If there’s one name that is synonymous with the term “bad-ass”, Arnold Schwarzenegger definitely fit’s the bill. In his hey-day in the 1980s and the 1990s, there was no one who was as big and as tough as Arnold. Just as he is set to return to the big screen for the 2010 sequel to The Expendables that would include a huge crop of action movie stars like Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren. Having his name with these men just adds to the idea of what action film fans want in a movie. Yet, there’s more to Arnold than just an action guy as he’s also someone who can also do comedy and is a better actor than some people give him credit for. Here are the 10 Essential Performances of Arnold Schwarzenegger:
1. The Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgment Day-The Terminator-The Terminator
They wanted O.J. Simpson for the role originally but if it had happen. Arnold wouldn’t be the superstar that the whole world knows him and love. While Arnold doesn’t have a lot of lines in the first film, it is still a very engaging performance that is chilling to watch. How he says those words… “I’ll be back”. Come on, how can anyone think that isn’t cool. He may be the bad guy in the first film but it’s still a cool-ass bad guy. Arnold would top that with a more well-rounded performance in the 2nd film where he faces off a new Terminator to save someone where there’s a bit more of the same but also a sense of humor and sensitivity that is unexpected in the way he interacts with John Connor. Arnold’s performance in the third film isn’t anything memorable though at least it’s tolerable in comparison to the awful CGI-face cameo of his in that other film that came out recently.
2. Twins-Julius Benedict
While guys love to see Arnold kicking ass and pumping iron but Arnold also has something that women can enjoy in the way he can be sensitive and funny. While Arnold gets to do both in this film, he manages to make it more of being the straight man of sorts to Danny Devito while also finding ways to keep people laughing. Particularly in the scenes with Devito where Devito’s Vincent character teaches Julius how to dance or the scene where Julius drives a car sideways. Credit should go to Ivan Reitman for finding ways to make Arnold more accessible as this is definitely a great start to an amazing collaboration with the two.
3. Total Recall-Douglas Quaid
This is definitely a film where Arnold gets to be the badass but also has him taking the chance to show some range as a man who realizes that he is a cuckold for something bigger. It’s truly one of the great sci-fi action films of its time as it begs the question into why there’s a need to do a remake of this when it’s already a film people still watch. Largely because Arnold was able to make Douglas Quaid into a character that audiences care about as he’s being duped only to realize what he must do to realize who he really is. It’s also a performance that allows Arnold to take hits and actually be human despite his size.
4. True Lies-Harry Trasker
Arnold’s third collaboration with James Cameron following the two Terminator films is an indication that the Schwarzenegger-Cameron collaboration is one of the best actor-director collaborations in cinema. Largely because Cameron knows how to work with Arnold in not just being a bad ass but also a guy who can show humility, be sensitive, and be the guy to root for. It also has Arnold taking some risks in some amazing action scenes that requires lots of stunts such as the scene on the Florida bridges where Arnold has to save Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really the last great thing Arnold has done as there hasn’t been anyone who can understand Arnold’s talents as an actor better than James Cameron.
5. Kindergarten Cop-John Kimble
I still wish the Criterion Collection would decide to release this even though it was just an April Fool’s joke. Yet, the cover they decided to create and the numerous special features just made me wish it was true. After all, this is definitely the best collaboration Arnold did with Ivan Reitman because it balances not just Arnold’s ability to be the bad ass but also the comedy and romantic side. The best scenes in the film has Arnold’s John Kimble character interact with the kids such as his monologue about what he’s going to do where he just commands every word he says as if he means business. The stuff where he’s teaching them is really inspiring including the scene where he’s reading a story to them. The pecs and the poetry indeed. Come on Criterion! Release this and think of all the money you’ll make!
6. Commando-John Matrix
Commando is definitely an idea of what an action film should be as Arnold definitely plays John Matrix. He’s a guy that can kick some ass, do what it takes to fight off anything and anyone who gets in his way. It should be also added that the Matrix character is a guy to root for since all he wants to do is get his daughter back from a dictator and a former Special Forces captain. While it’s a film that has Arnold also showing a bit of a funny side, he maintains the sense of a man just hell-bent on getting his daughter back as there’s a great complexity he brings to a character that is well-defined in his motivations.
7. Last Action Hero-Jack Slater
Though it was considered one of the great box office disappointments of the early 1990s despite all the hype it had. It’s a film that has managed to find its audience in the years since as it’s one of the more underrated films that Arnold has been in. Largely because he’s playing off all of the action heroes he had done before with an offbeat sense of humor while it also has Arnold playing a version of himself where he seems to enjoy playing the idiot. Yet, the Jack Slater character is one that is interesting because it has Arnold taking a piss at the action hero but also become aware of his flaws as a character and such.
8. Predator-Major Alan “Dutch” Schaffer
Easily one of the essential films of the action genre, it has Arnold playing with an ensemble cast where Arnold may be the lead but he is willing to share the screen. As the commander of a task force to uncover a mysterious alien lurking in the jungle, it’s up to Dutch to lead a team where they’re facing an unknown creature as the stakes for survival forces Dutch to do whatever he can to protect whatever he has left including an unarmed woman. There’s a lot of moments where Arnold shows his range as an actor by finding ways to figure out how to face off this mysterious creature where Arnold gets his moment in the climatic face-off.
9. Conan the Barbarian-Conan
The film that made Arnold the star that everyone knows and love. Who else could play this character? While it’s a role where Arnold was still trying to find his way as an actor, it’s a performance that is truly unforgettable where he has this larger-than-life presence that makes him tailor-made for the role. While Arnold’s performance is limited due to the lack of dialogue he gets, he makes up for it with the way he allows his character to be this cunning warrior that is seeking vengeance. The shot of him wielding his sword on a beach against a blue sky is truly one of the most iconic images of 80s action films.
10. The Running Man-Ben Richards
His performance as Ben Richards in The Running Man is really one of his most underrated films. Not only is it because he’s playing a character that is on the run and has to play a treacherous game. Not only does Arnold get a chance to be the badass and kill a few bad guys along the way including the primary antagonist played by the late Richard Dawson. Arnold also gets the chance to display some hilarious one-liners that just adds a charisma that only he can bring.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in a lot of films dating back to the early 70s though it’s obvious that his reign from the early 80s to the mid-1990s is pretty much incomparable to today’s film stars. For anyone that loves Arnold, there’s movies that they’ll mention that should get a mention. Whether it’s films like Red Heat and Raw Deal show he can play a cop that is intimidating but also trying to be good. There’s something about those performances where Arnold adds extra power to these roles as he can rise above something that could be shoddy material. Another action film that features Schwarzenegger at his best is Eraser where although it’s not a great movie but certainly enjoyable as Arnold does a role that’s typical of him but manages to make it memorable enough.
It’s obvious that Schwarzenegger is an actor with limited range sometimes that can work is the project and material is right. One film that certainly divides fans is his third and final collaboration with Ivan Reitman in Junior. OK, it’s a comedy where Arnold is a doctor who does an experiment where he gets himself pregnant. Yet, it’s a role where Arnold somehow makes the character so enjoyable and so real where he’s not afraid to be sensitive and funny where at times, it’s over the top when he plays a woman in disguise. Yet, the guy should get some credit for actually trying to create a performance that is endearing as it’s one that should be seen again to see if there’s more to Schwarzenegger than playing the badass role.
Lesser films like Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja do have their fans as they’re decent action films where Schwarzenegger doesn’t get much to do. Still, a lesser actor in the roles that Arnold is playing wouldn’t work as Arnold manages to create performances that are memorable. One film that is kind of mixed bag to watch though it does feature an enjoyable performance from Schwarzenegger is Jingle All the Way where it does have this great climatic scene where Schwarzenegger’s character gets to play the hero his son wants. There’s a glee to the way he expresses the role of playing a hero for his son.
With the exception of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which is a decent film, Schwarzenegger’s film work from 1997 to 2004 isn’t really good. OK, there’s probably been some performances Schwarzenegger hasn’t been proud of that he did in the early 70s though he was just starting out and trying to find his footing. It’s just that films he’s been in from 1997 to 2004, with the exception of Terminator 3, are just terrible.
Batman & Robin-Mr. Freeze
The blame really should go to both director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman for making Batman & Robin as one of the worst films ever made. Schumacher and Goldsman should also take blame for making Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze into a complete caricature rather than a memorable villain. Saddled with awful one-liners, a mawkish storyline about his motivations, and moments where Arnold seems to be talking as if he has a lisp. Truly a horrific performance.
Collateral Damage-Gordy Brewer
Another terrible film that Schwarzenegger is in that has him pretty much not doing anything new. It’s a performance that is pretty uninspiring while the film itself is practically unmemorable as a whole except for a twist near the end that makes it more ridiculous. While the role is simply having Arnold play a fireman that is seeking revenge, the idea of him as a fireman makes more unbelievable than it actually is. Even as his journey into Columbia and back to the U.S. just doesn’t really give Arnold anything that is up to par with everything he’s done before.
The 6th Day-Adam Gibson
A film that has Arnold in another sci-fi premise where he also has a clone but it’s definitely a film that is very mediocre. While he gets to work with the likes of Robert Duvall and Tony Goldwyn, it’s a film that tries too hard to be compelling and suspenseful while the small bits of humor is forced. Arnold’s performance doesn’t really have him do anything new as if he’s in Total Recall but with a bad script.
Around the World in 80 Days-Prince Hapi
Though it’s really an extended cameo among a sea of actors who make cameos for this 2004 remake. It’s a performance where Arnold just ends up looking very ridiculous with bad hair and wearing some kind of mini-skirt. It’s a performance that is just atrocious to watch where Arnold tries to be funny but nothing is working and the last moment of the film is hearing his voice crying over his destroyed statue. There’s a lot of things people would see from Arnold but a crybaby Arnold is not one of them.
Well, that is it. While there’s a slate of new films coming from Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s uncertain whether or not they can live up to the hey-day that he had in the 1980s and 1990s. Still, he is someone that can get someone to see a film expecting him to take names and kick ass. So in order to close this piece on Mr. Schwarzenegger. Let’s have the man have his say through his memorable moments.
© thevoid99 2012
I think Commando would be in my numbers 1 through 3.
Thanks for the great list because at the very early stage of my film buff career,I used to be his die-hard fan.But my first reaction here is:what? does he get any "performances"? T2 and True Lies are still two of my fave action films,and his performance in TL is greater than any 007 actors.
Excellent choices, couldn’t agree more with your number one pick (I slightly dig his work in T2 better than T1, you?).
Twins was one of my favorite movies as a kid… ol’ Julius will always have a place in my heart. Same with John Kimble.
Finally, are we the only people who like Last Action Hero? I love that movie, man. Sure it’s absurd and ridiculous, but I think it’s also kind of smart. Plus… Bergman!
@Dave Enkosky-At least I put in the top 10.
@David-I think through his limitations, he can create a performance. He's not Olivier or anything but he has enough charm and wit to make him loveable enough on the big screen.
@Alex-T2 is my favorite of the two Terminator movies as is the performance. Twins and Kindergarten Cop are films I grew up watching and I still love them. I really hope Criterion would really consider releasing Kindergarten Cop.
I'm glad someone else here likes Last Action Hero. It's really underrated. The concept alone is genius and it doesn't take itself too seriously. And you have a Bergman film coming to life! What more could you not want?
Good list. I also like "Last Action Hero" I liked how it parodies all the usual action tropes that are associated with most action movies
I agree with pretty much all of your top 10 choices, although I'd quibble on the order. Thanks for mentioning Last Action Hero. I like it for two reasons: the making fun of the action hero genre that you mentioned, and the initial negative reaction to it made him return with a "you want to see me be an action hero, well here you go" movie True Lies.
@TheVern-It's a smarter film than people want it to be. Plus, I love that scene where Jack Slater tells Arnold that he doesn't like him at all while Arnold acts like a complete idiot.
Schwarzenegger I think doesn't get much love as an actor and this film I think shows the range that he actually has.
@Chip-It's good to hear someone here loves Last Action Hero. Come on people, show the love for this film!
Great list! Might place Predator a little higher. Last Action Hero is underrated and I enjoyed how tongue-in-cheek the humour of it was, how Arnold can laugh at himself. Loved how Dan at top10films.co.uk did that Houdini’s Magic Ticket Blogathon inspired by Last Action Hero.
OJ Simpson! ha I can't imagine anyone else as the Terminator than Arnold, perfect casting
@Chris-Thank you for expressing your love for Last Action Hero.
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