This daft, cheapjack swords ’n’ sandals romp saw a fresh-faced 22-year-old Schwarzenegger appearing under a pseudonym – the wildly inventive ‘Arnold Strong’. Oh, and his voice was dubbed too. But there’s no mistaking those beefy biceps.
The charm of Arn was first noted in this goofy bodybuilding docudrama in which he stars alongside the Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno. ‘Bodybuilding is as satisfying to me as having sex with a woman and coming,’ enthuses the Austrian Oak. ‘I am getting the feeling of coming in the gym; I’m getting the feeling of coming at home; when I pose out in front of 5000 people I get the same feeling. So I am coming day and night.’ That’s what we call stamina.
Arnie’s first lead, and his first truly iconic role. ‘Conan’ is one of the few films of the early ’80s epic fantasy boom to stand the test of time, and Arnie is something to behold in it: at once grim, regal and appealingly self-mocking. The scene where he punches out a camel is a classic. Still, the less said about 1984’s hasty sequel ‘Conan the Destroyer’, the better.
The role he’ll be forever remembered for – and with good reason. No other actor could have played the role of a psychotic, futuristic, cybernetic brick shithouse with such thunderous grace. Arnie would never be as taciturn or as terrifying again, and it’s hard not to argue that his career has suffered for it, at least in artistic terms.
‘You promised you would kill me last!’ ‘I lied.’ It’s here that Arnie comes closest to embodying his deadpan ‘The Simpsons’ pastiche persona, Rainier Wolfcastle, as he machine-guns his way through a small South American army tossing off awkward quips and attempting to romance Rae Dawn Chong (despite the fact that she’s approximately one eighth his size). Still, his character is called John Matrix, which is pretty darn cool.
Sure, there ain’t a lot of plot or character development here. But who needs all that highfalutin stuff when you’ve got Old Ironballs in a camo suit and a mudpack lumbering around the rainforest insulting aliens? Sadly, this would be the only time our muscle-bound hero would get the chance to take on a slimy eight-foot reptilian space-rasta.
With the arguable exception of 1986’s forgettable ‘Red Heat’, this was the first time Arnie had attempted to tackle the tricky role of ‘ordinary guy’, as opposed to Nietzschean superman. But it’s not long before he gets fed up with it and transforms put upon hero Ben Richards (see, normal) into an all-quipping, all-baddie-flattening human sledgehammer.
Arnie does funny! Sort of… Pairing the big fella up with human testicle Danny DeVito as a pair of estranged brothers may have sparked a few chuckles at the first script read. But the resulting film is too awkward for words. The producers have been threatening a sequel – to star Eddie Murphy as the hilariously black third brother – for decades now. For some reason, no one seems remotely interested.
Was Arnie miscast in Paul Verhoeven’s magnificent Martian romp? Is his character, blue-collar construction worker Doug Quaid, really supposed to be a regular guy – in which case Arnie’s performance is a disaster – or is it all part of the film’s twisty, rug-pulling craftiness? The debate rages on. And the film is monumentally entertaining either way.
Once you’ve read the title, there’s really no need to see the movie: yep, it’s about a cop going undercover at playschool. Cue shrieking, hair-pulling and inappropriate swearing – and that’s just the audience. Looking back, we can see that ‘Kindergarten Cop’ and its ilk were Arnie’s clever attempt to ingratiate himself with potential voters. But at the time, we just thought it was terrible. Silly us.
This is Arnie back in the role that made his name – albeit a cuddlier, kinder version. This is a much bigger, bolder, scenery-smashier film than its predecessor, and it could be argued that making Schwarzenegger the good guy removes most of the character’s edge. But hell, if you’re not able to overlook that and just enjoy the sheer spectacle on offer, you’re reading the wrong feature, pal.
It was supposed to be Arnie’s finest hour: a sharp slice of postmodern meta-cinema about a movie character who finds himself in the ‘real’ world. Sadly, ‘Last Action Hero’ turned out to be a bloated, rather nasty and tonally berserk mess (albeit a strangely enjoyable, often rather clever one). Needless to say it got trampled at the box office by the stampeding herds of ‘Jurassic Park’.
Desperate to redeem his box office rep, Arnie reteamed with his finest director – ‘Terminator’ man James Cameron – and got back to what he does best: hitting people in the face and joking about it. Big, brash and gripping, ‘True Lies’ is Schwarzenegger’s sole successful attempt at comedy, though you do have to swallow a whole heap of dubious misogyny and not-so-casual racism to get there.
In which the wheels really start to come off the Arnie train. Capitalising on a spate of Christmas toy sellouts (Cabbage Patch Kids, Power Rangers), director Brian Levant and his screenwriters envisioned a sparky festive comedy about a put upon dad trying to get that perfect gift for his kid. Then, for reasons best left unexplored, they decided to cast the Terminator in it.
After ‘Jingle All the Way’, it was safely assumed that Arnie’s career had nosedived to its nadir. Wrong! As the villainous Mr Freeze, Arnie is probably the worst thing in this so-dire-it’s-not-even-camp Bat-quel – though he faces (ahem) stiff competition from George Clooney’s nipples. It could be argued that all those punning kiss-off lines were a clever pastiche of his action-man persona. And snowmen might fly out of my ass.
Arnie: the wilderness years. With very few exceptions, the films our oak-smoked hero shot between his post-‘True Lies’ slump and his decision to jack it all in for political office are interchangeable crud: who even remembers ‘Eraser’, ‘The 6th Day’ or ‘Collateral Damage’? ‘End of Days’ just about stands above the crowd because it sees Arnie battling Satan, which is at least theoretically amusing.
Knowing full well that he was on a losing streak, Arnie signed up to this redundant three-quel despite the fact that his old mucker James Cameron wasn’t involved. To be fair, it’s far from a disaster: the central car chase is one of the last triumphs of pre-CGI destructo-porn, and the ending is grippingly bleak. But it’s still hard to plead much of a case for its existence.
He said he’d be back! Sadly, it was with a whimper not a bang, as the post-political Schwarzenegger burst back onto our screens with back-to-back critical and box office flops. ‘The Last Stand’ wins out over the turgid Sly Stallone team-up ‘Escape Plan’ thanks to Korean director Kim Jee-woon, who knows how to marshal an action sequence. The script sucked though.
Perhaps realising he had to pull his finger out fast or be entirely forgotten by the ticket-buying public, Arnie teamed up with ‘Training Day’ writer David Ayer for this noisy, explosive, abrasive action movie about a band of DEA agents getting picked off by a mysterious killer. Arnie plays the leader (obviously), and gets to romance willowy British beauty Olivia Williams, which no one saw coming.
The title of this long-gestating reboot keeps changing – is it ‘Terminator: Genesis’, or just ‘Terminator’? And if the former, will Phil Collins be in it? Anyway, we’re wary of making predictions after the excruciating ‘Terminator: Salvation’, but surely the time is ripe for this iconic screen villain to be, well, back. Apparently, the filmmakers have figured out an explanation for the fact that their killer droid has aged considerably – and that we can’t wait for.
He said he’d be back – but Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen following eight years in politics hasn’t been without its hiccups. As his new action flick ‘Sabotage’ hits screens, we look back over the big man’s iconic ups and forgettable downs.