Arnold Schwarzenegger — aka “Ahnuld” — just turned 70 years old! Can you believe it?!
For a man who is thick on accent and light on acting talent (though both have improved over time), Ahnuld has amassed an impressive number of movies over the past 40 years or so. He is one of the biggest action-movie icons of all time, not to mention a favorite of comedians and impressionists, and his success shows what big muscles, snappy one-liners, a handful of memorable roles, and a lot of hard work and ambition can earn you in Hollywood. Plus, he has that Ahnuld charisma. Despite his faults, he seems like a decent chap, too.
I wouldn’t say I’m his hugest fan, but I *do* like him and have seen (and mostly enjoyed) many of his films. So, I thought it might be fun to come up with a list of my favorites and share them with you. Sort of like what I did with Kurt Russell, but with a little less emphasis on the roles specifically and more on each movie as a whole. I limited myself to those that he (co-)stars in (as opposed to small supporting roles or bit parts).
You will notice that there aren’t any comedies on my list. This simply isn’t Ahnuld’s strong suit. I mean, he has some of the best one-liners in his action movies, but his “comedic stylings” just aren’t enough to carry a movie. If pressed to pick one comedy, I’d go with Twins, in which he co-starred with Danny DeVito. Certainly it was better than Junior (also paired with DeVito), Kindergarten Cop, or Jingle All the Way. (I never saw The Villain (1979), aka Cactus Jack, but I understand it wasn’t so great, either.) I hope the upcoming sequel, Triplets, which adds Eddie Murphy to the mix, will be reasonably entertaining and not rely on too much crude humor or stupidity.
You’ll also notice, I’m sure, that I don’t have either of the Conan movies (or Red Sonja) on my list, either. His first starring role was as Hercules in New York (1970), but the Conan role 12 years later was his first success as an action movie star. For some people, especially those who followed him as a bodybuilder, too, the Conan flicks are “classics”. Personally, I never got too much into the ’80s swords-n-sorcery subgenre (with a few exceptions), even those with a comic book tie-in. Another sequel, The Legend of Conan, has been announced, which will bring Ahnuld back into the title role. Do we really want to see a septuagenarian Conan fighting monsters and barbarian hordes? Hmmm, as long as he’s in decent shape, maybe…
OK, my Top 8 in chronological order…
The Terminator (1984): Any Ahnuld fan has to put this film in any Top X list. I mean, this is the one role that launched him to superstar status. Of course, visionary writer/director James Cameron and the rest of the cast — including Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield, et al. — were also instrumental in creating this amazing sci-fi/action film. But, it was Ahnuld’s portrayal of the time-traveling, cyborg juggernaut that helped to define this movie. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role that would have had nearly the impact. (I have, however, tried re-casting it with a more current crop of stars, much as I recently did for Predator.) There were so many great, memorable scenes! Ahnuld’s Austrian accent wasn’t much of an issue, either, since the Terminator didn’t say much. And, of course, “Ah’ll be back.” has become such an iconic quote that everyone one knows it’s Ahnuld, even if they aren’t sure which movie it’s from.
Commando (1985): I wrote many months ago that I’d like to see a sequel to this film. Ahnuld played Col. John Matrix, a “retired elite Black Ops Commando [who] launches a one man war against a group of South American criminals who have kidnapped his daughter.” Co-starring Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Alyssa Milano, et al., this was the kind of story that makes you root for the hero to “get the girl” and show the baddies that he’s one guy they definitely should *not* have messed with. He brutally punches, snaps, stabs, slices, shoots, and blows up the bad guys in order to find and rescue his young daughter. Violent? That’s an understatement. Plenty of clever (or silly) one-liners, too. (Fun Fact: One of the writers was Jeph Loeb, who went on to write tons of comics and write/produce things like “Smallville”, “Lost”, “Heroes”, and many Marvel productions.)
Predator (1987): In a lot of ways, I suppose Major “Dutch” Schaefer could have been called Col. John Matrix. They are both muscle-bound, highly-skilled commando leaders trying to survive extremely difficult situations against deadly foes. (Kinda like a certain “John J. Rambo”.) This was another iconic film in the sci-fi/action subgenre, and one in which Ahnuld got to fire big guns, smoke big stogies, and show off his big muscles. Some pretty good quotes, too. (For example, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”, “Get to the chopper!”, and “You are one ugly m____rf____r.”) Great cast, cool concept, and Ahnuld gets to match wits, weapons, and muscles with a monstrous alien trophy hunter. What’s not to like?
The Running Man (1987): This one might surprise you, since it isn’t one of Ahnuld’s better known films. But, it sticks in my mind for at least two reasons. First, it’s one of those stories where the protagonist has to fight his way through a number of individual opponents to survive, but this time it’s a deadly game show. Second, the main villain of the piece is played by the original host of the “Family Feud” (1976-1985), Richard Dawson. (I don’t know who thought of that bit of casting, but Dawson actually did a decent job of it.) Maria Conchita Alonso and Yaphet Kotto are in it, too. The costumed and specially-armed foes Ahnuld’s character has to fight are Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka), Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), Dynamo (Erland van Lidth), Fireball (Jim Brown), and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura). Fun, fun, fun!
Total Recall (1990): I never read the original short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick, but I very much enjoyed the first big-screen adaptation, Total Recall. (The 2012 remake? Not so much, though it was OK.) Ahnuld’s ‘Douglas Quaid’ is just some working-class guy who suddenly gets his world turned upside-down, not knowing what’s real and what’s implanted memory. The answers seem to lie on Mars, so off he goes! The near-future looks a lot like today — a mix of shiny and grimy, pretty and nasty — but with some mutated humans and some cool tech thrown in. (You need to overlook a scientific impossibility or two, though.) Nice combination of sci-fi, action, and mystery/thriller, with a terrific supporting cast (i.e., Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside). You can just watch it for the action or ponder the deeper, moral & existential questions raised. A real rollercoaster ride and definitely worth the time, imo.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): Ahnuld returns as another T-800, but this time one who is programmed to keep the target of another Terminator alive. Very similar yet different from the first one, the film was one of those rare sequels that is arguably as good as its predecessor. (Some might even say better. Not me. But some.) Of course, Robert Patrick’s portrayal as the nigh-unstoppable, liquid-metal T-1000 was a breakout role for him. But, it was still Ahnuld’s (and Linda Hamilton’s) movie. Lots of great action and suspense, along with some humor. Overall, a great movie, sequel or not.
P.S. Can you believe that Edward Furlong, who played young John Connor, just turned 40?!
True Lies (1994): I’m not exactly a fan of Tom Arnold, but he did a fair job here. I like Jamie Lee Curtis OK, and she made a surprisingly good wife for Ahnuld’s secret agent, ‘Harry Tasker’. Throw in Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku, and even Charlton Heston, and you have a pretty solid supporting cast. Harry has to track down stolen nuclear weapons that are in the hands of fanatic terrorists, while also trying to keep his wife out of danger and still maintain his civilian identity. Loads of action and hilarity ensue, of course, and Ahnuld does well as a globe-hopping secret agent. It feels like a cross between James Bond and a classic Disney caper. Fun for all! (Well, maybe not youngsters.)
Eraser (1996): “A Witness Protection specialist becomes suspicious of his co-workers when dealing with a case involving high-tech weapons.” That specialist is Ahnuld… or, rather, U.S. Marshal John ‘The Eraser’ Kruger, who starts out thinking his only worry is his latest assignment — i.e., the relocation of ‘Lee Cullen’, played by Vanessa Williams. Poor Kruger ends up going on the run with Lee, as they try to avoid being captured or killed by some misguided and/or corrupt Marshals and other law enforcement. In addition to Ahnuld and Williams, you have James Caan, James Coburn, James Cromwell, Robert Pastorelli, Danny Nucci, Mark Rolston, John Slattery, et al. It’s another terrific group supporting Ahnuld and making for a gripping, pulse-pounding action/drama/mystery movie. (Oh, and that alligator scene…!) Two thumbs up!
Of Ahnuld’s more recent films, as of this writing I have not yet seen Escape Plan (2013) (with Stallone), Sabotage (2014), Maggie (2015), or Aftermath (2017). I need to add them to my movie queue, I suppose. Who knows? Maybe after watching them, I’ll be able to round out my Top 10….
What are your favorite Ahnuld movies and why?