," written by Schrader and directed by Russian Andre Konchalovsky ("Runaway Train"), who will begin work on the project -- one of five films he's agreed to produce or direct for Cannon -- after he mounts the opera "Eugene Onegin" at La Scala.