An interaction of homophthalonitrile with salicylaldehydes proceeds as a novel domino reaction and results in the formation of nineteen 12H-chromeno[2,3-c]isoquinoline-5-amine derivatives. Four new bonds and two cycles are forged in a single synthetic operation, employing cheap and eco-friendly ammonium formate, acting both as a catalyst and a reducing agent. The in vitro cytotoxicity tests revealed antiproliferative activities against five human tumor cell lines, including the cisplatin-resistant ovarian carcinoma one (A2780cp8), with inhibitory potency data (IC50) in the low micromolar range in most cases. Molecular docking calculations and fluorescence quenching studies revealed possible binding properties with DNA of the active compounds. © 2020 Elsevier Inc.