Arnold Schwarzenegger is arguably the most recognizable, and imitated, movie star in the history of Hollywood. Arnie went from ascending to the top of the world of professional bodybuilding, to being an A-list action movie star, and eventually turned to politics, serving as the governor of California from 2003-2011. Though his list of accomplishments is long and varied, with films ranging from Terminator, to Twins, to Jingle All the Way, it is probable that what he will always be best known for is his work as an actor, where he was among the most reliable box office draws for two decades and starred in some undeniable classics.
Schwarzenegger is probably best known for his almost superhuman physique, regularly appearing in films that fused action and science fiction, and for his winning comedic timing which mostly showed itself when he’d dispatch a villain and give a memorable one-liner, of which he has had many over the years. So, stick around and check out some of the Austrian Oak’s best works on the big screen.
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Pumping Iron (1977)
Image via Cinema 5
Arnold’s first appearance on the silver screen is a far cry from the high budget sci-fi action films he would eventually become synonymous with, but Pumping Iron proved to be a great showcase for the up-and-coming Austrian bodybuilder’s charisma and charm. Directed by documentarians George Butler and Robert Flore, the film focuses on the 1975 International Federation of Body Building and Fitness’ Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia contests, following the contestants as the trained and competed in the tournaments. The film features several hopeful body building champions, but it is the then relatively unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger who steals the show and becomes the documentary’s inarguable star. The film’s narrative largely focuses on the rivalry between Schwarzenegger and fellow body builder, and future Hulk star, Lou Ferrigno, as their two vastly different personalities collide with one another.
Image via 20th Century Fox
Schwarzenegger stars as John Matrix, a retired special agent is forced back into action when his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) is kidnaped by a former team member of Matrix named Bennet (Vernon Wells). This Joel Silver produced action movie is so over the top it borders on parody – the film opens with Matrix carrying an entire log on one shoulder. Arnie is at his quippiest, having a tongue in cheek line ready for practically all the many men he dispatches of, ranging from goofy “don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired” to extremely petty “remember when I promised to kill you last… I lied.”
Last Action Hero (1993)
Image via Columbia Pictures
John McTiernan’s meta action blockbuster was considered to be a major bomb upon its release after failing to gather much of an audience in theaters (it did open a week after Jurassic Park, in its defense) but it has gathered a bit of a cult following in the years after. A young film lover (Austin O’Brien) gets transported, via magic movie ticket, into the world of his favorite action movie character, Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). Arnie manages to poke fun at himself and action movies in general with this self-aware film scripted by Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black.
True Lies (1994)
In this action-comedy, Schwarzenegger stars as family man Harry Tasker, who has convinced his loved ones he is a dull computer salesman when he is actually an international spy. While tracking some nuclear weapons that are in the possession of terrorists, Tasker discovers that his neglected wife, Annie (Jamie Lee Curtis), is considering having an affair. Though some aspects of this spy comedy may not have aged gracefully, it features some explosive action sequences that could only have been directed by filmmaking maestro James Cameron, while Curtis and Schwarzenegger share an electric chemistry as a married couple going through a rough patch.
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman re teamed with Schwarzenegger after the success of their comedy Twins to create this family friendly action-comedy. Arnie stars as detective John Kimble, who has been in pursuit of the drug dealer Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson). Kimble finally has the chance to put the criminal behind bars, but in order to do so needs the testimony of Crisp’s ex-wife, Rachel (Penelope Ann Miller). The only way Kimble can get in touch with her, though, is by going undercover at her son’s kindergarten. Schwarzenegger effortlessly pulls off the family friendly nature of this material, giving a performance that is both hilarious and heartwarming, as Kimble goes from being exasperated by the classroom of children to becoming a cherished figure for each of them.
The Terminator (1984)
Image via Paramount Pictures
The role that cemented him as a movie star remains as Arnold’s most iconic character, so much so that he was nicknamed the Governator during his time in office. In James Cameron’s classic sci-fi film, two beings are sent back in time from an apocalyptic future where machines are powered by the AI system Skynet, and have risen to destroy mankind. One is a T-800, an unstoppable cybernetic assassin also known as a Terminator (Schwarzenegger), who’s been sent to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a young woman who will be the mother to the future leader of the human resistance in the war against the machines, while a human named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) has been sent back from the future in order to protect Sarah. Schwarzenegger is excellent as the ice-cold mechanical monster that you can’t help but root for.
Total Recall (1990)
Paul Verhoeven’s visionary sci-fi is set in a future where Mars has been colonized and memories can be implanted. Doug Quaid (Schwarzenegger) a bored construction worker on Earth visits Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting vacations and thrilling experiences into people’s brains. But when something goes wrong with the procedure, Quaid learns that his life has been a false memory, and the people who planted it now want him dead. The film features some unforgettable imagery that involves a litany of innovative and boundary pushing practical effects; particularly in the Venusville sequences where a host of mutant characters (who are realized with prosthetics) can be seen. With interplanetary travel, an array of bizarre looking mutants, and an endless parade of grotesque violence Total Recall is a blast from start to finish.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Judgement Day is undoubtedly on the shortlist as one of the greatest sequels of all time. James Cameron took his low budget sci-fi thriller and blew it up into a blockbuster epic. Set over a decade after the events of The Terminator, two beings from the future are sent back in time to find the teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong). Sent back is a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) that has been reprogrammed by the resistance in order to protect John from Skynet’s T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a shapeshifting terminator that is made of liquid metal and almost indestructible. The franchise gave audiences another iconic villain in the T-1000, who was brought to life through a combination of cutting-edge special effects and Patrick’s chilling dead-eyed performance, while Arnie’s Terminator got to switch sides and become one of his greatest hero characters. With showstopping action sequences, T2 is a non-stop thrill ride that does everything a summer blockbuster should do, including packing an emotional punch. That final thumbs-up will always get me.
Image via 20th Century Fox
A crew of elite mercenaries are on a mission in a remote Central American jungle, but they soon discover that they are being hunted by a deadly creature that is picking them off one by one. A simple but intriguing premise is expertly executed in this endlessly rewatchable sci-fi action movie, that owes a lot of its DNA to the slasher sub-genre. Arnold stars as Dutch, the team’s leader and straight man amongst a colorful cast of characters. The film is paced immaculately with pulling you into the next thanks to the elegantly assured direction from John McTiernan. Alan Silvestri’s score is made of a dynamic soundscape, combining an orchestral sound with primal drums that ratchet up the sense of dread, almost as much as Dutch’s battle cry in the film’s final act. The ensemble is uniformly strong with every actor able to distinguish their characters, fleshing them out into unique individuals. Carl Weathers shows a different side as the duplicitous Dillon, while Sonny Landham is fully committed as the sharp-sensed tracker Billy and Bill Duke gives an awards worthy performance as the paranoid Mac. The creature design for the Predator is stellar, with the alien becoming instantly iconic upon its debut. Predator is a perfect action movie that is anchored by a top tier Arnold Schwarzenegger performance.
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